A note on content: I refer to some examples of transphobia and discrimination against trans people, as do many of the sources I link to. I choose my sources with care and do not include examples of transphobic language, slurs, or hate speech in my writing.
The vast majority of messaging about trans communities (aside from the overtly transphobic) in mainstream media is told in numbers: percentages of trans youth who experience bullying and verbal abuse, numbers of trans people experiencing homelessness, and the economic disparity between white and Black trans people, to name a few. Due to discriminatory legislation and lack of access to equitable healthcare, the Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the vulnerabilities of the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, the pandemic has hit trans communities with particular ferocity.
These stories and statistics are important and deserving of our attention. Even so, they often lack both solutions and multi-dimensional representations of trans joy and love.
Enter TranSanta (@transanta on Instagram), an Instagram account dedicated to directly addressing the needs of struggling trans youth by allowing followers to fulfill their holiday wish lists. Through a link in their Instagram bio, anyone can contribute to the Target registries of hundreds of recipients. TranSanta is a bright spot borne of need, gross injustice, and a growing reliance on mutual aid during an incredibly challenging holiday season. This may not be your mother’s feel-good holiday story, but it is one that presents a nuanced narrative of trans joy.
Letters to TranSanta come in many forms: holiday wish lists, handwritten letters, visual art, and emails from parents of trans youth. In a video on TranSanta’s “Why” Instagram story highlight, Pose star Indya Moore (one of TranSanta’s creators), sings “TranSanta is coming to town.” They go on to explain that they co-created TranSanta to “make sure that trans kids feel like they are a gift to this world because they are.” The account has seen an outpouring of support–emotional, verbal, and financial–on social media.
When most of Instagram consists of social media escapism and virtue signaling, TranSanta presents the opportunity to have a meaningful impact and engage in community building. Under the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic, mutual aid and community-based support–from physical neighborhoods to greater online communities–have proven increasingly effective.
“My friends and I want to make sure that trans kids feel like they are a gift to this world because they are.”Indya Moore on @transanta on Instagram
Mutual Aid: Past, Present, Future
TranSanta’s efforts bear many similarities to mutual aid organizing at a time when reliance on mutual aid is growing in online and offline communities alike. Mutual aid is an organizing strategy by which community members advocate for one another and contribute goods, funds, and support when government aid is insufficient. The efficacy of mutual aid has achieved a new level of visibility this year, and for good reason: organizing efforts have cropped up around the country and world in response to increased need driven by Covid-19. People across the political spectrum are beginning to see the value of localized, community-based support.
Mutual aid as a formal organizing strategy in the United States dates back to at least the 19th Century, when fraternal societies became prominent, especially in Black communities. Even so, Black, brown, and trans communities have rich histories of community organizing that long predate formal societies and organizations. Organizers have long known that mutual aid is an effective way to address immediate need, food and housing insecurity, and a slew of other issues elected officials neglect to address.
Where systems of white supremacy and colonialism reign in American democratic structures, mutual aid proposes both ameliorative solutions and prescriptive structural change. Projects like TranSanta have the opportunity to directly impact individuals in the greatest need.
What You Can Do
TranSanta is certainly not the first online campaign to use mutual aid practices to support people in need, and its impact will last long beyond the holiday season. For now, the account is still posting new wish lists several times a day (as of December 29th, 2020), and people wishing to contribute can pick from a number of potential recipients in the link in their bio. You may find that the majority of wish lists have already been bought out. This is a wonderful problem to have, and most registries give the option to buy additional gift cards. To get a better sense of the direct impact your money has, visit @transanta on Instagram, and click through the “Thank Yous” story highlight.
Alternatively, you could reallocate some money to any number of organizations and funds (see some listed below), and your financial support will always have a direct impact on trans individuals’ GoFundMe pages. In Moore’s words, “Your gift is a token of support and love and affirmation” for the futures of trans youth. This is not just about spreading holiday cheer or building good karma, but about committing to a vision of an equitable and symbiotic future for the trans community and society at large.
ORGANIZATIONS & FUNDS TO SUPPORT
Brave Space Alliance (Chicago, IL)
LGBTQ Freedom Fund (National, USA)
List: GoFundMe pages for people crowdfunding their gender-affirming surgeries
List: Chicago Mutual Aid Groups and Nonprofits, Block Club Chicago (Chicago, IL)
List: Mutual Aid and Emergency Funds, National Center for Transgender Equality
List: Black Trans-led and Black Trans-serving organizations and initiatives
Trans Housing and Homelessness (National Center for Transgender Equality)
LGBTQ+ People of Color More Likely to Live In Poverty Than Whites (Color Lines)
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Transgender and Non-Binary Community (Columbia University Department of Psychiatry)
What Is Mutual Aid and How Can It Help With Coronavirus? (Vice)
History of Mutual Aid Organizing in the United States (Jacobin)