by ray(nise) cange
Blue. Pink. White. Pink. Blue. Have you ever noticed that whiteness sits right in the center of the trans flag? I have. As a way to insert my Blackness, with all of its depth and profoundness, into trans identity, I find it crucial to discuss privilege within trans community.
Like many trans people, my journey is one of struggle. I struggled to accept myself. I struggled to define myself. I struggled to be myself when people around me tried to define me. This narrative, one of struggle, is a narrative that most trans people have and it is this commonality that often makes conversations around privilege hard. But it is time we have that talk.
Unfortunately, marginalization does not exist in a vacuum when you are trans. The marginalization we face as trans people is often met with privilege in other ways. And it is important to recognize the dealings of privilege that happen on the corner of white and trans. Here is a list of a five privileges white trans people have over trans people of color.
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1. Racialized Violence
While this should be an obvious privilege of whiteness, I want to make it clear: as a Black body, I am always at a greater risk of violence. Trans people often use statistics to illustrate the violence done to trans bodies, but when the statistics are broken down, trans people of color, specifically trans women of color, are the ones subjected to violence at the most disproportionate rates.
2. Better Pay
White people, across the board, earn more money for their work than people of color. When Patricia Arquette hit the Oscar stage she failed at having an intersectional analysis of gender and race, so let me correct her statement: white women make 77 cents to the dollar of white men. However, white women, on average, make more money than men of color. While there are few statistics for trans people of color in comparison to white trans people, there are statistics that show trans people of color, particularly trans women of color, are more likely to live in extreme poverty, be homeless, and lack a college degree. With these facts, it is a logical conclusion that white trans people do indeed earn more money than trans people of color.
3. Support, Not Tokenization
Connecting the last point, I often see trans people of color crowdfunding their housing, despite working one or more jobs. Far too often these campaigns go underfunded. These are the same people who often have white people like and share their thoughts on race and trans identity. White allies will tokenize people of color without actually showing support. This can be juxtaposed to white trans people fundraising for gender affirming surgeries and being funded. While this is an observation that doesn’t control for different access to networks, allow me to provide an example that does: in a popular queer group a white trans man posted his fundraiser for top surgery and raised roughly half his funds within a day. He also garnered a lot of support from members of the group. A trans woman of color posted her fundraiser for living expenses because she was fired from her job due to discrimination and she was asked to promptly remove the post because it violated “community policy”.
4. Better Representation
Within the realms of trans visibility, white people are often front and center, not only in popular culture, but also within trans organizations. The major transgender-based organizations have white leadership. The only exception to this is organizations started for or by trans people of color.
A glance at FTM, a popular magazine, will reveal a plethora of white trans men with little to no representation of trans men of color. There is a sentiment amongst trans people of color that white trans people who tell their stories will be given a book deal while a murdered trans woman of color might make the news. This sentiment is really expressing the devaluation of trans people of color, which can be noted in a myriad of ways. A prominent example of this is Caitlyn Jenner, who has done nothing besides exist and tell her story, being posited as a leader of the trans movement despite the fact that trans women of color, particularly trans Black women such as Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and CeCe McDonald, have been advocating for trans rights and the increasing of life chances for trans people for years.
5. More Benefits from Mainstream Movement
The centering of whiteness within trans community and trans visibility often leads to the exclusion of the people in the margins. Visibility is almost always filtered through the lens of respectability. The goal of respectability is to be considered “normal”. When we try to be “normal” we erase the most vulnerable people, including trans people of color, because the desire is to be as close to the perceived norm—which tends to be white, able-bodied and financially stable—as possible. And the trans movement pushes for integration through legislative gains that will benefit the most privileged people, or those within the narrative of normal. This can be seen as the mainstream trans movement pushes for anti-discrimination laws and gender neutral bathrooms but remains silent on housing discrimination and incarceration despite homelessness and incarceration impacting trans women of color at a disproportionate rate.
Privilege is a hard pill to swallow and addressing privilege becomes increasingly harder in trans community because living in your truth is not an easy feat for most people. Even when privileged, trans people are stigmatized in a way that makes it easy to not focus on the ways you are privileged. However, while addressing privilege is hard, we need our white trans counterparts to do just that. We need them to acknowledge their privilege and begin to see the bodies of trans people of color. To use their privilege as a way of shedding light on the serious issues affecting bodies other than their own and to use their privilege to fight for adequate resources for trans people, such as housing and food. To realize trans issues are not just issues around transitioning, and that there are also issues that impact the most marginalized population within trans identity— trans women of color.
ray(nise) cange comes from the beaches of New Jersey, the walls of a small liberal arts college, and the books of Black excellence. they are a young trans person attempting to redefine the ontological praxis of blackness and masculinity. they are the creator of Awkward Trans Kid.
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