“Ain’t I a woman?”
These words, spoken by formerly enslaved abolitionist Sojourner Truth, have reverberated in the background of America’s feminist movements. This refrain was certainly resonant for the context with which she spoke them: Before the Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio in 1851, imploring white onlookers to consider the humanity and dignity of Black women. But those words also laid the foundation for a resistance that would be found in the following generations.
It was a cry that remained powerful through suffrage, which relegated Black women’s right to vote as a secondary issue, or in some cases, a non-issue. It remained powerful during the second wave of modern feminism in the 1960s and 70s as non-white, non-straight, non-cis women’s needs were again shoved off to the sidelines in order to center the concerns of middle- and upper-class white women.
And Truth’s words continue to resonate now, especially, for trans women whose lives are put on the line everyday, just for the ability to be their true selves.
On International Women’s Day, I ask myself how often I, as a cis feminist have had the opportunity to elevate the voices and work of trans women, and failed to. I ask myself to consider when I’ve not completely understood that the fight for trans equality is not just a tacked-on issue for the LGBTQ+ community.
As cis people — as cis women — we need to interrogate our own biases when it comes to being a good ally for our transgender sisters and nonbinary siblings. Yes, you may feel discomfort in confronting your own biases. You should. It’s called growth. And growth is good.
Transgender people are disproportionately subject to rates of violence that should concern every human being on this planet. A full quarter of trans women and trans people of color have experienced a bias-driven assault according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Trans women face high rates of unemployment and housing discrimination, not to mention the laws being pushed by legislators to erase trans people out of existence.
What disturbs me most, though, are cis women’s efforts to push trans women out of spaces where they deserve to be seen and heard just like the rest of us. It’s hard to not have even the smallest grasp of feminist history and not see what’s happening here. This cycle is repeating all over again. Including trans women in our spaces does not come to the detriment of cis women. To think this is the case, plays into the patriarchal bullshit we've been fed with the intention of keeping us divided. And cis women who call themselves feminists are doing this again — this time to trans women — while we’re at a pivotal moment in women’s history. The cycle of patriarchal oppression can end with us, and we can do that by not only being better allies to trans women, but joining forces with them.
It would serve all women to do so: trans women like Miss Major were there at the beginning of our modern LGBTQ rights movement, and they continue to push for immigration equality, gender equality, political representation, and so many facets of our lives where feminists can make incredible progress if we buoyed each other.
It should be clear by now that at Out, we are purposely centering the stories and issues that transgender people are facing today — not just on special holidays for trans folks or because someone famous came out as trans or nonbinary (We’re obviously happy for you! But that’s not the motivation behind our reporting about trans people). We do it everyday. And on International Women’s Day, during this Women’s History Month, I think all us cis women should tip a hat to our trans sisters, for the inherently fierce act of being who they are.