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Transgender Health is a Women’s Rights Issue

We all remember January 21st when we turned on our TV screens and saw a sea of pink. P*ssy hats were scattered in clusters. Cute, witty signs that read, “Hands off my p*ssy” stood above the crowds of women. The Women’s March was upheld by news anchors, journalists, and politicians as a worldwide revolt against Trump’s stance on abortion. It was romanticized as a perfect example of female solidarity.

However, that is not entirely true. There was a huge section of the female population that was not present in the march, and they were hardly mentioned as anything but a side-issue for women’s rights, and unfortunately, this came as no surprise to the section of women who were neglected.

What the march and mainstream feminism lack as a whole is a consideration for transgender women.

Feminism, by definition, is advocacy for women’s rights based on the equality of all genders. While that may seem like a simple topic on the surface, trying to account for all women makes it more complicated. Differences such as race, religion, sexuality, and economic status make satisfying all women a daunting task. However, certain women have felt the weight of oppression much stronger than others, and that includes trans women. It may not seem like a big deal to neglect one small portion of the population, but that ignorance can have dangerous consequences. When an issue is ignored, it tends to worsen over time, which can be harmful to the lives of those affected.

This is particularly the case when getting into the discussion of health care, which for many is a matter of life and death. As evident in the Women’s March, most discussions of women’s health tend to be centered around cisgender women having an abortion. While abortion is certainly an important issue in all aspects of human rights, using only a cis woman’s frame of medical justice is inherently harmful towards trans women. Being one of the most medically vulnerable populations in the US, trans women carry this burden due to discrimination and because movements such as the Women’s March have been silent on their well-being.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 1 in 3 trans people will avoid going to preventative health care appointments, such as STI testing, out of fear of discrimination. The same study reported that 24% of trans women had been denied access to health care treatment altogether, the main reason being that they could not afford it, and 28% said that they had been harassed in a medical setting. The financial barrier is for a couple of reasons, but mainly because of job discrimination. An Injustice at Every Turn survey estimated that the unemployment rate of trans people is twice the general population’s and that 25% of trans people will be fired or rejected from a job because they did not conform to gender norms. In the case of trans women specifically, an average trans woman’s salary is expected to drop by one-third after she transitions. This means that trans women belong in the fight not only for medical rights but to bridge the wage gap as well.

Since they usually make less than their cis counterparts, trans women will often turn to other forms of payment to afford basic survival needs. This kind of payment is sometimes sex work, which, combined with their lack of access to health care, elevates their medical risks. In a study done by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 35% of sex workers who were trans women tested positive for HIV/AIDS, while 20% were homeless and 37% reported physical abuse. Even outside the realm of sex work, trans women are still at a staggeringly higher risk for HIV/AIDS. Between the years 2009 and 2014, a reported 2,351 trans people were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and 84% of them were trans women. However, even when they are not threatened with discrimination, trans women are still at risk of inadequate health care when getting treated for such infections. Another Injustice at Every Turn survey reported that half of trans patients had to teach their medical providers about transgender care because they did not have adequate knowledge on how to treat them. This can lead to several medical risks such as failed operations, misprescribed medications, and faulty preventative testing.

However, what makes this topic considerably urgent is the passing of the American Health Care Act. Under this plan, HIV/AIDS and sexual assault will both count as pre-existing conditions. These both will cause significant harm to trans women, especially those who are sex workers. The plan will also put a freeze on Medicaid enrollment by 2020, which benefits thousands of low-income LGBT people; and trans women have higher rates of low income than any other LGBT population. Though what will arguably be the most detrimental to trans women is the lack of funding for Medicare. The AHCA plans to repeal payroll surtax on high-income earners, which will decrease funds for one of the few health programs that cover transgender care. With conditions that mostly affect trans women counting as pre-existing, Medicare and Medicaid under threat, trans women will undoubtedly be hurt by this health plan.

Though there has been some talk about how the AHCA will affect women’s health, there has hardly been mention of how it will specifically affect trans women. Considering that trans women are economically and medically more at risk to be damaged by this plan, their lack of media coverage is worrisome.

This lack of coverage surrounding trans women’s health is partly because mainstream feminism has neglected to address the issue. Movements such as the Women’s March prove that it’s hard to address all women’s issues, and it can be overwhelming when one realizes that one form of oppression leads into another. However, this should not be an excuse to leave women in vulnerable populations to the wayside. For instance, during the march, there was plenty of talk about a cis woman’s right to an abortion, but no such focus on trans women being at a higher risk for HIV/AIDS. It is this kind of neglect that leaves the issue untouched, and thus leaves these risks to increase.

As feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde once said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Just as women’s rights are human rights, trans rights are women’s rights.

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emilydigest View All

English and Political Science undergrad at Rutgers University-Camden. I write about a range of topics from social justice, to politics, to campus events. Currently looking for a reporter or literary/media internship, so if you like my stuff, feel free to email me at: elk70@scarletmail.rutgers.edu. Thank you for checking out my website, I hope you like it!

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