Today, 20th of November, is the International Transgender Day of Remebembrance, a day which purpose is to remember trans people murdered because of transphobia. What is transphobia? We are talking here an irrational fear and hate towards trans people, a vulnerable part of the population whose rights are still on hold in several countries. In this reportage I would like to explore the topic of trans rights in the combative and memorial spirit of Trans Day of Remembrance.
Maybe you have heard the word trans, transgender, transexual or trans person. Maybe there is another way to name this reality in your native language. Maybe it is the first time you read the word in a text. Maybe you know what it is, maybe you have an idea of what it is not. Either way, the definition of trans person varies from a culture to another, because issues like gender and identity have always a rich cultural, historical and geographical dimension. As a common definition, trans people often go with this label because they have been assigned a sex/gender at birth that does not match their true sex/gender, the sex/gender they identify with. Research has shown that sex/gender goes way beyond the body and it is far more complex and diverse than we thought in the past.
Our Western culture is by definition a binaristic culture. We divide the world into masculine and feminine and we read bodies, gestures, thoughts and even words using this matrix. Even though gender identity is not about gender stereptypes or clichees about how men and women should behave, a binaristic system for trans and gender non conforming people to live in. It is true that in the last years there is been a general shift in the concepts of masculinity and femininity towards a more open understanding of this concepts, but there are still very clear and restrictive expectations around being a woman and being a man.
Trans people have always existed, as we see in the history of different cultures which had a not so binaristc understanding of gender and in our Western history as well. Trans people have also been historically persecuted and, specially in the last century, deemed mentally ill, their identities patologized. What does it mean patologization in the context of trans people? It means understanding the existence of trans people as a mental health deviation of the norm that needs to be assesed and/or treated, not as another manifestation of the vast diversity of human nature. Researchers and human rights activits have been pushing in the last years for a not patologizing understanding of trans people and indetities.
Trans people are different, like all people are. Some trans people pursue what is called medical transition: that means choosing to undergo medical procedures (like hormones or operations) to alter the body. Some trans people do not undergo any kind of medical procedure because thay cannot (due to legislation in their countries, class or racial issues that prevent them from accessing healthcare...) or because they do not want that or because they do not understand it as something necessary for their gender transition.
Gender in a system of violence
There are also a lot of symbolic, institutional and physical forms of violence regarding the way we understand gender, not as an individual position, but as an structure in a system of power and opression. In many countries, people who defy the traditional understanding of gender norms (being that through clothing, behaviour, stablishing relationship deemed unnatural or unethical) suffer violence, persecution and even death. In more than ninety countries behaviours labeled as homosexual are still legal and death penalty still exists in eight of them. In other countries gender diverse and queer people suffer social consequences, ostracism and harassment.
All these realities influence the lives of trans people worldwide and have a very real impact on their present and their future. These realities interfere with trans people´s human rights in many ways. We all as human beings have a right to grown in an environment free of violence, in which we can develop ourselves, explore our own identities and participate in our communities. Accessing education (also gender and sexual!) and being protected from violence by the institutions of the country we live in are examples of situation in which the rights of trans people are often violated. Trans people are actively persecuted in several countries and suffer high rates of discrimination, they are criminalize and suffer the consequences of stigma.
Trans people in the European Union
The Chart of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which entried into force in 2009 (Treaty of Lisbon), applies to member states and institutions and it fills a clear gap left by previous treaties (Rome), which did not adress the issue of human rights and having the same legal value as other European treaties, In the Chart of Fundamental Rights rights like human dignity, education and non-discrimination are guaranteed. There are examples of the application of legislation against discrimination in the context of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the UE, which also set an example with an impact in the legal context of the member states and sometimes start a path towards non patologization. An example of this is probably France, which has a very progressive and non patologizing lesgilation since 2009.
However, the social and legal situation of trans people is different in every member state and there are also differences if rural and urban contexts are compared. In the report Being trans in the EU. Comparative analysis of the EU survey datafrom 2014, trans people were found to "face frequent discrimination, harassment and violence across Europe". 54% of trans people answering the survey indicated having faced "harassed or personaly discriminated against because they were perceived as trans" according to ILGA.
Some member states have legislation that guarantee access to medical transitions without patologization for trans people, make it possible to change names and sex markers without medical procedures and ensure the protection of trans people against several forms of discrimination. In other countries, undergoing medical procedures and even sterilization is still a requirement to change name and sex/gender in legal documents, a very important step for a life without fear of discrimination. The situation has not stopped changing in the last years, as this is a quite recent topic in the legal field and more changes are expected in the future.
The very active Transgender Europe releseases regulary reports, maps and data on the situation of trans people in the European Union. You can know more about topics such as legal gender recognizing in this interactive map, which not only refers to the context of the member states, but also to other central Asia countries. You can also download an overview of these topics here, with some key facts regarding asylum and trans people, hate crimes and discrimination.
Trans Day of Remembrance
The International Transgender Day of Remembrance was stablished in 1999 to memoralize the murder of Rita Helster, a trans women of colour in the USA. Since that day, every 20th of November trans people murdered because of who they are, because of hate and violence, because of transphobia are remembered. In many cities, vigilies, demonstrations and public talks are held. The community come together to read lists with the names of trans people murdered during that year. In 2019, according to the network Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide. Trans Murder monitoring research project 311 people have been lost to violence due to being trans. The real figures are much higher, because many hate crimes are not reported as such or get lost in the complicated global context. Still, 311 lives is a very high number. 311 people killed because of their existing in the world as they are. Let´s remember their names. Let´s keep imaging a world free of violence.
#SayTheirNames Campaing for Trans Day of Remembrance in 2019
#Together we keep fighting Campaign for Trans Day of Remembrance in 2019
(Image from Creative Commons)