Affirming Trans Lives and Experiences
Five self-care tips & resources to help celebrate trans identity and navigate challenging times
Updated Nov. 14, 2023
Transgender Awareness Week, observed each year from Nov. 13 to 19, is a time to honor the strength and resilience of individuals within the transgender community. Transgender Awareness Week also aims to raise visibility of issues that impact the lives of the transgender community. This advocacy work is accomplished through the education of the public, the sharing of stories and experiences of transgender individuals, and the highlighting of inequalities, prejudices, discrimination, and anti-trans violence that transgender individuals face every day.
Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in memory of Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman who was murdered in an act of anti-transgender violence in 1998. Since the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999, the day has been embraced by many cities and countries around the world. Each year, folx (a gender inclusive term sometimes used to refer to LGBTQ+ communities) gather to honor the lives of individuals whose lives were lost to anti-transgender violence that year. We also honor the unknown lives lost to anti-trans violence, as we acknowledge that many of their stories go unreported, particularly in the case of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) individuals.
2023 has been a challenging year for the transgender community. In addition to the transgender community being disproportionately affected by violence and abuse compared to cisgender people, 2023 has also seen increased anti-trans legislation filed to restrict the lives of transgender children, adolescents, and adults.
This year marks the fourth consecutive record-breaking year for anti-trans legislation in the United States. In a single month, the U.S. doubled the number of anti-trans bills considered across the country from the previous year. These bills aim to prevent trans folx from playing on sports teams with teammates who share their gender identity; bar them from accessing bathrooms and locker rooms where they feel safe; prevent them from changing the gender on their birth certificates; allow people and organizations the right to refuse goods, services, or employment to transgender folx on religious grounds; and restrict the ability of trans children, adolescents, and adults to acquire gender-affirming medical care.
Notably, these measures not only oppose current scientific evidence, but also threaten the physical and mental health of transgender individuals. On the other hand, some states have enacted highly protective legislation, including refuge and shield laws that block extradition and investigations into gender affirming care from out of state.
Given some of the unique challenges and hardships faced by transgender individuals, this year for Transgender Awareness Week, we seek to not only raise awareness of some of these challenges outlined above, but also to promote free or low-cost self-care practices for individuals impacted by anti-transgender discrimination, prejudices, and violence while simultaneously uplifting and highlighting the voices and experiences of the transgender community. In the words of Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Thus, self-care can be seen as an act of radical love and resilience in the face of hate.
Disconnect from harmful media and connect with others
Our society's treatment of transgender people can often feel overwhelming. If you’re following the news and you’re feeling this way, allow yourself to take a break. Also be conscious of who you follow on social media and consider unfollowing any accounts that may feel emotionally taxing or unplug altogether. Connect with trusted supports in person, whether it’s with your friends, family, and peers; local or regional support groups; or even larger national LGBTQIA+ and TGNB-focused organizations. Indeed, prior research has shown that social connectedness can help to decrease stress, increase happiness, and improve well-being. Below are some options for places to connect with other members of the transgender community:
- Trans Youth Equality Foundation: Trans Youth Equality Foundation hosts a semi-monthly Zoom meetup for transgender and nonbinary youth ages 12-16.
- TransFamilies: TransFamilies hosts numerous virtual meetings for LGTBQ+ youth, including transgender and nonbinary youth and their family members.
- TransFamily Support Services: TransFamily Support Services provides family coaching, assistance with healthcare and insurance, help navigating the legal system, and support at schools for no fee.
- PFLAG: PFLAG hosts online groups for LGBTQ+ people, caregivers, and family members. PFLAG also offers BIPOC spaces.
Allow yourself the time and space to mindfully engage in a creative activity as an act of self-care. You can express yourself through your own creative efforts, whether it be through art, writing, cooking, dance, or music. Engaging in these creative outlets can help you to feel relaxed and reduce levels of stress. Coloring can be a great self-care activity; here are some suggestions of coloring books focused on the trans experience:
- The Trans Affirmation Coloring Book, designed by Theo Lorenz, celebrates trans identities, beauty, and relationships.
- Trans Pride: A Coloring Book includes pages of key figures in transgender history, gender flags, key terms, empowering statements, and awareness.
- The Transgender Heroes Coloring Book, illustrated by current trans+ cartoonists, depicts some of the trans community’s most notable figures.
Today we are starting to see a wider range of gender identities and sexual orientations represented in the mainstream media. Podcasts, books, and documentaries are working to de-stigmatize transgender identities through education. Below are a few examples of different forms of media embracing and elevating transgender voices:
- Gender Reveal Podcast amplifies the stories of trans and nonbinary folx and provides gender 101 episodes, to educate people seeking to learn more about gender.
- Trans Bodies, Trans Selves With each chapter written by transgender and gender expansive authors, this book discusses many important issues such as race, religion, employment, medical/surgical transitions, mental health, relationships, sexuality, arts and culture, parenthood, and more, in relation to trans identities.
- PFLAG possesses a list of movies, including both narrative films and documentaries, that explore many different facets of the trans experience.
Whether through guided prompts or an open-ended journaling practice, self-reflection or journaling practices may offer opportunities to express your emotions in an honest, vulnerable, and safe way.
- Drawing on evidence-based techniques including cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, the Trans Self-Care Workbook offers prompts to promote self-affirmation and well-being.
- The Gender Quest Workbook is a guide for teens and young adults exploring gender identity internally, interpersonally, and culturally.
- The Gender Identity Workbook for Teens offers writing prompts, quizzes, activities, and practical advice for exploring and talking about gender, as well as getting involved with supportive communities both in real life and online.
- The Queer and Transgender Resilience Workbook, focusing on skills for navigating gender expression, will teach folx how to challenge internalized negative messages, handle stress, build a community, and embrace their true self.
It’s ok to not be ok
There may be times during which you feel overwhelmed by the challenges and hardships faced by transgender individuals. This is understandable, and you may benefit from additional mental health support in these moments. Below are some additional mental health resources that may be helpful to you if you feel this way:
- Trans Lifeline, run by and for trans people, provides trans peer support at 877-565-8860
- The Trevor Project offers a 24/7/365 Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR, TrevorChat (online instant messaging), or TrevorText (a text-based support option)
- The National Suicide Prevention and Crisis Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988.
- If located within the state of New York, the ColumbiaDoctors Gender Identity Program provides evidence-based and identity-affirming individual, group, and family psychotherapy focused on instilling pride and celebration of gender diversity. We work within a multidisciplinary team to ensure access to gender-affirming mental health and to gender-affirming medical interventions.
Updated by Ani Fredman, PhD, (any pronoun: they/she/he), postdoctoral fellow in the Columbia Gender & Sexuality Program; and Kareen Matouk, PhD, (she/her), clinical psychologist, assistant professor in medical psychology (in psychiatry), and the assistant program director of the Columbia Gender & Sexuality Program.
Original Authors: Julia Case, PhD, (she/her), clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital of New York Presbyterian; and Melina Wald, PhD, (she, they), clinical psychologist who also serves as an Adjunct Professor in Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Wald is the previous Clinical Director of the Columbia Gender & Sexuality Program.