41 percent of trans people attempt suicide. For the general population, that number is 1.6 percent. Trans people are four times more likely to live in a household with less than $10,000 a year of annual income than the general population. 57 percent report serious family rejection. The experiences of trans people are not easy, and rampant transphobia has a statistically significant effect on their lives. Transgender Awareness Week hopes to try to stem the tide of ignorance.
Held between Nov. 14 and Nov. 12, Transgender Awareness Week is dedicated to raising awareness about the presence of transgender people of all genders and their experiences. This year marks the second official Transgender Awareness Week held across the globe, and several events at New College were created to honor it.
Planned from early August by the gender initiatives division of the Title IX committee, Transgender Awareness Week was marked by three events. TransSarasota: A Discussion took place on Nov. 17. It brought Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Katy Bergen and local therapist Heather Eslien to New College to lead a discussion on the TransSarasota project, a large-scale article by the Herald-Tribune to document and bring visibility to the lives of trans people in the Sarasota community. The discussion centered on the project and on trans representation in the media. A total of 11 people came, which according to Armbruster was a fairly good turnout given that there was heavy rain on the night of the event, which was held in ACE.
The Transgender Experiences Panel, held on Nov. 19, included a panel of six trans members of the New College community who spoke about and answered questions regarding their experiences as trans people. Thesis students Sam Armbruster and NCSA President Cassandra Corrado, who helped organize Transgender Awareness Week, moderated the panel. “I counted and at one point, there were 31 people in the audience, which is a great turn-out for a New College event,” Armbruster said. Members of faculty and staff attended the event as well.
“It was really refreshing to see members of the community other than the select group of people who always come to events, and hopefully the things they may […] have learned, they’ll pass that knowledge on to other faculty and staff,” Armbruster said.
The panel opened with a Transgender 101 session. “We made a lot of edits to the 101 to make sure no single voice was heard and no one was singled out,” Armbruster said. Then panelists answered questions that were anonymously submitted, either online or via notecards or texts at the event. Questions ranged from “What is your opinion on OkCupid’s new gender options?” to how to help partners and friends with dysphoria.
The culmination of the week was a candlelit vigil in honor of the Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance. Held on Z-Green, the vigil honored members of the transgender community who lost their lives to transphobic violence, and included a reading of a list of names of trans individuals who lost their lives in the past year.
New College alum Matthew Andersen (‘10) led the vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance at New College. “It was an incredibly intense experience,” Andersen said. “The list of names is never a light one, and was made even heavier by the eight year old on the list.”
Andersen also stayed after the vigil to help anyone who needed to talk find the right connections. “I see authentic living as a mitzvah, and anything that helps the lives of trans people and educates others about our experiences is something I want to help with,” Andersen said.
Transgender Day of Remembrance outdates Transgender Awareness Week by fourteen years; it was first honored in 1999, created by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honor Rita Hester, a trans woman who had been murdered in 1998 due to transmisogynistic violence (transmisogyny is the blend of transphobia and misogyny that trans women experience).
Transgender Awareness Week has received vocal support from many trans people, including actress Laverne Cox, who shared her personal story, and is slated to take place again next year. “It was really, really exciting that these events happened and that so many people came,” Armbruster said. “It seemed like everyone who came was really excited to learn and participate, which is something I think New College doesn’t have enough of.”