Kelsey Weymouth-Little

“Today, on International Transgender Day of Visibility, I want to talk about Palestine.

I want to talk about Palestine because there are transgender people in Palestine, as there are everywhere. This is not to say that everyone we might label as transgender identifies themselves as such. Transgender is a contemporary Western identity category, rooted in clear cut distinctions between sex, gender, and sexuality that do not resonate in many societies, including Indigenous societies with recognized third (or more) gender categories. So I do not mean to imply that people everywhere understand themselves as transgender. Rather, I know that my transness connects me to a lineage of gender non-conformity, expansiveness, and resistance that spans the millennia of human history and the circumference of the globe. My transness, therefore, connects me to Palestine.

I want to talk about Palestine because transgender people, like all people, do not live single-issue lives. I cannot understand my transness separately from my white masculinity, not when I am insulated from the racist and transmisogynistic violence too often perpetrated against Black and Brown trans women; nor from my body size, not when the racist and flawed measure of BMI is weaponized to deny many fat trans people access to gender affirming healthcare. Similarly, queer and trans Palestinians cannot be expected to choose between identities when fighting for their safety and equality. As Dr. Sa’ed Atshan said, “Because I’m simultaneously queer and Palestinian, I can’t sever parts of my body and self. I am both of these things at once… So I argue that the attempt to actually try to privilege one over the other is a fallacy because they are inextricably linked to begin with.”

I want to talk about Palestine because, on a day that we rightly celebrate transgender people in life instead of only mourning them in death, we run the risk of conflating visibility with liberation. Navigating the world as a trans person has taught me that the boundary between visibility and invisibility is quite porous; one minute I make myself visible to speak up when I am misgendered, the next I turn invisible to safely use the restroom. With shifting degrees of visibility come different risks and reliefs, but I am never wholly liberated, nor wholly oppressed, regardless of how others see me. It’s easy to assume that a lack of visibility for LGBTQ+ people means their lives are defined by oppression and suffering. However, we don’t need to dismiss the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people in Palestine and around the world face to acknowledge that their experiences, visible or invisible to us, are just as complex as ours are.

I want to talk about Palestine because transgender communities in the U.S. are facing an onslaught of transphobic rhetoric, legislation, and violence. We know that children are too often targets of this vitriol; just last month, Nex Benedict, an Indigenous trans teenager, died by suicide after facing pervasive transphobic bullying from fellow students and transphobic rhetoric from school officials. The day before his death, he was attacked in the girl’s restroom, which he was forced to use after Oklahoma passed a law banning trans students from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. Despite this crisis of transphobia, though, many of us consider the U.S. to be a relatively accepting place for LGBTQ+ people. For reasons more political than moral, we rank countries based on over-simplified perceptions of their LGBTQ+ friendliness, typically classifying Western countries as more “liberated” than predominantly Black, Brown, and Muslim countries. However, while legal and political contexts differ, homophobia and transphobia, and the violence they fuel, persist everywhere. Take Israel, for example. Through pinkwashing, a commonly criticized trope, many portray Israel as a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people who face discrimination in Palestine and other SWANA countries. However, this belief quickly falls apart when considering that Palestinians are subjected to pervasive discrimination in Israel regardless of their sexuality or gender—yet another reminder that LGBTQ+ people do not live single-issue lives. Additionally, LGBTQ+ equality is more limited in Israel than pinkwashing narratives suggest; same-sex marriages are only recognized if performed abroad, and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and hate crimes are on the rise. Pinkwashing stems from racism and colonialism—not a genuine commitment to LGBTQ+ liberation—and fails to represent LGBTQ+ Palestinians’ or Israelis’ multifaceted lived experiences. Rayan Anton, a Palestinian trans man, attests to this, saying, “Palestinian families have a quality that supported my queerness, which is an unwavering commitment to supporting one another even when we don’t agree with each other… We criticize Arab culture, but we don’t look at the positives that it has to offer. We are a deeply warm and loving people.” 

I want to talk about Palestine because, at a pro-Palestinian protest, a man came up to me and said, “They kill people like you in Gaza.” How even to respond to such blatant racism and Islamophobia, to such a disingenuous attempt to weaponize LGBTQ+ people’s oppression in service of genocide? I could have stood there for hours and argued facts with a man unwilling to see beyond his own hatred, but what it comes down to is this: even if there were a place where every single person wanted to kill people like me (and let’s be clear, there is no such place), it would still be wrong to kill them. It would be wrong to carpet bomb their neighborhoods and slaughter their children, wrong to deprive them of necessities and blockade them from leaving, wrong to massacre them as they flee for their lives and shelter in hospitals and wait hours for food for their children who are dying of starvation. As a trans person, I am intimately familiar with what it is like to be dehumanized in the public sphere, and I’ve seen how dehumanization inevitably breeds violence. As I witness the constant dehumanization of all Palestinians, I know that Transgender Day of Visibility must be about more than celebrating transgender people who are already out and proud in ways that are legible to us. This day must be about elevating complex realities above simple, politicized narratives; recognizing our shared humanity in the face of violent dehumanization; and standing firm in our solidarity with Palestinians and all oppressed communities, knowing that an entire people could never be our enemy."


Kelsey Weymouth-Little (they/them) is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at UC Irvine. They earned a bachelor's degree in Sociology at Bryn Mawr College and pursue research on social movements, with current projects focusing on collective identity development and decision-making in the movement to end life without parole (LWOP) sentencing and in the UC TA and GSR union UAW 2865.


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