If you’re like me, your Instagram and Twitter feeds have been chock-full of hashtags about girl power, motivational quotes from historic women and lots and lots of pink. While that’s a fine way to celebrate Women’s History Month, how many trans women and women of color were included in all those posts?
Of course, it’s not just a social media issue. Trans women have historically been excluded from feminist celebrations and women’s rights movements. Transphobia is rampant in American legislation and everyday life.
Trans women, especially those of color, are among the most vulnerable to discrimination, violence and disenfranchisement. Yet trans women continue to fight and advocate for their rights and for equality for all women and the LGBTQ community. It’s time their voices were elevated.
Below, four trans women address, in their own words, what they hope we’ll remember about freedom and equality now and in the future. As teen activist and advocate Jazz Jennings said, a perfect movement is one of equality. For all women.
Jazz Jennings, 18,
Star of TLC’s ‘I Am Jazz,’ YouTube personality and activist from Florida
Since this year’s Women’s History Month theme focuses on champions of peace and nonviolence, I think it’s important to remember the power of speech and communication. Just listening alone can foster major changes in society. Listening creates knowledge, and knowledge is power.
To be your authentic self in a world that isn’t fully embracing of your unique identity is brave, challenging and undeniably beautiful. I receive death threats all the time. Almost all are online, but they are scary nonetheless.
Transgender women, specifically women of color, are murdered every year just for living as their authentic selves. I’ve been banned from bathrooms and sports teams, bullied, harassed, and I’ve faced social alienation. It an awful feeling for society to tell you that you’re “inferior,” “mentally ill” or your identity is invalid just because of how you identify.
The world is getting better, and more people are understanding the construct of the gender binary, but we still have a ways to go. Jazz Jennings
Instead of using a definition to describe myself, I simply like to say that I am Jazz. No two women are alike. Gender identity is not defined by biology, and it’s completely limiting to make such a distinction. I feel like a lot of people disregard trans women when discussing feminism because they don’t agree that trans women are real women. Trans women are not any different than cisgender women and deserve to be treated as equals.
There are so many myths that need debunking, but a major one is that people think trans people choose to be transgender. The world is getting better, and more people are understanding the construct of the gender binary, but we still have a ways to go.
The perfect women’s movement is one of equality. We are all fighting against all forms of sexism and marginalization. Once equality is the norm for all women, trans or cis, the women’s movement will be perfect. I want all women to feel empowered to love themselves unconditionally and share that love with the world around them.
Aria Sa’id, 29
Executive director and co-founder, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District and Kween Culture Initiative from California
Simone de Beauvoir once defined womanhood as “One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman.” I think “woman” is a testament to the strength, resilience and manifestation of being a feminine person more so than a reflection of sex assigned at birth. Yet the world is consistently invalidating and assaulting our womanhood, our personhood and our authenticity.
There is a myth that transgender women have these residuals of male privilege, and it’s something that perpetuates the silencing and erasure of transgender women. If feminist movements can stop othering women of color and women with variant journeys, we could be more liberated than we realize. United we stand, divided we ... don’t get free.
Our disparity is real. But so is our joy. So is our resilience. So is our power. So is our beauty. Aria Sa’id
I hope the world can acknowledge the incredible contributions to the liberation of women that transgender and cisgender women around the world have made possible for us to have the freedoms we have today. Especially the contributions of Black cisgender and transgender women and Muslim women.
There is a deep profundity in the culture of Black transgender women that I hope the world will one day acknowledge. Our disparity is real. But so is our joy. So is our resilience. So is our power. So is our beauty. And those attributes are what shape us and have influenced the world. We create language. We create the culture of beauty and ballroom that you witness today.
I’m happiest when I hear the stories of transgender women elders who know of a different era and a different world than what we live in today. There’s something so magical that happens when we come together. I feel beautiful when I am embraced, seen and respected. We are the most beautiful people in the world. We are powerful. Our bodies are both political and radiant. Knowing us is an experience.
Brynn Tannehill, 44
Defense analyst and author from Virginia
Trans is beautiful because it is still so transgressive. It challenges patriarchy and gender norms so strongly. [Yet] the religious right and even some trans-exclusionary radical feminists have banded together to oppose all legal protections for women as long as those protections are trans inclusive.
I occupy the privileged space of a middle-class white woman. [But] as long as the trans military ban is in place and I have been locked out of the career I loved, I feel I have had my dignity and honor stripped away. Most days, I just feel defeated and hopeless in a sea of hatred, ignorance and bigotry that I am too small to hold back alone.
The perfect Women’s History Month celebration would be one that is truly intersectional. [People of color]. Transgender people. Immigrants. Muslims. Lesbians. Bisexuals. Sex workers. Everyone whose voice has been historically held back or excluded should have a seat at the table. Everyone has a right to define themselves. We may be small in number and weak politically, but what we represent is tremendously powerful.
More than anything else, I would like people to follow the golden rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Self-determination, bodily autonomy, personal expression and self-identity are universal human rights.
LaLa Zannell, 40
Advocate, activist, entrepreneur and mother from Michigan
My mother tells me every day how proud she is of me, and that makes me proud. I get so busy and caught up in life and just trying to survive that I forget to look at the amazing things I have done and encourage myself. It helps me to deal with this cruel world and be 100 percent in touch with all of me.
I feel most beautiful when I am able to have those moments and just stand in my full self because it has been a long journey for me to stand with no shame. Every day, I wake up to show up in a world that makes me feel I do not belong, and when I survive another day to tell my story and breathe, I am always grateful.
To women all around the world, always know that you are enough. LaLa Zannell
Acknowledging the history of trans women this month does not erase the work cis women have done. It only shows how we are all on a path for the collective liberation of women, and we all should be proud of the amazing progress we have made this far. It is time we take down the walls of separation and heal from all the trauma that patriarchy and male misogyny have created with the division on womanhood.
When we move forward to a place of love and abundance and make room for all women, that is when we all will be truly liberated.
To women all around the world, always know that you are enough. In a world that tries to make you feel erased or not valued, [remember] you come from a long line of goddesses, queens and sisters who fought like hell for us to be able to stand here and fight alongside the powerful women standing here today.
Responses were edited for length and clarity.