My Take on the Trans 100 List

©2014 by Dallas Denny

My Take on the Trans 100 List

 By Dallas Denny


 In their work, Brevard is GRATEFUL for the accomplishments of other activists. They ASPIRE to be the best transperson they can be. In their work, Brevard is PASSIONATE about the well-being of genderqueer and gender questioning people of all persuasions. Brevard BELIEVES… Brevard IS DEDICATED…

Erm, has Brevard actually DONE anything? Has Brevard even STARTED doing something?

The Trans 100 is a project that lists annually 100 transpeople who are—

Just what they have done and are doing, I’m not certain. In many cases I can’t tell from reading the biographical information provided in the Trans 100 lists.

Oh, wait! Some of them might not HAVE actually done anything and might not be doing anything at present. They almost certainly, however, will when they ripen/bake/grow up/get around to it. The listmakers write:

It is not a list of who did great things in the past. It is a list of some of the people who are doing great things in the future.

And you can tell, uh… how? And how can I myself gain this omniscient future-seeing ability?

So, just what are the Trans 100 lists?

A line at the bottom of the Trans 100 website, just below endorsements from GLAAD, Lambda Legal, and Chicago House, reads:

The Trans 100 is an overview of the breadth and diversity of work being done in, by, and for the transgender community across the United States.

That’s commendable, but just what does it mean? In the absence of objective criteria, it’s impossible to tell. Does it mean the list selects representative activists across the spectrum without regard for their personal attributes or history? I think so, but it might also mean the list goes out of its way to provide as wide a variety of awardees as possible, choosing diversity above accomplishment.

We seek to highlight the work of both established activists and those who are up and coming, and we want to show and demonstrate the diversity of the Trans population. This is an important [aspect] of the work — the Trans 100 is not the “best,” nor is it the “only.”

The About page speaks at length on the process for getting on the list. It cites several criteria for consideration (must be alive, must identify as trans, must be out as trans in work, must be serving the trans community on a daily basis, must be nominated) and addresses the nomination and judging processes, but it doesn’t specifically say just what the list is about.

As best I can tell, the list is intended not to chronicle those who have done the most work, or the best work, but to showcase those across the spectra of race, age, ability, and socioeconomic status who are working on behalf of other transpeople. That is commendable, indeed. All too often the people who have worked the hardest have been overlooked because of their color or because of their looks or because they aren’t darlings of the media. It’s wonderful that people who are sacrificing their time and money to help others will get the recognition they deserve. The list is to a large extent about the previously overlooked, and I enthusiastically support that.

Unfortunately, just how those selected contribute is not always clear, as with “Brevard,” above. Brevard’s profile isn’t a lift from one of the Trans 100 lists, but a paraphrase that conveys my interpretation of the profile of one of the winners from 2013. It’s impossible to tell from the list itself just what Brevard has or has not and will or will not do, or Brandon, below.

Brandon works as community liaison outreach coordinator at the West L.A. Community Center. They uses their salary to finance their bitchin’ Dodge Challenger and pick up hot genderqueer-affirming chicks. 

Like the fictitious Brandon, many of the awardees from 2013 and 2014 are paid for their work. Their Trans 100 profiles note this and in some cases little else.

A few of the awardees are in the list solely because of their celebrity status. Certainly news coverage of their transitions increases public awareness, but I’m not sure how this qualifies them as “doing” something. I admire filmmaker Lana Wachowski, and I was wholeheartedly impressed by her speech when she was given the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award. Her profile in the 2014 Trans 100 indicates she also spoke about her transition at Equality Illinois, but nothing I’ve read about her suggests she is “currently working to improve the lives of transpeople.” Perhaps the Trans 100 judges know something I don’t—but if she has become an activist, why not put it in her bio?

Let’s consider Janet Mock also. Janet was first known as staff editor of People Magazine. Since coming out she has, oh, let’s see—among other things, written a New York Times bestseller in the hardcover nonfiction category, written for Huffington Post, created the Twitter hashtag #GirlsLikeUs, and stood up to CNN’s Piers Morgan when he was being an ass. She’s clearly using her celebrity status to advance our well-being.

Let me be clear: I am impressed by the individuals who made the Trans 100 lists for 2013 and 2014. I know many of them and have followed the work of others for years. They are sincere, dedicated, and talented people who have a desire to help others and do so with energy and integrity. I am not, however, impressed with the list itself, or, perhaps more accurately, with the lack of clarity in what qualifies someone for inclusion—and I’m decidedly unimpressed with the bios, which in many cases don’t convey the breadth and depth of the accomplishments of the awardees and in a few cases cite accomplishments that aren’t quite true.

What the Trans 100 project has done right is to recognize the efforts of people of color, FTMs, those who are disabled, and those who have been disenfranchised. That’s something that has been historically lacking in the trans community. The organizers are to be commended for this—but surely they can find people who are actually working for the welfare of trans people who actually deserve to be on the list. Those who plan to do something but aren’t yet actually doing it, those who are self-serving, those who are on the list purely because of their celebrity and not because of their work do not deserve a spot on the list.