The Human Rights Campaign has declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. The transgender community in particular is facing an unprecedented amount of legislative violence, which threatens their families, education, health care, and public existence.
When trans folks are forced to navigate both individual discrimination and systemic oppression, conversations about mental health must acknowledge their existence within an ecosystem that hasn’t prioritized their humanity – much less their wellness.
But just as there are forces attempting to restrict the trans community, there are also those working tirelessly to uplift and enable trans individuals to thrive. Building on the community’s rich history of resilience, young trans changemakers are leading the way for a more inclusive future. Here are tips from Cyn Gomez and Rei Scott, former members of Mental Health America’s Young Leaders Council, for other young trans folks navigating these challenging times.
1. Find safe ways to explore and celebrate your identity.
Whether it’s because of their location, family, or other intersecting identities, some folks are more vulnerable to anti-trans harm than others. If you aren’t in an affirming environment, there are still ways to safely explore and express your gender identity.
“You do not have to go telling everyone in your school that you're trans,” said Scott. “If you just want to try out new pronouns with a friend, that's a way that you can express yourself without putting yourself in danger.”
When he was younger, Gomez had a friend help him purchase his first chest binder so that he wouldn’t be outed to his family. The friend had it delivered to their house in case the packaging wasn’t discrete.
Scott recalled going to stores when he was younger to try on clothing that made him feel confident and affirmed – something he could do more freely within the privacy of a dressing room.
“Quiet expressions of pride are just as meaningful,” said Scott. “When it comes to pride, being proud of yourself is more important than other people being proud of you. It's really important to learn to accept and embrace yourself because there are always going to be people who don't.”
2. Accept the care of the trans community – or offer it yourself.
“I think things like rest and self-care are usually defined as very solitary, but that’s not always true,” Scott said. “For me, some of the times that I’ve felt the most rested are among other trans and non-binary people. It’s important to find a space where you feel safe to completely be yourself, with those who understand your experiences on a personal level.”
Growing up, Scott didn’t know any other trans people in his area, so he found community in online spaces. Social media and online support groups can allow people to anonymously and safely connect with others who share similar experiences.
“When so many different avenues of your life might feel taxing for you as a person and in your identity, it’s important to have people who don’t ask you to be digestible and communities where you don’t have to work so hard just to exist,” Gomez said.
Gomez also emphasized the importance of both receiving care and offering it. He encourages trans folks who aren’t facing day-to-day violence to stay tapped into ways they can do their part for others in the community who aren’t safe. That can include letter writing campaigns, subsidizing affirming care through mutual aid, sharing resources, or just lending an ear.
“Even when everything is preying on us as a community to crumble, we're still moving with grace and strength,” said Gomez. “We're finding ways to take care of each other and ensure one another's wellness. Frankly, we’re beating all the odds right now.”
3. Tap into the historic strength of trans elders and ancestors.
“Find the queer and trans elders in your life or in your community. In these challenging moments for our community, it can be really healing to see that there is ancestry to all of this,” Gomez said. “This isn’t a struggle that we’ve fought alone, and this isn’t a struggle that we’re fighting for the first time. It’s a huge testament to our community’s strength and the way we’ve historically taken care of each other to make sure we were able to get to this point.”
One of the practices Scott found most restorative was writing cards to LGBTQ+ seniors with other members of his undergraduate Pride club. Older folks in the community can provide a lot of insight into past movements for trans rights, as well as serve as a reminder for younger people struggling to envision a future for themselves.
It’s this history of resilience that Gomez sees as evidence that the trans community is uniquely equipped to shake up the status quo and meet challenges head on. Gomez added that being trans and choosing life every day is an act of resistance.
“We see how much of a threat we are to these systems that are trying to break us down. We’ve been able to create an ecosystem that completely defies everything that’s expected of us,” said Gomez. “One of the central components of our community is radical resistance to any kind of conformity. We’re fighting compounded and intersectional harms, and we’re disrupting so many systems and power complexes.”
“I feel like we often blame ourselves for our identity and place responsibility on ourselves for our oppression, but that’s not the truth,” Scott said. “There is nothing wrong with you. Your existence really means something. Being trans means something – and it’s something to be proud of. Even if you can’t feel that right now, I’m going to hold onto hope that you can in the future.”
4. Practice radical and unapologetic rest.
Both Gomez and Scott emphasized the importance of allowing time for true rest.
“I think feeling disconnected from your body – especially when it can cause dysphoria – is one of the things that's very innate to transness, and that can make it really hard to know when you need to take care of yourself,” Gomez said. “When you’re existing in a fight-or-flight response all the time, you’re constantly tense and vigilant. We have to learn to really decompress and release that.”
Gomez tries to incorporate healing practices into his organizing work, including somatic care and herbalism. He finds it important to do both individually and collectively, and he encourages folks to share their knowledge and restorative practices with other members of the community.
“It is an act of resistance to rest,” says Gomez.
Rest also includes knowing when to step back from conversations or conflicts that end up harming you. Scott is familiar with the labor of correcting people who refer to him with incorrect pronouns, and he acknowledges that it’s a battle that he isn’t always capable of fighting.
“If you don’t feel comfortable talking about something or asserting something publicly, it’s totally okay not to,” said Scott. “That doesn’t make you any less trans or any less non-binary. You are still you, and you're still valid – you’re just protecting yourself.”
5. Center trans joy, hope, and creativity.
Scott and Gomez both recognize that being trans is often traumatizing. But they also believe that trans identity shouldn’t be defined solely by the way individuals and systems treat (or mistreat) trans people. It’s possible to acknowledge oppression and make space for joyful trans experiences.
“I think one of the most radical things our community can do is move away from organizing our community around fear,” Gomez said. “One of the strongest components of the trans community is our resilience and perseverance – and comrades in these deeply harmful spaces often embody that most directly.”
Scott added, “There's a lot of power in artistic expression. I’ve attended events where I read my own poetry, including a poem I wrote about my chosen name. That was something so important to me, putting all these feelings into something more tangible and getting to express the positive parts about my identity.”
Unable to access top surgery, Scott has been making an effort to focus on the parts of himself and his body that make him feel affirmed and empowered – rather than those that don’t. He connects with his identity through both his gender presentation and creative expression.
“Trans joy is fighting and thriving in our existence outside of any expectation, with sheer people power and investment in one another,” said Gomez. “The systems and people who hope to see us fall thrive on our silence. They want us to be siloed, individualized, and compartmentalized. So when we coalesce and genuinely show up for one another, that is how we survive this.”
This Pride Month, explore how to affirm your own gender/sexuality, be an active LGBTQ+ ally, and build supportive and affirming communities. Learn more here.