You Are Not Alone: How The Transgender Resource Center Of New Mexico Is Saving Lives

How The Transgender Resource Center Of New Mexico Is Saving Lives

Amelia Olson
6 min read
You Are Not Alone
(Robert Maestas)
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As I waited in the lobby of the new location of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico to meet with cofounder and Associate Director Zane Stephens, there was a group of about five people passionately discussing Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair debut. Everyone agreed Caitlyn looked wonderful; everyone also hoped that the media wouldn’t screw this one up—that the coverage of her transition would be intelligent and positive. Still, I can’t help but be nervous about Vanity Fair and people like the Kardashians, both entities draped in tremendous privilege, helping to shape the cultural narrative and understanding of trans families and community. When Stephens and I do eventually meet in his office, I ask him what he thinks of it all. He says he is happy for Jenner, but makes it clear that the privilege folks like Caitlyn have with their transition is starkly different than that of the majority of the community. “Very few trans people will ever, ever, ever have the opportunity to transition that way,” Stephens acknowledges.

Though the experience of transition is different for every single person, a quick look through the most recent executive summary of the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s “Injustice at Every Turn” study reveals haunting findings. Forty-one percent of participants reported trying to end their own lives, four times the rate of the general population. Sixty-one percent admitted to being the victim of physical assault, and 64 percent reported being sexually assaulted.

Trans folks also experience more subtle, but equally devastating, difficulties when it comes to things like economic stability. Respondents were four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 compared to the general population. When considering 26 percent of participants reported having lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming, it’s not difficult to trace why homelessness is so widely experienced. And even if trans folks had found themselves fortunately employed, 90 percent reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job, even going as far as hiding who they were to try to avoid mistreatment.

The community as a whole, and in particular trans people of color, is vulnerable in every single aspect of both basic needs and general safety. And with so many individuals lacking the support of their families of origin, they can sometimes be pushed to the edge of society and forced to consider new means of survival that unsurprisingly endanger them even further. As a country that has evolved so drastically in terms of civil rights over the past 50 years, how is it that we have an entire community being silenced, killed, raped and forgotten? Part of that answer can be found in what we as a culture assume about transgender people, and how we do or do not choose to modify our thinking and behavior.

The National Center for Transgender Equality defines transgender as “a term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.” And though the definition is admittedly broad, TGRCNM focuses less on initial language and more on an open door policy of support. “People who are questioning or are uncertain, we are happy to give them the support they need to make those decisions about their identity. We are here to provide the information necessary to help people make decisions for themselves,” Stephens said. The center is trying to offer people of all walks of life the emotional and pragmatic support they so clearly and desperately need, while also educating the rest of the community about trans lives and becoming supportive allies.

We can look to the TGRCNM for education on becoming better allies and to learn ways to show support to our trans community as a whole. One such way is by participating in the resource center’s Transgender 101 class, a class that runs about an hour long and covers basic do’s and don’ts, alongside offering an open dialogue about what it is, isn’t and might mean to be transgender. It also allows people an emotionally safe environment to ask questions they might have. “I think we’ve done the class at least 500 times in the last couple years,” Stephens says, and he goes on to encourage all employers to enroll in the class. “It’s our entire community’s responsibility.” Parents are also encouraged and welcome to take the class or visit the center during drop-in hours. The support of family of origin, employers and overall community really is a matter of life and death and should be one of the top priorities in our homes, our cities, our states and our nation.

At TGRCNM all people are welcome; some come to simply sit in a safe room and take a deep breath before trying to assemble a strategy in survival for the day. “If you say you belong here, we say we agree,” Stephens promises. The resource center offers a legal clinic, computer lab, free counseling, HIV testing, youth groups, referrals to resources, harm reduction services and hosts a variety of support groups throughout the month at various times. They also help with things like job counseling, building interview skills and résumé assistance. And while the resources the center offers are unimaginably important, the center is, above all, a place for individuals to feel safe, loved and not invisible.

For folks who feel isolated from their peers or families, are questioning, identify as trans or anything in between, the resource center is open Monday-Saturday, 1pm-6pm, and is located at 149 Jackson NE. Their number is
200-9086, and you can either call or simply drop by during open hours. You can also visit their website at “We are trying to help people create new attachments and know that they are worthy, and they are cared about, and we love them, and they’re not all by themselves. That they have family. That whatever behaviors they do or don’t have will not cause us to not care about them.”
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