My TRUTH Experiences, James Perlow

It was the end of July 2018 when I found myself with a dozen other queer, transgender youth in the Utah Pride Center’s basement for TRUTH’s National Gathering. Everyone in room was an activist in their own right, whether in their school’s GSA, university’s queer scene, their local community, or some combination of the three, but we had come together with an ambitious goal: to write a manifesto for transgender youth.

The very act of our council convening in person felt miraculous. It is an unfortunate reality that most trans youth do not have a space to be themselves. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only about 38% of high schools had GSA’s (Gender and Sexuality Alliances). Today, GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey indicates that as the years have gone on, this number has increased (58% of their respondents reported that their school had a GSA). However, even in these spaces, our cisgender LGBQ+ peers can tend to struggle more with adjusting to new names and pronouns or wrapping their heads around genders outside of the gender binary (genders beyond being singularly a man or women). Encounters with transphobic, cisgender queer people are a poignant and particular kind of harmful.

In most areas of transgender and/or nonbinary people’s lives, we are constantly justifying our existence and explaining our identities. TRUTH provided a space where I was able to be understood on an intrinsic level by the people around me which freed the energy I spent making by trans-ness acceptable and digestible by others. Being with other trans folks means being able to dress without worrying about conforming to gender norms. It means safety and protection from people who understand the dangers within transphobia. Overwhelmingly, it means sharing jokes, smiles, and a hope for a better tomorrow. This is the power of community: a feeling of being linked together in a way that cannot be unbroken and working towards a future where all can thrive.

All too often, trans people are prevented from accessing a larger community due to incarceration. About one in six transgender people will be jailed or imprisoned over their lifetime, with rates increasing for trans women and most drastically black trans people, nearly half of whom will be incarcerated. With residence of guidelines granting asylum to seekers fleeing domestic and gang violence, trans asylum seekers at at increased risk of deportation. Whether in prison cells or immigrant detainment centers, trans people are at increased risk for violence, sexual assault, and death within them.  

No transgender and/or nonbinary person deserves to be harmed by the justice system, police, and ICE. This means ending transphobia is dependent on ending racism, colonialism, and all other axes of oppression. Though the struggles of trans youth vary, they are interwoven and connected in an undeniable way. So, together, TRUTH council bunkered down and studied the radical movement’s of our ancestors, discussed our values, and trusted in each other’s stories of bigotry and systemic violence and their needs because of it. Slowly, and with great effort and imperfection, we set out to write what victory might look like for all of us, with liberation from transphobia, from racism, from ableism, from misogyny, from classism, from colonialism, from police violence and incarceration, and more. This document eventually became TRUTH’s Nine-Point Platform.

Malik Tran, an organizer, poet, southern TRUTH council member, and all around marvelous human being, when speaking about her own story at National Gathering, said, “While helping someone realize their trans truth, I created an opportunity for my own liberation. While I was unchaining them, they were unchaining me”. The manifesto is built upon the belief that liberation for one requires liberation for all. When we educate, support, and fight for each other, we are not just working towards their freedom and happiness, we are also contributing to our own. There is no better future in which any of us our left behind.