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Trans Awareness Week With Serena Van Der Woodsen

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By Serena Van Der Woodsen, National Account Executive

Mark your calendars for Friday 20th of November people and before you even ask, no it’s not some pre-Black Friday sale to get you in the spending spirit. It’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. A day to remember and stand in solidarity with our trans siblings whose lives have been lost due to transphobic hatred and violence. If you didn’t know about this international day then you probably also didn’t know that at the time of reading this, it is in fact Trans Awareness Week. But that’s okay if you didn’t, the whole point of Trans Awareness Week is to address that very issue and create conversation.

Looking back over the last decade alone, there have been some pivotal moments that shattered the glass ceiling and made monumental history for the trans community, specifically in the media. But the war is far from over. Demand for representation and diversity especially in the workplace is at an all-time high, and for good reason. Just to give you some perspective as to why, research by Stonewall (2017) has shown “1/8th of trans employees have been physically attacked by a colleague or customer in the last year, and 51% of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination.” To live your life in fear is truly no life worth living.

There is always strength in numbers and alliance creates resilience, so this year for Trans Awareness Week, in collaboration with Major Players, I’ve compiled a list of outlets and resources that I believe are the epitome for Trans visibility and representation that can shape your perspective to be a better ally. There is a tremendous list of material I could recommend that have a multitude of academy awards under its belt: Hilary Swank in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (1999) and Eddie Redmayne starring in the 2015 ‘Danish Girl’ just to name a few. However, as much as these performances are ground-breaking portrayals of true to life stories, they miss the mark by having their stories told by a cis-gender actor. These are stories that need to be told but also with the correct mouthpiece. Everything on this list comes directly from the people who are living it and/or have the most inclusive roster.

First and foremost on the list is the documentary ‘Disclosure’ on Netflix. Statistically around 8/10 of the UK population do not personally know someone who identifies as transgender, which, results into said demographic having to turn to media to be more well informed. The problem with that? Up until the last few years, the portrayal of trans people on the silver screen has been extremely mischaracterised and misrepresented. Whether you personally know someone who is trans or not, it’s a must watch to hit the reset button on the narrative that Hollywood have depicted to you about trans people and all the off-screen events that transpire from such. Director Sam Feder and executive producer Laverne Cox (Orange Is The New Black) invites you to sit down with 30 trans people as they lend their own thoughts and experiences in exploring trans portrayal through media to better educate you on a topic that up until recent years, Hollywood have done such a poor job of doing. It’s a fantastic piece that not only reviews the correlation between Trans representation, off-screen culture shifts and the consequences that stem from it, but also sets the tone on going forward.

Thankfully, it looks like we are past the redundant plot twists of someone being trans in TV and film just for a storyline. Save the cliché gender reveal for your friend’s baby shower. Want more? Check out Variety’s Transgender in Hollywood Roundtable here.

Now that the history lesson is out of the way and you have a newfound perspective on trans representation in mainstream media, next up is something you can really sink your teeth into. ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Glee’ powerhouse duo Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, with their smash hit drama series POSE on Netflix. Centred around the late 80’s New York City Ballroom scene, it propels numerous trans actress’ into the forefront as they tell the stories and livelihoods of these young LGBT+ hopefuls, which they have all had some form of input in creating in a collaborative effort as executive producers of the show. On the surface, you’re drawn in by the glamour and glitz from the balls, but what makes you stay is the remarkable storytelling that takes you through a whirlwind of emotions as you experience what it’s truly like to be in the shoes of a trans person in a world that is rife with discrimination, violence and at the height of the HIV & Aids infection. But it’s not all drama, the show’s very core is all about life and starting over after choosing your family when being rejected by your own, all under the roof of the one place they can feel love, acceptance and truly at home. It’s a series that is so wholesome and does the community a real justice, you can’t help but feel the late Crystal Labeija smiling in her grave. Wonder what inspired the series? Check out 1991 Documentary ‘Paris is Burning’ and the ten part docu-series on Viceland ‘MY HOUSE’ to see how ballroom has evolved over the years.

Now, if you’re more of a reader, I have just the book for you, ‘Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity’ by Julia Serano. In this collection of personal essays, Serano debunks many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding trans women, the concept of femininity and subjects of gender/sexism on a broader scale. 

If you want to get ahead of the curve, pick up ‘The Gender Games: The Problem With Men and Women, From Someone Who Has Been Both’ by best-selling author Juno Dawson. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company SunnyMarch has nabbed the TV rights to take Dawson’s musings on screen. What I love about Juno’s book is that her part memoir, part manifesto is a light, witty and thoughtful view on the topic of gender. Sometimes we can get caught up in the seriousness of the ‘gender conversation’ so it’s so refreshing to delve into some writing that is not only raw and intimate but also funny with a bright outlook.

If you’re wanting to soak up some knowledge on the go, there are some great podcasts and weekly content on Youtube for more current and topical conversations. I recently sat down with Jamie Finch to discuss the A-Z of transitioning on episode 25 of his podcast: Let’s Talk About Sex Jamie, available on all major streaming platforms. As for something to watch and subscribe to, I cannot recommend Julie Vu enough. Julie (known as Princess Joules) is a Canadian Youtuber who shares her own life experiences and anecdotes to give you a full 360 view on all things Trans.

Last but certainly not least, if you’re wondering how exactly you can pitch in and lend your voice, be sure to check out the Non-Profit organisation Not A Phase founded by Jacqui Devon and Dan St James. Sponsored by the likes of Missguided and Victoria Beckham, they believe Public education is the key to creating real, long-term change. Their mission is to provide training to institutions and corporate companies on the real trans experience as they aim to break down stigma and prejudice and to foster stronger social inclusion and equality for the trans community. Whether you give them a follow on social media or pick up a T-shirt and sport it on Instagram using the hashtag #NotAPhase, you will be helping them provide essential financial and material assistance to trans people and trans businesses in order to address structural inequalities and lift the voices of the community.

On that note, you’re all caught up! You’re now ready to do your part for Trans Awareness week, continue learning and spread the loving message. Now, say it with me, “Alexa, play Love Me 4 Me by Rina Sawayama”.