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Celebrating trans resilience on TDOV—and beyond

Celebrating trans resilience on TDOV—and beyond

Celebrating trans resilience on TDOV—and beyond

Author and speaker Willy Chang Wilkinson opens up about the power of community and trans joy amid ongoing challenges.

How was your International Trans Day of Visibility? As trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people, we must remind ourselves of our successes every day. We know all too well that visibility comes with both rewards and challenges.

On TDOV, I enjoyed being with the community, celebrating our achievements while being treated to multicultural performances. I felt the warmth of old and new friends in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, where I once ambled the streets, disseminating bleach and condoms in the early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

As an elder who announced my trans self in the mid-1960s, I am both elevated by these moments, and disheartened that our humanity continues to be up for debate. I feel sad that youth like Nex Benedict, an indigenous, trans, nonbinary teenager, are unable to live their lives freely. Nex's story touched a collective nerve, reminding us all that trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals do not have the fundamental human rights that so many take for granted: the freedom to access a safe educational environment, exist in public, and pee in peace. These barriers are wrong and make celebrating our lives and victories complicated and difficult.

I am enraged that multiple institutions—education, healthcare, and criminal justice—have collectively failed Nex Benedict and continue to evade responsibility. I grieve that we live in an era in which anti-LGBTQ hate-fueled rhetoric is omnipresent, governmental forces abuse their power to restrict our daily lives, gender-affirming providers and educators are issued death threats, and supportive families are criminalized.

As individuals, families, and communities, we are enduring an unprecedented, unconscionable torrent of abuse.

Yet we can never forget that others stand with us. I am deeply grateful for allies and advocates like Kelley Robinson of the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah Kate Ellis of GLAAD, and Nicole McAfree of Freedom Oklahoma, who are calling it as they see it—demanding accountability for the mistreatment of Nex, and investigation into the patently suspect behavior of countless officials in the wake of this tragedy.

We must always tell our truths. We must always demand justice.

As a survivor of six decades of intimate, organizational, and institutional violence at the intersection of racism, transphobia, and ableism, I have learned that those who abuse us project their issues upon us, blame us for their behavior, and never take responsibility. I have learned that to heal, we have to process our pain without the expectation of apology because our abusers may never have the capacity to acknowledge and take responsibility for the harm they cause others.

I have also learned that we are not responsible for the distorted versions of ourselves that exist in other people’s minds.

We are extraordinary, brave, strong, and powerful. We are badasses. That’s why some people try to control us, why delusional people think they know better than we do who we are, and why cowards blame us for their weaknesses.

We have skillfully rejected abuses and barriers, asserting our right to be our own versions of ourselves and on our terms. We have been on a long arc of self-determination. When the system fails us, or we feel like we have failed, we can never lose sight of our victories.

The federal government supports us, even though states have been working feverishly to deny us our rights. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Vice President Kamala Harris, and President Joe Biden issued heartfelt statements about Nex’s fundamental right to feel safe in his school and community, and uplifting Trans Day of Visibility. This is the most trans-affirming administration in United States history.

The Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services stand with transgender students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends gender identity be discussed as part of K-12 curricula, including sex education programs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects us from employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and issued proposed guidance that misgendering, or denying use of a restroom consistent with one’s gender identity, constitutes actionable workplace harassment.

The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Population Affairs asserts that “gender-affirming care…has been shown to increase positive outcomes for transgender and nonbinary children and adolescents.” The Affordable Care Act prohibits transgender exclusions in health insurance on the basis that they constitute unlawful sex discrimination. Twenty-four states explicitly prohibit trans exclusions. Half the states cover gender-affirming care paid for through some form of health insurance, one of the greatest victories of the transgender movement.

True, the extensive backlash of states denying us these rights has been devastating. It is impacting our collective mental health, our ability to get healthcare, and our health and well-being. Not long ago, we didn’t have any of these rights. It is because the federal government recognizes our humanity that the haters care so much about refuting it.

When institutions neglect and devalue you, remind yourself that you are a precious gem. When you get misgendered in the school hallway or when calling a company on the phone, remember that your unique voice carries your truth, vibrancy, and power. When someone acts like your existence is an inconvenience, remember that you are the one who is being inconvenienced by their ignorance and disrespect.

Keep being yourself. It is a revolutionary act.

You are a natural part of human diversity. Being yourself is always in fashion. No one owns your ID but you. Your existence has value and meaning; others benefit from your presence and insights.

Celebrating our trans selves is about naming our truths, reclaiming our power, and reminding ourselves of our brilliance and resilience.

When those microaggressions happen, take a moment to try a tool I developed called the BARE Solution:

  • Breathe. Deep breaths calm down your nervous system so you can get past the pain, start to relax, and be able to think.
  • Assess. To the best of your ability, stand back and determine what you’re feeling and what is actually happening. Is this about you or them? What is your responsibility in this situation? Don’t take on something that’s not yours.
  • Reclaim. Respectfully deflect and redirect negative energy. Carefully assert your boundaries. Walk away. Identify your truth and the reality of the situation to reclaim your power.
  • Emerge. Exhale to dissipate the stress. Reconnect to your equilibrium. Acknowledge your presence of mind for taking care of yourself and prioritizing your safety.

The more you feel like you, the better you will feel.

Today and every day, remind yourself of your victories. Live every day as if it were Trans Day of Visibility. Do something that brings you joy. Celebrate the rebel in the mirror. Love yourself. Keep on being you.

Willy Chang WilkinsonCamerawerkz

Willy Chang Wilkinson, MPH is an award-winning author, public health consultant, cultural competency trainer, keynote speaker, spoken word performer, and editor/publisher. He is the author of Gender Splendor: 50 Creative Sparks to Celebrate Yourself at All Ages and Stages and Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency. Willy is the recipient of an Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists Excellence in Journalism Award, a Lambda Literary Award, and the Transgender Law Center Vanguard Award. Learn more about Willy at

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