March 31 is International Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual celebration of transgender and nonbinary people and a commemoration of the worldwide discrimination against this vulnerable population. The term “transgender” refers to someone whose gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, and “nonbinary” refers to those who do not identify as either a man or a woman or are not strictly one or the other. The PEW Research Center estimates that about 1.6% of adults and 5% of young adults identify as transgender or nonbinary. While those numbers may seem small, an increasing number of Americans are impacted by the struggles and triumphs of transgender and nonbinary people — 44% of Americans report personally knowing someone who is transgender and 20% report personally knowing someone who is nonbinary.
In honor of this day of visibility, we highlight some important and largely unknown facts about transgender and nonbinary people:
In the 18th century, the Itelmens of Siberia recognized a third gender called “koekchuch” to describe individuals who were assigned male at birth, but expressed themselves as women.
In Turtle Island (an Indigenous name for North America), Indigenous communities use the term “two-spirit” as a modern, pan-Indigenous description for people of another societal and ceremonial gender identity. This term was established in 1990.
Hijras on the Indian subcontinent have formed trans-feminine third gender social and spiritual communities since ancient times, with their presence documented for thousands of years in texts mentioning trans-male figures. Today, at least half a million Hijras live in India and another half million in Bangladesh, legally recognized as a third gender.
In 1993, Brandon Teena, a transgender man, was raped and murdered in Nebraska. He became the subject of a biopic entitled Boys Don’t Cry In 1999.
Trans people live in poverty at elevated rates in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau reports a poverty rate of 11.6% for the entire U.S. population, but transgender adults experience a 29% poverty rate, Black transgender adults experience a 39% poverty rate, Latin transgender adults experience a 48% poverty rate, and Indigenous Americans and Pacific Islanders experience a 35% poverty rate.
According to a study conducted by the UCLA School of Law, transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault.
As stated best by President Biden in his Statement on Transgender Day of Visibility:
Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates the joy, strength, and absolute courage of some of the bravest people I know — people who have too often had to put their jobs, relationships, and lives on the line just to be their true selves. Today, we show millions of transgender and nonbinary Americans that we see them, they belong, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. Their courage has given countless others strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves. Every American deserves that freedom.
Nanda, Serena (1990). Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Wadsworth Publishing. pp. 130–131.