By Sara Youngblood Gregory
I was sitting in a room with dozens of queer and trans people. About 50 of us had gathered — chairs were dragged across the recreation center floor to make a wide, semi-irregular circle — and we waited. We were there for a self-defense class, put on by a local grassroots organization, the Found Family Collective. When the instructor stepped into the circle, he asked a question: “How many of you have ever been in a situation where you felt threatened with physical harm?”
Every hand was raised. Looking around the room, I could tell no one was surprised.
Trans people are frequently the targets of harassment and violence. 2021 was, according to the Human Rights Watch, one of the deadliest years on record for trans and non-binary people. The majority of victims are Black and Latinx trans women, says the Human Rights Watch. Also in 2021, the FBI recorded a 35% increase in anti-trans hate crimes in the United States. The growth and tension concerning anti-trans legislation in the years following has likewise upped the stakes for trans people, as anti-trans laws and rhetoric can justify, and even encourage, harassment. This is especially true in Florida, where the self-defense class was being held, as the state is ground-zero for much of this legislation.
The numbers are staggering, but may even be low, given the inaccuracies — and misreporting — of hate crimes against trans people.
But the point of the class wasn’t to feel scared; It was to feel empowered and be better able to protect one’s self and community against potential violence. “We want to keep each other safe without relying on a police state,” as one organizer put it.
Noelle Soncrant (she/her), the fundraising organizer for Found Family Collective, says she realized the need for self-defense training when she came out as trans and began her transition a year ago. “I honestly developed severe anxiety because of a lot of what was happening in our communities, especially what was getting reported [in the media]… the hate and anger. I needed to figure out how to protect myself,” she says.
After taking classes, Soncrant says the confidence she feels extends well beyond her ability to get out of a bad situation or help others in a bad situation. “[It] improves our confidence in all facets of life,” she says. In the same way that trans people need access to healthcare, stable employment, and financial security, Soncrant says trans people absolutely need access to self-defense training as a basic necessity.
Cet Mohamed-Moore (she/her), a co-founder of Found Family Collective, says LGBTQ+ folks need more events “that fill [our] cups and build people up.”
To meet those needs, the Collective organizes events that promote resilience and self-determination for queer and trans folks. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” says Mohamed-Moore, and the community deserves safety, joy, dignity, and connectedness. Rather than beg allies to show up, or pressure already-marginalized people to do more labor, it’s about “creat[ing] the conditions for people to thrive in,” says Mohamed-Moore.
The difference — even after just one class — is immediate. At first, attendees were slouched and passively taking in information. However, as folks began to feel more comfortable they began asking questions, moving around, and leaning in a little more. Laughter, too, was a common feature in the class. “By the time they left, the majority of folks leaving were walking up with their heads held higher. That’s something that you take into the rest of your life,” says Mohamed-Moore.
The classes, hosted by Weapon Brand co-founders Jamie Anderson (she/her) and Brian Anderson Needham (he/him), focus on the main skills of survival: awareness, de-escalation, and defense. “We teach our students to become their own weapon,” Anderson says. Attendees learned the basics of assessing threatening behavior, trusting their gut, attempting to leave a situation, or finally, the skills they needed to attack and escape an aggressor. Attendees asked questions particular to their situation, too, like dealing with harassment in a bathroom or making disability-friendly modifications to self-defense positions.
“Partnering with local grassroots organizations like Found Family Collective is absolutely critical,” Anderson continues. “These groups are often on the front lines of supporting and advocating for marginalized communities, and they have a deep understanding of the unique needs and challenges faced by the people they serve. Ultimately, we believe that everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in their own bodies and communities. We can work together to make that a reality for more people in our community and beyond.”
Featured image courtesy of Found Family Collective.
Sara Youngblood Gregory (she/they) is a non-binary lesbian journalist and writer. She is the author of THE POLYAMORY WORKBOOK and a former staff writer for POPSUGAR. She covers sex, queerness, disability, culture, and wellness. Her work has been featured in Vice, Teen Vogue, HuffPost, Bustle, DAME, Cosmo, Jezebel, and many others.
Sara serves on the board of the lesbian literary and arts journal Sinister Wisdom. As a poet, Sara has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Voices. She’s also attended the Kenyon Review Workshop in 2019 and 2022, as well as a Winter Tangerine poetry workshop. Her chapbook RUN. is out now.