The Importance of Transgender Awareness Week
This year will be my first participating in Transgender Awareness Week. As co-president of my QSA, it will be my responsibility to educate my school community on transgender identities. This also means I must communicate the need for Transgender Awareness Week: why is visibility important? Why is it important to build trans awareness across communities this week?
I have tried to look to my own experience to begin to answer these questions. Growing up as a gender nonconforming youth, I often faced societal resistance that I didn't quite understand. Incidents of confrontation and bullying by various adults and my peers followed me throughout my childhood to the point that I felt uncomfortable in my body, my clothes, and everything expected of me due to my sex. I found myself thrown headfirst into a strictly gendered society whose norms I couldn't quite fit, and by the time I reached high school, I was too scared and confused to explore further into my gender nonconformity.
10th grade was a catalyst for change in my life. I began identifying as queer and I set out to educate myself; it was at this point that I learned about the trans community. Seeing people with experiences similar to my own was liberating and finally led me begin exploring my gender identity. I spent nights pouring over personal stories, articles about the gender binary, and anything related to queer studies. My mental health and overall happiness improved drastically, and I was able to reach out to a community that was truly supportive of my identity and experiences. I sometimes imagine how different my childhood would have been if I had been exposed to trans narratives earlier in my life. I could have perhaps avoided years of anxiety and depression. I might have been confident in my appearance, my choices, and myself. Things would have undeniably been better.
While these past events cannot be changed, moving forward as people who have succeeded in a cisnormative society we can turn back and begin to deconstruct the obstacles we have faced (and continue to face). With our knowledge and understanding of issues specific to our community, we can and must begin to create an environment of support and awareness for the ourselves and for the next trans generation.
The bottom line is that trans youth need to be able to see themselves. They need the resources to understand how they feel, explore their identities, and find others like them. Trans youth should not grow up believing that they are sick or broken or alone. Transgender Awareness Week is a vital platform for jump-starting the type of education and change that will make it possible for transgender and gender nonconforming people to find the resources and support that they need.
*Sarah is a member of GLSEN's Transgender Student Rights Advisory Committee.
Transgender Awareness Week is an opportunity for students, educators and community members to increase visibility of the transgender community and to raise awareness of the experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming students, who often face hostile school environments. Click here to learn more and take action!