If We Knew Transgender History, We Would Know Our Activism Matters

Transgender history is made up of people like you, like us. It’s made up of people you would recognize. Very few of us have had power in the conventional sense, though many of us had tremendous class and racial privilege. From the bottom up, we have made change through unexpected ways.

For example, I’ve listened to many trans elders describe how as teenagers they out smarted the psychiatrists their parents made them see. These people saved themselves from ending up in mental hospitals. That is a form of trans activism, of trans liberation. That activism has mattered for all of us.

Virginia Prince sit on a couch in a white dress

Or take groups like Virginia Prince’s Transvestita network. These everyday people started news letters to share information and support each other. In the privacy of their homes, hotel rooms, and on the page, they quietly created a vibrant community.

Lou Sullivan sits on a bed, wearing a blue shirt and white tie

Trans people have become powerful self-advocates, like Lou Sullivan, a gay trans man who was denied surgery because of his sexuality. Sullivan educated doctors and built a network of trans men. He is part of the reason that today queer trans people can access medical transition services.

Sylvia Rivera and other trans people march in a parade with the STAR banner

Trans people living in poverty on the streets have banded together and shared resources, and that activism as also mattered. They have educated each other about their rights and provided legal assistance and bail money.

A flyer advertising STAR, including a photo of Sylvia Rivera and other STAR members

Trans people have created art, from Marsha P. Johnson who performed with the Hot Peaches to the drag king revival in the 1990s. Through that art, they’ve created spaces where other trans people could be safe and happy. That’s not a small impact. That’s the sort of activism that keeps communities together, that saves lives.

Even when transgender people have seemed to fail to meet their activist goals, they have made lasting impacts. At various times, transgender people have organized campaigns to hold accountable police departments that were murdering transgender women and femmes of color. While I cannot find any examples of their campaigns leading to the termination of any police officers, I am still buoyed by these efforts. Our contemporary movement for prison abolition is the legacy of these campaigns.

Transgender history shows that all of these actions, big and small, have mattered and continue to matter. Whatever you are doing for transgender liberation. I promise you history will someday prove that it was important, that you had an impact on the lives of people you never even met.

h o t - a i r

Support this blog by becoming a patron! Support this blog by becoming a patron!