For These Trans Folks, Community Is Everything: "We Can Weather This Storm Together"

With the overwhelming amount of anti-transgender laws rising across the United States that are effectively canceling Pride festivals and drag shows, it's sometimes difficult to carve out space to celebrate trans joy. Residents in Florida are losing access to gender-affirming care, drag performances are facing restrictions in Tennessee, and politicians in Texas are filing more and more anti-trans legislation. Meanwhile, some companies are rolling back their support of Pride.

But joy still persists. Some Pride organizers haven't backed down and plan to continue their celebrations in June, while touring musicians like Lizzo and Hayley Kiyoko have vocalized their support. The LGBTQ+ rights movement saw a huge win on June 20, per the New York Times, when a federal judge in Arkansas blocked a ban on gender-affirming care for minors. Grassroots organizations are helping local trans communities; the Okra Project, for example, provides home-cooked meals to Black transgender folks in the New York City area, serving as a reminder that community is a necessity for combating food insecurity. And folks like Laurel Powell, the director of communications and programs at the Human Rights Campaign, are advocating for trans rights nationwide by providing resources like the Trans Justice Initiative.

"It's a scary time for LGBTQ+ people, and particularly trans folks," Powell said. "Whether it's the unending legislative attacks, the right-wing firestorm directed at companies who support our identities and our lives, or the disinformation that seems to have taken root about us, it's easy to see all the negatives. But we're resilient, and I'm convinced we can weather this storm together."

Many trans advocates say that weathering this storm is all about supporting trans individuals in our own lives. From using gender-affirming language to ensuring that your trans friends are invited into safe spaces, it's vital that we uplift their voices, provide help where we can, and be active allies. Part of that includes centering trans individuals' lived experiences, which is why POPSUGAR talked to trans folks during Pride Month about what support has looked like and meant to them.

"I remember all of my friends just being so supportive."

Amada Barrios, a recent graduate from Florida State University, decided to get gender-affirming surgery for a breast reduction in December, but their doctor insisted that they'd regret their decision and didn't completely respect their wishes, which led to "a pretty traumatic experience," Barrios said. Initially, Barrios wanted to downsize from an E cup to an A cup, but input from his mother also troubled the process, he said.

But Barrios did receive support from their friends after his surgery and as he navigated changes.

"In that time, I remember all of my friends just being so supportive [over the phone]," Barrios said. "And honestly, almost all my friends had known that I was trans since the beginning of our friendship. Also, most of my friends are trans and queer, because that familiarity just makes me feel a lot more comfortable with the person to sort of explore who I am and that friendship."

Along with his friends, Barrios feels comforted by their partner who has "affirmed [them] in spaces and doesn't shy away from the fact that [they're] trans or nonbinary" while introducing them to others.

This validation is a familiar feeling for Maria de Jesus, another graduate from FSU. Jesus shared that corny nicknames and signs of affection from friends and romantic partners were super affirming when they first started identifying as nonbinary and trans masculine.

"Saying pet names like 'baby boy' or 'dude' that were more comfortable for me to hear [was affirming] because I feel like a lot of things that are called beautiful are generally associated with women and feminine people," Jesus explained. "And there are nonbinary people who are feminine people or identify as feminine who like those words, but I'm not one of those people."

After briefly moving away from Tallahassee, they found an abundant queer community in Detroit, especially in the city's music scene. While getting involved in a music collective and introducing themselves to other queer folks, Jesus found peace in receiving validation in their trans-masculine identity. Describing Detroit as the most "comfortable queer music space" they've been in, they still have found that allyship is essential.

"We need someone to intercede and also be our protectors."

"I feel like there's a lot more safety in hanging out in groups — especially at night or when you're going out and stuff . . . it's good to be around people that are cis-presenting," Jesus said. "Also, when you're expanding friend groups or you're introducing people, it's important for my friends to ask if I'd like to share how I express myself with those people. Because there's been scenarios where it hasn't been asked, and it's been assumed that I don't want to be out, and now this girl is [calling me] 'queen' and I don't feel comfortable anymore."

For Eshe Ukweli, a recent graduate of Howard University, finding community with other queer Black students completely shaped their experience and trajectory.

"People often have this idea that to go to an HBCU to be surrounded by Black folk that it's going to be this very transphobic, homophobic, queerphobic space," Ukweli said. "And I always say I do think that exists within our communities, but that is not the overarching thing that I feel like should be associated when it comes to Blackness, because Blackness is sort of inherently queer."

Specifically, connecting with other Black queer folks via groups like Cascade, the queer organization at Howard University, was important for Ukweli. Cascade hosts annual events like the Lavender Graduation for the school's incoming LGBTQ+ graduates and is committed to being a safe space for queer students at the historically Black college.

While navigating the queer community at her school, Ukweli appreciated allyship that looked like support and patience without prying. Similar to Jesus, Ukweli mentioned that protecting trans folks against potential harm is important for allies.

"Often, Black trans folks, like trans women, can be expected to be [get the mic and speak up] if there's something going down," she said. "Being the ones that are always front facing but are receiving the hate and violence, and [are expected] to be the protectors. We need someone to intercede and also be our protectors . . . Black trans women, Black, queer folks, trans folks, and LGBTQ folks need to be protected. And I think those who want to support us should be the first one to say, 'Hey, no, that's not OK. You can't say that to them.'"

Although Jailen Chapple didn't attend a historically Black college, their time attending school in proximity to other Black queer folks also provided an opportunity for them to learn how both of their trans and Black identities are interconnected.

"Coming into my trans identity first started with coming into my queer identity, and that's where a lot of my sources of community and chosen family have stemmed from," Chapple said. "In undergrad, I had a huge queer community that I really tapped into, and this is where I was able to come out and slowly went into identifying as nonbinary."

During the beginning of the pandemic, they started hormone therapy treatment and now credit online spaces like Twitter for being a path to finding community with other Black trans and queer folks.

"Being in queer circles or trans circles — for me, one doesn't exist without the other," Chapple said. "On top of that, more importantly is Black queer spaces and Black trans spaces."

This year, especially, providing support to trans and nonbinary individuals wherever you are is important. Maybe that looks like being actively involved in mutual aid organizations, educating yourself on queer history and terminology, or simply standing up for trans folks in your daily conversations.

And remember that supporting trans folks and spaces can look drastically different depending on the region they're living in, as the politicization of trans rights only gets more extreme. Florida, for example, has made headlines all year long as conservative lawmakers target the LGBTQ+ community, communities of color, and people's reproductive rights. But still, it's home for Barrios.

"I've seen so many jokes about people [not from Florida] saying, 'Just throw the whole state away,'" Barrios said. "That is such a classist approach, and making fun of the situation here and saying throw away the whole state shows that they're disconnected to people suffering. And also, Florida does not deserve to be thrown away."