Trans in America

Trying to Rise Above the ‘Suffering Trans Person Narrative’ Fetish of Society

Yes it is hard being transgender in America in 2019. But I’ve had personal triumphs too.

The media narrative about trans people is tiring. 

It seems as if every story has to have a hook and an angle that our lives are horrific wastelands of discrimination, depression, and self-harm.

But trans people are so much more than just that, which should be obvious but may not be.

Unfortunately, the statistics about trans people are real, terrible, and frightening.

  • Trans people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty.
  • 41% of trans people attempt suicide.
  • 92% of trans people in the south report facing harassment and discrimination on the job. And in New England that figure is 91%.

In 31 states, transgender people can lose their job, their house, or their access to education simply for being trans and we have no legal recourse to combat it.

Fully three in five trans people face harassment and discrimination in public seeking services a cisgendered person would receive no issues with.

So yes, for trans people our lives can be incredibly difficult. And these stats certainly make for salacious reading and viewing to the public who have become accustomed to our stories of suffering. It all fits within a pretty great idealization of the suffering trans person that’s reinforced time and time again by society.

This whole thing is all a reinforcing echo chamber, born out of ignorance and reinforced by insecurity.

But our lives are so much more than the struggles.

Let’s Talk About Being Trans and Suceeding

Being trans and succeeding is possible, but due to the stats I mentioned above it is harder than it should be.

And when success does come, it always feels tenuous. 

For instance, I have a great job at an organization which will never fire me for being transgender. That job comes with great benefits. I am married to my wife who loves me so. We have a house. Our pets are great. I have my hobbies. Things are stable.

But yet I’m always stressed because I know the stories and even when I’m succeeding (and to be truthful I am), I feel like I’m failing or a second from failing.

I joke with my coworkers that I hope I don’t get fired because of this meeting or this task and those comments actually stem from a core insecurity that, as a trans person, I’m about to be rejected at any moment.

Despite the fact I live in New Mexico, a state which literally passed an expanded LGBTQ+ non-discrimination law unanimously, I am constantly on alert looking for the next shoe to drop around me.

But yet here I am, with my job and my house and my wife  —  in a statistically far better position than many other trans people and I feel insecure.

This is the media narrative at work. I feel insecure because I feel like I have to feel insecure, so even when I’m succeeding I actually dread that I’m really failing or I’m about to fail.

This is one way how structural inequities develop. This is how they persist. That despite success you constantly feel failure because everyone assumes you are failing or will be or should be failing. 

And when I say I’m constantly fearing failure, I truly mean it. Even today, despite everything we’ve been through I still catch myself worrying. Am I really qualified for that job? Does my wife actually love me? No I mean I know she does, but does she REALLLLY love me?

Like of course she does Raychel, get over yourself.

But that fear…its always there.

So How Do We Fix It?

First, when we succeed we need visibility too. 

The trans doctor. The trans lawyer. The trans factory worker. The trans teacher. The trans activist.

We all need to be visible when we succeed, in the big and little things. Visibility matters. 

So as a transgender person, if you can bear it, if you can do it, you need to be brave and be visible. 

Second, when we fail we also need visibility.

We need to be heard and we need to be seen. We cannot stay silent.

When we suffer at the hand of inequities, we need to stand up. We need to shout. We need to not let a moment pass by.

Third, we need allies to celebrate us. We need allies to mourn us. We need allies to fight for us.

The unfortunate and horrific thing I have learned is that there are not enough trans people to change the minds of power brokers across this country. Where trans rights advance are also where trans allies stood up and fought without ceasing alongside us and for us.

When we succeed, we need those successes lifted up. When we fail, we need to have a foundation built under us so that we don’t fall too far by our allies. And when we need to fight for ourselves, we need an army of allies behind us ready to march onwards.

Trans people do not have to suffer.

Let me say that louder for the people in the back.


Every act of discrimination is a conscious choice by the person discriminating. Every trans person attempting suicide is the result of a culmination of decisions by society to discriminate against us and for potential allies to stay quiet as we suffer. 

The stories of suffering do not have to be the narrative we live. We should be proud. We should be loud. And lastly, we need allies to be there with us every step of the way.

For the suffering of trans people to no longer be the sought after narrative the media wants to pursue, we need to see more of transgender people and our lives. All of our lives. And we need allies ready to fight and walk alongside us.

We need you. We need YOU. We need each other. 

Let’s change the narrative.

By Raychel Sanner

I'm a trans photographer and filmmaker based in New Mexico. I love adventure and travel and exploring my state. I chase down incredible storms and skies. I advocate for good mental health and for my trans siblings.

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