No one is safe until trans folks are safe

A person holding a sign reading protect trans lives
Photo: Shutterstock

A few months ago, I was groped while making my way out of the mall with a bag of groceries. There was one perpetrator, a couch-shaped man with a smug look on his face. Surrounding us were two groups of men who witnessed this incident and did absolutely nothing about it.

I was furious that no one tried to help, but I was even angrier at myself for not doing anything, especially when I have a track record for standing up not only for myself but anyone who’s around me — loved one or stranger. 

I chose not to do anything that day because I knew that man only violated me because he knew I was trans — they all did. And I knew that if I had retaliated that I could have easily been harmed and no one (read: man) would have intervened.

For most of my life, I believed that men were protectors. But my lived experiences, the internet, and statistics have made me question whether this notion is true.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, we have lost 25 transgender and non-conforming individuals this year. 88% percent of the victims were people of color, 52% were Black transgender women, and 72% were killed with a gun. 100% of these crimes were perpetrated by men.

In September, a video of a Black transgender woman being harassed and assaulted by a group of young men in Baltimore went viral. This occurred when she encountered them on the sidewalk and allegedly said, “Move your cute a** out my way.” 

Also in September, a Black cisgender woman named Rho uploaded a video of herself distraught with a massive bruise on her face. She said she had been attacked by a man she refused to give her number to outside of a nightclub in Texas. 

On the surface, the only commonality between these incidents is men being the perpetrators of the violence, but it’s actually much deeper than that. 

Both women are minorities within a minority. Both women were out and about, minding their business. Both of them were brutally assaulted. Both of them most likely didn’t anticipate being assaulted that day, although they may have been aware that the potential for that is likely on any day. And it is likely that while both of them were aware that if something were to happen to them they would have to protect themselves, they would still hope that someone (a man) would come to their rescue. 

Men on the internet went out of their way to make it clear that they wouldn’t risk their lives to protect women like Rho. Instead of being angry at the injustice, men on social media looked for reasons she didn’t deserve protection. 

The justification that stood out the most for me was that Rho didn’t deserve protection because she’s trans, even though she’s not. 

The sentiment made three things clear to me 1) society doesn’t like women of color very much, 2) society is also not a fan of trans folks, especially transgender people of color, and 3) it’s all because of the same system: patriarchy.

Society claims that men are hardwired to protect and that men have been protectors throughout history. People point to the Bible and our ancestors (cavemen) as proof, but recent studies have debunked these claims. 

When our ancestors needed protection from large animals, it was not men who protected the tribe but the youth, including young women. Age was a determining factor for the capacity to protect, not gender. 

This also applied to protection from other tribes, which didn’t occur as often as we would like to believe because we were more keen to breed with other tribes than we were keen to fight them. 

In addition to all of this, we know that men have the notion that they are protectors drilled into them from a young age. And we also know that some gender roles aren’t as instinctual as society claims they are.

This evidence suggests that the “men are protectors” trope is a modern notion constructed by men more than it is a biological drive. 

All of that said, it wouldn’t be entirely true if we said that men don’t protect anyone. Because they do. 

The Montgomery Riverfront brawl – an August 2023 incident where a group of white men attacked a Black man – demonstrates Black men’s willingness to risk their lives to protect someone in danger, that someone in this case being another Black man. Several rushed to help the victim, with one even jumping into the water to swim to his aid.

Was Marilyn Frye perhaps onto something when she asserted that almost all of that which pertains to love — in this case protection — most straight men reserve exclusively for other men?

We can’t deduce with the utmost certainty that the Texas, Baltimore, and Montgomery incidents have anything to do with patriarchy. However, taking into account the many viral videos similar to these, we can deduce that certain minority groups don’t receive the same amount of support and protection as other groups.

So now that we’ve exposed the fallacies within the “men are protectors” trope, and established that they’re not likely coming to our rescue, who is?

At the forefront of most movements has been a person of color, a woman, a queer person or someone who is all of the above. We have been and will continue to be the real protectors. 

The fact that a queer person of color is more likely to stand up for the little guy than someone who has actual clout by society’s standards makes the loss of transgender and non-conforming individuals especially tragic.

Trans folks make up such a small percentage of the population, but our lack of safety says so much about the structures we live in and everyone else’s safety, too.

If you don’t care about the safety of trans folks then you don’t care about the safety of queer folks.

If you don’t care about the safety of queer folks then you don’t care about the safety of women of color.

If you don’t care about the safety of women of color then you don’t care about the safety of women.

If you don’t care about the safety of women you essentially only care about the safety of men — and society already places them on a pedestal.

To protect minorities from violence perpetrated by men we need to coalesce. We need to make it clear that we won’t tolerate violence against any minority. We need to take care of those who can’t take refuge in the bosom of patriarchy, and that starts with trans folks.

Now of course not all of us have the capacity to physically protect trans folks, but there is more than one way of protecting us.

We can protect trans folks by; 

  • Becoming allies. Educating ourselves on transgender issues and spreading awareness to uninformed people to “normalize” trans folks’ existence. 
  • Offering trans folks community because humans are social creatures whose life expectancy is significantly impacted by our ability to cultivate and maintain relationships. 
  • Hiring trans folks or supporting their businesses so they can not only survive but thrive.
  • Donating to GoFundMe campaigns created by trans folks in need of assistance.
  • Fighting back against bills that seek to suppress or erase trans folks. 

The real protectors of society are those who realize that if one minority group suffers, all of them suffer. Will you be a real protector? 

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New reports show the distressing reality of violence against trans people worldwide

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