Today is the 12th Annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance
Every year on November 20th since 1999, people around the world remember the trans people who have had their lives taken from them because of transphobic violence; because of hatred, prejudice and ignorance. Today is that day–the 12th Annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started in 1999 after the November 28th, 1998 murder of Rita Hester. Gwendolyn Ann Smith was discussing this murder, as well as the wrongful death/survivor’s action for Tyra Hunter on a message board and realized that so many people had forgotten some of the individuals who have been lost at the hands of anti-transgender violence just in those recent years. Smith felt that by so many forgetting those people, society as a whole would be doomed to see their deaths repeated, and so she created the Remembering Our Dead web project to make sure that no one would forget those around the world who had been murdered for merely being themselves.
Honestly, I have been struggling with what, exactly, to write all day. Some have made excellent points about the involvement of cis people on this day, pointing out that while it is important to remember the people who have died, it is equally as important to remember how they died and why they are no longer here. It is because of cis people and it is because of a society of cis privilege that allows for more people to join the list of Remembering Our Dead. But even so, as a cis person, while I humbly respect those who have been speaking out today against transphobia, violence, prejudice and hate, I still remain adamant on the fact that my voice is not the voice that needs to be dominant today and to think that it is, is to marginalize an already marginalized group of people even further. That is not something I am interested in doing. So instead I would like to share some of the posts I have been reading today from people who have proven that they are more than capable of speaking for themselves and it would be in our best interests to listen.
And yet, whenever a trans person is murdered, the very first thing we trans people have to do is sort through the layers and layers of transphobic misinformation from police, media and families in order to work out who that person was, how they lived their life, what their appropriate pronouns and identifications were.
Because the words are almost always wrong, and almost always an act of erasure. First they will begin by making a reference to assigned sex, as something this person “is” – most commonly, “a man was found in woman’s clothing.” And it’s like, ok it’s certainly possible for it to have been a male crossdresser. We must be cautious and not jump to conclusions, because that would be an act of erasure. And it is after all being reported as a fact by the media. It “makes sense,” because the “knowledge” of the majority always makes sense.
As someone who was around and part of the local and national trans leadership when the TDOR started in 1999, as time inexorably marches on I have seen eleven previous TDOR’s come and go. I have that intimate understanding of why we have them and militantly resist the calls from some transpeople to change the focus from a memorial ceremony to a happy-happy joy-joy event because it’s in their words ‘morbid and depressing’
70% of the transpeople we memorialize are people of color. I don’t want people forgetting that salient point either as we read this year’s list of names.. Until anti-trans violence is reduced to nothing and the people who perpetrate it get properly punished for doing so, there will continue to be a need for the ‘morbid and depressing’ TDOR.
Transgender Day of Remembrance: Living with the threat from Queen Emily at Hoyden About Town:
As a trans woman, I have learned to live with the the threat of violence. In my first year of living out in Perth, I was assaulted, threatened with death, sexually assaulted numerous times, called various slurs by random strangers, spat on, harassed by Transperth guards, and given appallingly substandard medical care.
You learn very quickly that you are not valuable, you are despised, disposable, always in a precarious position (especially with regard to institutions). Every time you have to show your identification and it has the wrong sex, every time you have a cold and your voice has dropped to a gravelly rasp. You never really know when it might come, or how bad it might be.
Yet so many cis people continue to make snap value judgements about us, to label us outcasts and pariahs, freaks and perverts, less than human in every way they can think. And having made that judgement, many will act on it with a myriad forms of violence, from the everyday microaggressions they inflict on us, the jibes, the slurs, the hate speech, the rapes, the beatings – every form of oppression available to them – and for some, that includes murder.
This is transphobia writ large, the manifestation of cis privilege as an irrational fear of, and/or hostility towards, people who are transgender or who otherwise do not conform to cultural stereotypes of what is meant by ‘male’ and ‘female’.
The transphobia inherent in these attacks is obvious. And the damage that is done extends far beyond the victim and her immediate family and friends, as trans people everywhere suffer the psychological damage of living in fear as they wonder if they are next.
But the racism, misogyny, and homophobia reflected in these deaths cannot go unacknowledged. All these factors come together to make these crimes particularly horrendous and hate-filled – which is why all of our communities must come together to put a stop to this violence and all violence against marginalized people.
The day of remembrance is a time to bring transphobia front-and-center in discussions of violence. It was conceived of, and still is, a radical act– the public commemoration of our dead in a world that trivializes our existence.
Everyone on this planet who cares to live in a safe world should care passionately about transphobic violence. If we send the message that ‘you’re trans?… and you’re dead.’ is anything short of a crime against humanity, we have failed.
The fact of the matter is that at any moment, I could be at risk simply for being trans. Simply for being me. This is something all marginalized people face–certainly, it’s something every woman in the world understands. But just as it’s possible for the shielded women of the world to sniff at the poor and unprotected and blame them for their own misfortunes, so its possible for the lucky trans people of the world–the professors with tenure, the software engineers with rare abilities, the fortunate few who have managed to avoid most of the ways society turns people into others, to disclaim connection with the rest of the trans world. Rape happens only to people who live in slums, and transphobic murder only to prostitutes turning tricks for street ‘mones.
Except when it doesn’t.
I wanted to do something different for this TDOR. I wanted to talk about the fact that the transphobic violence that kills us does not always come at the hands of another. Sometimes it’s at our own hands. Almost half of living trans people have attempted suicide. I am one of them.
While many factors contributed to my suicide attempt the primary one was the transphobia I had internalised over years. The self-loathing from knowing how abject a person I was built to self-hatred and, when I lost my primary emotional support, finally to the calm assurance that the way to deal with transphobia was to kill myself. Because I had not transitioned at that time. I knew lots of things. I knew that I would always look like “a man in a dress”, that I would never be truly accepted among lesbians (even though cis lesbians had always been very supportive of me, a rarity for a trans woman), that no one could truly love me as a woman because I had the wrong genital configuration, but most of all that I was a freak and a pervert. Does any of that sound familiar to you? It should as that’s the transphobia that surrounds us and pervades our culture.