Three transgender women were beaten and robbed on Hollywood Boulevard on August 17, while bystanders stood by laughing. The three women, Eden Estrada (known on social media as Eden the Doll), Jaslene White Rose, and Joslyn Flawless, all influencers with a significant following, were waiting for an Uber when a group of men approached them.
One of the men threatened one of the women with a crowbar, stole her phone and forced her to strip her shoes and jewelry. He told her if she was trans he would kill her. In the video that has now gone viral, you can hear the bystanders laughing, even taunting the women with “She’s a man!”
The video is horrifying. What was most alarming was the amusement and support of the violence from those watching on the streets—it was as if violence towards trans people was a joke. I wondered why no one felt compelled to step in and provide some safety for these women, did they just see trans people as disposable?
In later police reports, the Los Angeles Police Department classified this attack as a hate crime. The women recounted their experiences and the fear inflicted by not only the abuser, but the bystanders encouraging the violence. One victim recalled being ignored as she begged nearby pedestrians for aid.
This harassment isn’t rare for transgender people. Last year, 25 transgender or non-gender conforming people were murdered. This year, the number is already at 26, but still growing. Violence towards trans people is exponentially rising, but how often is it covered on the news? This exclusion of trans issues causes tangible harm within the community—too often trans folks are made to feel invisible.
Harassment isn’t only extreme acts of violence and hate crimes, but in everyday encounters as well. Violence towards trans folks starts small, like purposely misgendering them and not respecting their pronouns.
It is comments like, “Oh, I thought you were a real girl,” which invalidate trans women’s entire existence. It is only accepting trans folks that pass as cisgender, or a person whose identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex . It is excluding trans folks from conversations revolving around liberation because some cis folks don’t care about issues that they aren’t affected by.
Even in social movements advocating for equality, trans people are often forgotten. For some of the people who scream “Black Lives Matter” , their activism doesn’t extend to Black trans women. Some feminists who claim they want equality for all, forget or deliberately ignore trans women in their conversations.
It is rare that trans folks are represented in legitimate and well-rounded ways in the media. Only until recently trans women, like Laverne Cox, had little to no roles in media. Before that trans people were played by cisgender people, or reduced to comedy sketches by people who cross-dressed and mocked trans people’s existence.
This portrayal of trans people as comedic has damaged the way many view them. Seeing trans people as a stereotype rather than a developed, multidimensional person, makes it easier for people to ignore and abuse them.
Oftentimes, trans people in the media are interrogated with intrusive questions about their stage of transitioning. The entitlement that cisgender people approach trans people with, asking intimate details of trans people’s bodies, is dehumanizing, and something cis public figures never have to endure.
By focusing solely on the physical aspects of trans people’s existence rather than their true self, they are depicted as objects to pick apart instead of human beings. Alienating and isolating trans people makes it easier for cisgender people to ignore their issues, furhter subjecting them to violence.
As a cis person myself, I am not attempting to co-opt the struggle or pretend to fully understand the issues trans people face. I am speaking up on this issue, using my privilege and platform, as we all should. If anything I am hoping to call upon cisgender people to take a more overt stance on trans lives.
I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by trans folks and therefore understand and empathize with their struggles more intimately. It was beautiful seeing my friends, who felt uncomfortable in their assigned gender roles, transition into their true selves.
But trans people shouldn’t have to be close to you and show you their vulnerabilities and insecurities, to earn your respect. They have basic humanity, and should be respected and treated like a human being, like everyone else. Cis folks never have their identity and gender challenged; they are never questioned about their genatalia.
Trans folk’s identity isn’t a discussion or a subject to be debated, and opinions on the subject don’t matter. If someone tells you their name is Bianca and they’re a woman, you should respect their identity and act accordingly, instead of being concerned with what genitalia they have.
It is not enough to just befriend trans folks. It is not enough to use their proper name and pronouns—that is the bare minimum. That is treating someone with basic human respect, a courtesy everyone deserves. Being an ally for trans lives extends far beyond that. It is correcting people when they misgender trans people. It is shutting down offensive jokes that target people’s identities and informing them on why it’s wrong—to just not laugh is not enough.
It is having uncomfortable conversations with other cis folks to raise their awareness on the violence being perpetrated by cisgender people onto trans people daily, for just existing as themselves. It is donating to funds to aid and uplift trans people in your community and listening to what they need to feel supported.
We’re living through a time of “new” understandings. Because of the Black Lives Matter movement, many white folks are just realizing the harrowing realities of police brutality, which Black people have endured for as long as policing has existed. Many men have been forced to confront issues of the abuse of women, due to the #MeToo movement. It is counterproductive for any association whose motives claim to align with equality and abolishing oppression, to perpetuate that same cycle of oppression onto trans folk.
It is no longer acceptable to dismiss the relevance of experiences outside your own, solely because they haven’t happened to you—it is time to dig deeper and educate yourself on issues outside of your experience.
As cisgender people, it’s our duty to educate ourselves on issues trans people face. We cannot burden trans people with the emotionally draining work of educating cis people on their issues. Though it is imperative we listen to what trans folks need to be supported, it’s equally as important to do the research ourselves.
There is an abundance of information on the internet on issues transgender people face, and ways to combat it. There are documentaries like Disclosure, which discuss the effects of the portrayal of trans folks in the media. Even just searching on Google, “How can I help trans people,” floods the search engine with articles and ideas on becoming a better ally.
We must use our privilege as cisgender people to make our society safer for trans people’s existence. We need trans people in the media, whose stories don’t solely revolve around tragedy, but on self discovery and growth. We need to be taught history involving trans folks, who have existed for centuries around the globe, expanding beyond our limited colonized view of history.
We need to make space and platforms where trans people feel comfortable existing and expressing themselves. As cisgender people, we need to use our privilege to do so much more to support the trans community.