If you live in Portland, Oregon, you’re used to seeing the “In Our America” flag around town: yard signs, window decals, t-shirts and more. Right after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, any sign of hope was welcome and it felt good to see so many people willing to openly display their rejection of the racist, misogynist, transphobic bigotry coming from Washington DC (and a few golf courses and resorts…).
Not Our America
As much as the nationalist symbol that is the U.S. flag—the symbol of so much damage, death and oppression in the world—made me cringe, the many messages of inclusion overlaid on it were still heartening. I wanted to look past for just a moment the fact that, for white people here, this has never been “our America,” but land stolen through horrific acts of ongoing genocide and built on the backs of enslaved peoples kidnapped from the shores of Africa, as well as many others who have been and continue to be exploited to this day. (We have simply moved slavery behind prison walls.)
Give me liberty or give me… Netflix
I wanted to believe that, while clumsy, this was a visible sign that a shift was taking place—that the election of a morally and ethically-bankrupt sexual predator to the highest elected office here had finally awakened and inspired the sleeping masses.
“I don’t believe for a minute that the majority of people in the United States are heartless, hateful transphobes. But just as there is no such thing as passive anti-racism, there is no such thing as passive anti-transphobia or passive trans allyship.”
Alas, a cursory review of current headlines on any given day makes clear that the masses remain at home and uninspired, binge-watching their latest distraction on Netflix.
The first year in office (2017) of the new occupant of the White House was the deadliest on record in terms of trans people being murdered in the U.S., with at least 29 that year (1)—and we know that these numbers are always dramatically underreported, in part because “police, media and even family members will often misgender the victims” (2). And, of course, this doesn’t include all other forms of discrimination, abuse and violence that stop short of murder, but that reduce life chances and often cut lives short nonetheless. In 2018, at least 28 trans individuals were murdered, following the same disturbing trend: “all but one of the victims in 2018 were trans women, and all but one were people of color” (2).
While progress is being made, hate-driven legislation continues to be introduced at all levels of government and enacted across the private sector.
Allyship demands action—IRL
I don’t believe for a minute that the majority of people in the United States are heartless, hateful transphobes. But just as there is no such thing as passive anti-racism, there is no such thing as passive anti-transphobia or passive trans allyship. The stemming of violence and discrimination won’t come through yard signs, window decals, Facebook posts or slogan buttons, but through cisgender allies showing up IRL (in real life) at events, and working alongside and getting to know trans, non-binary and other gender-expansive folks.
Change will come and accelerate only through all of us bringing our humanity and our vulnerability with us, finding common ground, celebrating our glorious differences and forming relationships of trust. And—if we do it right—wonderful new friendships, as well.
I.S. de Lis
Founder & Volunteer
Pronouns: she, her / they, them / ella en español
I.S. de Lis is a volunteer, community organizer, activist, writer, photographer, event producer and full-time student, with a double major in Sexuality, Gender & Queer Studies and Spanish. She is also the founder of Transcend.