Below are lightly edited remarks I wrote to deliver at the close of my community’s Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony.
We’re here to pay our respects to lives cut short. Beautiful souls taken in brutal acts of violence, murder, and hatred. Some were killed by intimate partners or by people they knew, others by strangers, and some at the hands of police. There are far too many names on this list, even one is a tragedy. And this year in the United States, we have had the highest number of reported murders ever. The previous apex being 2017, a not so distant time. It is, sadly, unsurprising given the divisive and polarized landscape of our culture.
For many of us, we hear our own vulnerability in these names. We sit here, twisted like a towel being wrung dry because of the pain we endure or have endured. Or we’re here as allies. Perhaps because a loved one, a friend, a colleague falls into this fragile category of the queer community, or just because we passionately believe in equality. Regardless, the list reminds all us of the fragility of human life, our own mortality rendered in names and locations.
We hear the same places listed repeatedly, symbols of the ongoing strife trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people face in societies across the globe. Yet, we also know that for every name listed, there are many others who will never be mourned, at least not publicly. Perhaps because they feared for their safety and never felt confident to come out. Or because their government didn’t recognize their gender identity for what it was, and their murder was not counted amongst these names. It might be that the locale refuses to report any such information about the killings of transgender people. All are unacceptable scenarios, but in this world, nothing is guaranteed for any of us, and for trans people especially.
Despite the cruelty and fear mongering we face, we’re still here. We’ve always been here. In countless cultures, trans-adjacent identity has existed, and in many cases, been erased by the impacts of colonialism, white supremacy, and religion. Transgender is a newer term, sure, but the spirit of those who lived across and between the gender lines thrives in each of us every day. We demonstrate a transcendence beyond the singular, embodying the divine feminine, masculine and androgyne, historically serving as transformational leaders, mirrors and outsiders, catalysts for change, keepers of the sacred and ceremony, caretakers, shamans, and warriors.
In fact, binary, sex-based gender essentialism, defined by strict roles of male and female is a relatively new phenomenon. That’s not what our detractors would have you believe. They argue that we’re somehow new and different, challenging some supposedly obvious dichotomy of sex and gender. However, it was white colonists encountering the plurality of gender in other cultures that created, or at least reinforced, the binary in the first place, and the subsequent preoccupation with, and association of gender to, external genitalia. Many historical records recount the curiosity white colonists demonstrated toward those we might consider trans, apparently fascinated by these “men dressed as women.” These records establish indirectly the first instances of the erasure of trans masculine identity, a harmful practice which continues to this day.
It is the denial of this history of oppression through strict categorization which leads to the violence, hate and murder against trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. Some feel compelled and empowered to police us, to call us names, threaten us, demean us, exclude us, and even to expel us from the world. At one extreme, it is a mirror of their insecurities and self-hatred and at the other, the fear of repercussions for their feelings of desire toward us. There are many motivations, but the source remains clear: the manipulation and erasure of transgender history and the scapegoating of our identities continues to take our lives to this day.
And now, to be blunt, I must say that many of us, including some trans people like me, are not the ones facing the risks of violence to the same degree. The intersection of race, class, and gender create disproportionate violence against trans feminine people of color, in particular. Even well-meaning queer folk have excluded the needs of trans and/or people of color for the sake of the “greater good” since the beginning of the gay rights movement, whitewashing history and silencing the trans feminine women of color who essentially founded the movement.
I will say this clearly and unequivocally: we must vow to protect the most vulnerable among us, even when we feel vulnerable ourselves. We can no longer settle for the rights of the many at the expense of the few. It is incumbent on all of us to show that we understand the disproportionate risk of violence, the privileges each of us hold, and the power we have to make meaningful change. Remember that none of us are truly liberated until we are all liberated. Stand with your siblings, they need your support, now more than ever.
We have the strength of courage, love, resilience, and community with us today. All of you have shown that by showing up. For those of us who feel most at risk, knowing that allies and fellow trans people are here gives us hope. In these times of darkness, remember that there are people here in this community who love you, support you, and care deeply about your ability to live your life without fear of violence. It is unfortunate that we have so few opportunities to gather, and yet, here we are. Don’t forget to celebrate life, to experience the joy that self-determination allows, to revel in the light within. Channel the anger, the fear, the frustration, or whatever emotion you might be feeling, as fuel to make positive change. It is time we rightfully re-assert our place as leaders, caretakers, and catalysts for change. Because through our experiences, we see the plurality and beauty of the human experience, the joy of self-expression, and the empowerment of standing strong in the face of violence. We can help form a world where someday we won’t need to come together to mourn, instead only to celebrate.
Thank you for making our community safer for all.