Finding an audience for trans voices

Rachel Saunders
4 min readMar 23, 2023

Any advocacy and policy work needs to establish who its target audiences are. Trans rights, much like any minority rights, has to find a receptive audience amongst policy makers, politicians, the media, and public at large if trans folk are ever to attain normative rights. This means that there will always be an innate tension within the wider trans discourse about how to proceed with rights, messaging, and the very definition of success. Feminism holistically has been wrestling with this dilemma since the 1960s, which is part of the reason white picket fence queer rights and the jettisoning of trans rights from certain feminist discourses has happened.

Even within the trans community there is a broad plethora of voices and needs. White middle class wealthy trans folk often have access to resources out of the reach of other members of the community, meaning that there is never an equality or equity of opportunity to live as our authentic selves. Politicly this translates into a schism of different needs and wants. If your material needs are being met, then politically you have the bandwidth to fight for pension, marriage, and other secondary rights that cis folk take for granted. On the other hand, if your day-to-day existence is being threatened by violence, poverty, and lack of access to physical and mental health services, then your political demands look different.

All of this makes the fight for trans rights a complex bundle of needs. On the ground level these needs intersect with the fight against poverty and the right to access free healthcare. If your basic needs are not being met, either because you have been made homeless or you are unable to work a job that pays enough, then all other rights become secondary. If your physical self is threatened daily, and the police will not step into protect you, you have a bigger problem than not being able to adopt children. Different needs require different approaches, there is not one way to get intrinsic trans rights enacts.

I believe this is part of the reason why there are fractures within the trans community and the wider community at large. Judith Butler in Gender Trouble laid much of this out in the early 1990s, pointing out the white picket fence middle class gay men and lesbians co-opted the gay rights movement towards a normative approximation of cis straight lives. Since her work was published there has been much written within black feminism about the need to account for all voices and axis of identity. To be trans is not simply a sobriquet that one wears, it is a component part of your wider identity, which does not suddenly get erased when you come out.

How do we then tackle the political issues at hand? Is it enough to get marriage equality, equity of pensions, and a smattering of legal protections that may help in the dead of night against some violence? The answer depends on where you sit within society. Radical action can work, yet often those radical voices are marginalised at the fringes precisely by those who wish for a normative version of cis het life. Any progression of rights takes more than a few high-profile trans celebrities and court cases. It takes building bridges, understanding that compromise is both necessary and distasteful, and that cis allies are essential. Rights are hard won and easily eroded, and it takes the whole community to pull together.

Few of us ever wish to lose our positions of privilege, indeed part of the story of life is to try to better your personal circumstances. Yet, if all trans voices are to be heard those with privileged platforms should be encouraged to share them with vulnerable elements of the community. If trans healthcare matters it matters for everyone, not just the photogenic school kids, models, and svelte young things put in front of legislatures and newspapers. If trans sex workers are worthy of protection then it cannot just be for the top 1% on OnlyFans. If the trans umbrella is all inclusive, then non-binary voices need to be recognised and championed. The trans community is not a monolithic whole, and trans platforms need to step up and show the diversity.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to who our intended audience is. Part of the reason pretty young trans voices gain traction is because they are the palatable face of the trans diaspora. Being articulate, well spoken, conventionally groomed, and outwardly cis-normative gets you further than any inherent ideas you wish to convey. It is a problem for all minorities, not just trans ones. As such, is there a trade-off to be made to amplify our message? Should we compromise the excluded minorities so that the wider cis-normative world sees trans folk as non-threatening and just another part of the tapestry? It is not for me to answer that question, though I will say that who the community puts into the spotlight does inherently reflect more broadly on cis-normative understanding of what it is to be trans.

There is not one way to solve the inherent differences within the trans community, much as there is not one issue whose resolution will bring a complete panacea. Endemic poverty, violence, and lack of healthcare blight much of society, so allying with those voices would be a reasonable start. Talking to minority voices, reading and watching their work, and then championing their causes in solidarity would be a good next step. Then reaching out to legislators, decision makers, and the media to show your support for those voices would be beneficial. Your fight might be different from your neighbours, but it is in the allying of different needs that solidarity and change can happen. There is no one audience in the fight for trans rights, but by taking the first step in understanding we can create a more equitable society.