What Would It Mean for Trans People to Live the Lives We Deserve?

On this Trans Day of Remembrance, we want fewer symbolic actions like vigils and thoughts and prayers. We need action leading to real change.

Honoring those we've lost on trans day of remembrance
When the legal system fails to protect us, it is our collective responsibility to move away from sympathy and remembrance and move toward tangible actions that will significantly improve and protect everyone's lives. Cage Rivera/Rewire News Group illustration

Every November 20, transgender people and allies across the globe gather to remember the lives of those who have died due to various forms of transphobia, including lack of access to lifesaving health care, lack of mental health services and education for trans youth, or outright violence that lead to murder.

But to truly honor Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) means reckoning with the fact that trans people in the United States are being failed. We must ask ourselves: What would it mean for trans people to live with the dignity, respect, and the life we deserve?

When I shifted my career, I wanted to work for an organization known for both abortion access and gender-affirming care because I know these intersecting aspects of my identity can’t be separated. What makes me trans isn’t having a desire to get rid of gender roles and feeling empowered through my own version of femininity. But being trans in how I move through the world with a differently gendered body than the one imposed on me at birth does advance the movement for self-determination and bodily autonomy for everyone.

As a trans person who knows my genderqueer identity is more easily granted to me due to my being assigned female at birth, I’ve become highly aware of how the movement for bodily autonomy will never be whole unless trans women’s lives (or those of genderqueer people who were assigned male at birth) are prioritized. I approach my work at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York as an opportunity to mend the mistakes of the feminist movements that for centuries left out anyone who wasn’t straight, cis, or white. I do my job knowing that to truly achieve bodily autonomy free from limiting patriarchal structures, we must protect the lives of trans women of color through visionary modes of community care, mutual aid, and legislation.

In this year alone, 507 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced, most of them explicitly targeting trans people; according to a report by UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crimes, and according to a 2023 report by the Pew Research Center, the majority of Black LGBTQ+ people say they have experienced verbal insults or abuse (79 percent) or have been threatened with violence (60 percent). And despite violence against trans people being vastly underreported, the Remembering Our Dead project has reported 62 cases of trans violence, hate crimes, and deaths from October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023—nearly half of them Black and Latina trans women.

Despite what seems to be an onslaught of issues that affect the trans community specifically, trans people’s fight for safety and lifesaving health care do not live in a vacuum from the larger movement for bodily autonomy. When it comes to the right-wing movements to eradicate abortion and the personal freedom to control our bodies, anti-trans agents are putting Roe v. Wade at the center of their arguments. According to an Oklahoma brief against trans health care, conservative organizations are using the same language they used in anti-abortion briefings to argue against gender-affirming care for young people, language like “protect young people [in this case either fetuses or trans youth] from gruesome and barbaric medical practices.” To advance intersectional and equitable approaches to trans rights and bodily autonomy, it is imperative that we view transphobic violence and rhetoric as inherently connected to attacks on our rights to our bodies more broadly.

On this Trans Day of Remembrance, I’m calling on everyone to not only honor and recognize trans people’s lives and bodies in the aftermath of our deaths, but to also see these deaths as an inherent consequence of the lack of bodily autonomy, systemic racism, and lack of self-determination that most marginalized communities experience. For this TDoR, trans activists want to move away from symbolic actions such as moments of silence, candlelight vigils, church services, or thoughts and prayers, and move toward the kind of actions that lead to freedom and celebrations of life.

These actions include:

  • building greater legislative, regulatory, and monetary resources to improve structural support systems that mitigate systemic HIV disparities;
  • embedding the Equal Rights Amendment into our states’ constitutions, which will prohibit discrimination by the government based on a person’s gender identity or expression;
  • supporting legislative efforts to fight discrimination and improve health-care access for LGBTQ+ and trans and gender nonconforming New Yorkers who often face barriers like discrimination, lack of insurance coverage, provider insensitivity, and lack of awareness of available resources.

As a leading organization for sexual and reproductive health across the state, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York is highly aware of how expanding queer and trans health care throughout the health-care system must be at the core of the reproductive justice movement. PPGNY offers services such as gender affirming hormone therapy (including estrogen, anti-androgen, and testosterone) require letters for surgery and surgeon referrals, STI testing and treatment, HIV treatment and prevention (including PEP and PrEP) safer sex education, case management, advocacy, and more all available in person and through the Virtual Health Center, which is especially vital for queer and trans people living in rural areas of the state and who might have a harder time accessing these types of life saving and gender affirming services.

While the perks of remembrance and visibility are vital to people’s relationships with themselves and the communities around them, it says a lot about our society when a community’s sense of self evolves around death and grieving. When our legal system fails to protect us and our courts are being manipulated to deny people the right to a safe life without fear of persecution, it is our collective responsibility to move away from sympathy and remembrance and move toward tangible actions that will significantly improve and protect the lives of all people.

When the lived reality of trans life is so dire, this TDoR is an especially important opportunity to carve our own legislative paths toward progress and think of what’s possible when we live outside the terms that are being set for us by our oppressor—and instead create expansion and understanding for the human rights of trans and queer people not just in our state, but across the country.

Correction: This piece was updated to reflect the services PPGNY currently offers.