When historians document the lives of transgender people

(Read: 12 LGBTQ personalities who changed the world.)

But while figures like Johnson and Rivera have fought systemic injustice against LGBT people, they often also find themselves defending their rights within their own communities. At the 1973 Pride Parade, Rivera was not allowed to speak, she was booed and pushed off stage when she decided to grab the microphone regardless.

The transgender community has continued to struggle against societal prejudice and persecution on many fronts, defying laws that prevent them from marrying, reinforcing their discrimination, and threatening their right to live openly. They even did so in the face of violence, and banded together to form mutual support communities in the name of transgender liberation. “They look at us. We are fighting for our survival,” transgender author Leslie Feinberg wrote in 1992. »

In 1999, transgender activist Monica Helms designed a symbol that identifies the movement: the transgender pride flag. With its blue and pink stripes, and colors strongly associated with gender assignment, the flag also features a white line to represent intersex, transgender, or nonbinary people.

The fight continues

Despite the rise of the transgender pride movement and unprecedented awareness of the topic, the marginalization of transgender and non-binary people continues. In 2021 alone, according to the Human Rights Campaign, fifty transgender and non-binary people were killed. 82% of transgender people said they had contemplated suicide, and 56% of transgender youth surveyed in a 2022 study said they had attempted suicide. The National Center for Gender Equality reports that more than one in four transgender people has been assaulted because of their identity; These rates are higher for women and people of color.

The fight for equality and visibility extends to academia, as historians like Jill Peterson seek to document transgender lives. Their stories were passed down from generation to generation, mostly through oral tales. “We’ve always been our historians,” says Jill Peterson.

Those who wanted to punish them or make them invisible often found themselves keeping their stories. Historians today rely on a wealth of evidence drawn from medical literature, court records, and police reports: sources that, though biased, explain how transgender people live and do. It was expressed in the past.

“As a historian, my biggest problem is not the difficulty of finding documents, but the fact that there is so much to write,” says Jill Peterson. “I don’t have enough time in my career.”

But as historians know, applying modern concepts to the past can be difficult. Should they use terms like “transgender” when referring to people who lived before this word even existed? And how do you write about people for whom changing pronouns was not an option, or who might not want to present themselves as different genders?

In the end, just as there is no single transgender experience, there is more than one way to be transgender in a date; And there is no evidence for dealing with transgender dating the right way. According to Jill Peterson, these questions reflect our concerns today about labels. Instead, she says, historians must discover the many stories of people who have challenged dualism, and let their lives speak for themselves.

According to Jill Peterson, historians and the public must first abandon the misconception that the existence of transgender people is a modern phenomenon, and learn to find their stories. “LGBT history is not hidden in physical history. It is hidden in our imaginations of past events,” she concluded.

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