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Photo: Alex Casey
Photo: Alex Casey

SocietyNovember 16, 2019

Six things to celebrate this Transgender Awareness week

Photo: Alex Casey
Photo: Alex Casey

Based on their study of trans wellbeing Aotearoa, the research team at Counting Ourselves find six data points that highlight the strength of our trans and non-binary community.

Last month the first comprehensive national survey on transgender health and wellbeing in Aotearoa was published by the academics and researchers at Counting Ourselves. Exploring the lives of 1,178 trans and non-binary people, the community report showed shocking levels of violence and discrimination, severe health inequities, and hardship. 

However, it also revealed some surprising and inspiring ways that trans communities live and support each other. To mark Transgender Awareness Week, researchers involved with the project have identified six reasons to celebrate.

1. Being trans improves our quality of life

Almost two-thirds of participants in the study (65%) reported that their quality of life had improved since identifying as trans or non-binary. This is despite most trans and non-binary people reporting high levels of psychological distress, depression and anxiety. These often make people see the world through a negative filter, so to have such a high proportion of participants rate their quality of life positively shows just how important it is to be true to ourselves. 

Being accepted and affirmed by my family and whānau in my preferred gender improved my mental health. (Trans man, youth) 

It’s been nearly two years and I haven’t stopped having ‘happy’ as my baseline mood. I love life and I love who I am, which is a stark contrast from before. (Trans man, adult) 

The effect on my mental health of realising I was trans was profound. A year ago, I would have answered ‘most/all of the time’ to most of the questions [about mental health problems] on the previous page, and that has been the status quo for as long as I can remember. The change was noticed by others in my life, even before I came out to them. (Trans woman, youth)

Photo: Alex Casey

2. We are proud to be trans 

While our report shows clear evidence that stigma and discrimination still exists for trans and non-binary people in Aotearoa New Zealand, pride in ourselves is an important step in reducing the impacts of stigma on how we feel about ourselves. It is heartening that most Counting Ourselves participants (62%) felt proud to be trans or non-binary. 

I hugely value the role model trans people, that allow themselves to be seen. They have helped me greatly to accept being transgender. (Non-binary, older adult)

3. Trans people are supporting each other 

While the report demonstrates a clear need for support from the wider community, it also shows how trans and non-binary people are filling many of the current gaps. More than half of participants reported that they provided a lot of support for or felt connected to other trans or non-binary people, and it’s making a difference.

I feel very connected to the trans community in Wellington through volunteer work, it’s important to me that young trans folk never have to deal with any of the internalised issues that held me back from coming out for so long. (Trans woman, adult)

I feel like I’m a part of a community for the first time in my life. (Trans woman, older adult)

A rally in support of transgender people on the steps of New York City Hall. Photo: Getty Images

4. Whānau support is growing

Trans and non-binary people don’t exist in isolation, we are a part of families, cultural communities, social networks, schools, and workplaces. Some Counting Ourselves findings on these topics give us cause to be hopeful for our futures.

Many trans and non-binary participants had a lot of support within their whānau. Out of survey participants whose whānau knew they were trans or non-binary, more than half (57%) reported that most or all of their family supported them. Younger people were more likely to have this support.

My children are very supportive and are more than happy to go places in public, just not an issue with them. Love them to bits. (Trans woman, older adult) 

I love my family. It was a transition for all of us, but we got there. (Trans woman, adult)

My family’s cultural background has a strong tradition of gender variance and this has helped me a lot in terms of understanding and making peace with what I am. (Trans man, adult).

5. Connections to other trans students make school a safe place to learn 

The survey was completed by 93 trans and non-binary secondary school students. Four out of five (80%) reported that their school provided a safe space to meet other trans and non-binary students. This level of connection to other trans and non-binary people is something most of us who are older could have only dreamed of.

We have an LGBT club, good counsellors, and (a few bad) gender neutral bathrooms. [Our] teachers and principal are good – [they are] trying their best. (Trans man, youth)

It is an “all-girls school”, although I know quite a few trans/non-binary kids, and nearly all of my friend group isn’t cisgender. (Trans man, youth) 

Illustration by Sam Orchard

6. Supportive work colleagues lighten the load

While many participants had not told their work colleagues that they were trans or non-binary, our findings were more positive for those who had. More than three quarters of participants (79%) reported that these work colleagues were mostly supportive.

I think I was able to face transition mainly due to the support and respect that my workplace and fellow employees provided. (Trans woman, adult)

Trans and non-binary people face many difficulties, but Transgender Awareness Week is an opportunity to show the difference that support makes and for people to step up and walk beside us. For anyone reading this who isn’t trans or non-binary, here are some of the things you can do to support us this Transgender Awareness Week:

  1. Support and advocate for trans and non-binary people in your family, school, workplace or community. Even if you are not sure if you know any trans people, making a safe space might do more good than you expect. 
  2.  Attend Transgender Awareness Week events, including the Gala in Wellington this Saturday at the Newtown Community and Cultural Centre. The stalls are open from 11am to 5pm, followed by the Wellington launch of our Counting Ourselves report.
  3.  Attend a local Transgender Day of Remembrance event or take time to remember those trans people who have been victims of murder and to commit to creating a safer, non-violent world for all of us. 
  4. Read the Counting Ourselves community report to learn more about the issues trans and non-binary people face and what you can do to help build a brighter future. 

Transgender Awareness Week runs for the week leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) on 20 November; a sombre day first held in Massachusetts 20 years ago and now marked in all regions of the world. On TDoR we encourage you to speak out against the transphobic violence towards our communities, and remember those who are no longer with us due to trans-based violence. In previous commemorations in Aotearoa, we have stood together in churches and public spaces and read out the names of the trans people, who have been murdered, so that they are not forgotten. 

Keep going!