Transgender Lives and COVID-19
By Ollie Downs | April 10, 2020
Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) is March 31st every year; it is a day to celebrate the trans experience and “to bring attention to the accomplishments of trans people around the globe while fighting cissexism and transphobia by spreading knowledge of the trans community”. I spent this year’s TDOV voluntarily sheltering in place in my home in Berkeley, California, with two other non-binary housemates of mine. During this shelter-in-place, I am reminded of the struggles faced uniquely by trans and non-binary folks in light of COVID.
Being counted is essential to dealing with issues like COVID-19, but there are challenges associated with counting trans people. Knowing who is getting it, where and when, and how they are dealing with it, are all crucial questions to answer. Unique groups like the non-binary community may very well be at higher risk for contracting COVID-19–and we need to know that. The ethical implications of collecting this data are tricky. Being visible as trans/non-binary is crucial for some people, and dangerous for others. On one hand, being able to quantify how many people, and what kinds of people, identify that way and where allows us to not only understand the demographics–and thus potential challenges and experiences–of those people. Especially in public health and government settings, knowing where things are happening, and to whom, is crucial in designing solutions like enforcing quarantines and distributing resources. On the other hand, forcing people to identify themselves as one thing or the other is challenging for many, and divides the world into discrete parts when actual identities are fluid and on spectrums. The truth may be lost when a person is forced to choose between imprecise options.
Social isolation and Abuse
Shelter-in-place orders are effective tools for containing the spread of a disease. But they’re also very effective at containing people who may not get along. As many of us have experienced firsthand, being isolated with others can create tension and conflict–which can be deadly for people with identities or characteristics outside ‘the norm.’ Transgender people, especially youth, may be trapped with abusive parents, partners, or other people who may seek to harm them, especially in situations where other identities intersect with their gender. Many transgender individuals find community in social spaces like communithy centers or bars, and without access to them, these communities (like many other marginalized communities) will suffer.
Other intersecting identities
The intersection of gender with other identities is complex and precarious. Other examples of discrimination against people with marginalized identity are everywhere. One example can be found here. In this post, Nadya Stevens reveals the danger faced by “poor people, Black people and Brown people” who are “essential workers” who must commute on crowded, reduced-service public transportation. Transgender and non-binary people, who face poverty and racism at alarmingly high levels, are directly impacted by the policy changes like that of the MTA. There is some light at the end of this particular tunnel. Actor Indya Moore began a campaign to take direct action to support transgender people of color (donate on Cashapp to $IndyaAMoore), and Moore’s campaign raised so much money in its first week that their account was frozen. This cannot be an isolated campaign: policy efforts must be made to continue this action.
Education at Home
Policy shifts towards turning education online during this time have been extremely difficult, especially for anyone in an unsafe home environment, without access to the Internet, or who are otherwise unable to consume material or who learn better in classroom settings. Transgender and non-binary people, again, experience poverty and violence at high rates, which may be worsened by these policy measures, and also often face medical discrimination, and may be impacted by failure to make online learning accessible to deaf, blind, or otherwise ‘non-normative’ students.
It makes sense that hospitals and medical care providers are halting ‘non-essential’ services like surgeries to focus on the care of COVID-19 patients. But the classification of some surgeries as ‘non-essential’ can be devastating, especially for trans and non-binary patients. Gender-affirming procedures are often categorized this way, but for many patients, they are crucial for their health and safety in a transphobic world. Additionally, patients with AIDS–many of whom are transgender–are at a higher risk of death from COVID-19.
What we don’t know could be the worst part of this epidemic. We don’t know if, or how, COVID-19 interacts with hormone treatments or HIV medication. We don’t know how it will impact the future of education or policy, or how social isolation and intersecting identities might change these outcomes.
Taking action is very difficult in a pandemic. This situation impacts everyone differently, but impacts transgender people as a community especially. What can be done? Until we can return to normal life, there are several actionable ideas; donate to funds you know will go towards transgender lives (Cashapp: $IndyaAMoore and many others), check in with your friends, family, colleagues, coworkers, and acquaintances who you know are transgender and offer your support; educate yourself and others about the struggles of the trans community; volunteer for organizations committed to transgender health. Finally, have hope. The transgender community has been more than resilient before. We will continue to be resilient now.
If you or anyone you know who is trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming and facing suicidality, please call Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.