I’ve had a lot on my mind this year as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) approaches. This year’s remembrance is markedly different for me since I’ve come out in recent months as a non-binary identified person, or genderqueer – an identity that falls under the trans umbrella. My life has shifted since my name changed to “M,” my pronouns changed to they/them, as my gender expression and medical needs evolved. I am learning more each day about the ways trans people are “othered” – and all too often, through violence.
I wish my thoughts about this day, given its invitation to meaningful reflection, could be shared through poetic language. I wish I had beautiful words to offer that would draw out the heartbreak, the memory, the hope of the lives we remember on this day and the work we have ahead of us. Many other trans people will have that prose, and I am so grateful for their wisdom and courageous hearts. But I am learning still, finding my way and my place within this day and community, and for now, all I have are questions. I offer three that have weighed most heavily on my heart recently, in hopes we can listen together for the answers.
My first question arises from the grief of hearing about the death last weekend of transgender pioneer, Leslie Feinberg. Ze was an incredible activist who was committed to seeking justice for so many different groups of people. Ze was committed to economic, racial, and gender justice and changed countless lives through hir book Stone Butch Blues. We lost an incredible life and it hurts my heart that few people even know that. The life and work of trans people remains largely unnoticed by mainstream society. I wanted to see my Facebook and Twitter timelines fill up with memes, pictures, quotes, and other expressions of appreciation and grief when someone of such valor dies. But that wouldn’t happen because few folks outside of the LGBTQ community have been exposed to Leslie’s legacy.
There are so many others like hir – some who have died and some who are living lives full of heart, talent, and courage. And there are even more whose talents and gifts are squandered because we don’t even give them a chance.
And so I wonder, how do we do a better job of centering the lives, stories, and work of trans people when they’re still living? Must trans people die before we hear their names spoken for the first time?
While I face some new challenges with my evolving gender identity, the chances you will see someone who looks or identifies as I do on the list of names of people murdered because of anti-trans violence are slim. One of the most imoportant things I’ve learned this TDOR is how much it’s not about people like me. The overwhelming majority of lives remembered are always trans women and more specifically, trans women of color. We absolutely cannot do justice to a Trans Day of Remembrance service where we speak out against hate grounded in gender identity if we are not also, equally, speaking out against sexism and racism. The world has taught us to look down upon trans people, upon women, upon people of color, and upon poor people. The world makes monsters out of us in how we treat the beautiful bodies that hold all four of those identities at once. And by “us,” I mean not only the people that commit the gruesome murders but all of us who do nothing to make this world a place where dreams extend far beyond mere survival – a world where trans women of color are valued for all that they are.
I wonder, can today be the day that we start dealing honestly with the fact that we cannot separate racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, etc, even if we’re only most comfortable with one or some of those issues? Can today be the day that we commit to standing against all oppressions, in whatever forms they take, even when it means giving up the benefits of our privilege? Can today be the day that we center the needs of those who seem to have the whole world stacked against them?
I am grateful for the space that TDOR provides to pause in community, remember, honor, and recommit to working for a more just world for the lives of transgender people across the globe. We need a space to hold the grief and anger of lives taken because of hate. The people who endured these crimes deserve so much more from us than a day, or a service, but I am grateful the space is held. At the same time, as this TDOR service becomes more widely acknowledged by the mainstream community, it can become the proverbial day to think about trans people. If there is only one day that invites the cis (people who are not trans) community to specifically think about trans people, and that one day is solely focused on the brutal murders of trans people, many of the other gifts and challenges of being trans can be overlooked.
I wonder how we can highlight other acts of violence, injustice, or painful experiences of the ordinary life of trans people throughout the year while also continuing to hold the space for those who experience the worst hate of humanity. How can we add criminal justice reform, police brutality, misgendering, health care, and job security to the list of things that come to mind when mainstream communities consider the challenges of being trans and the reform needed?
While I don’t know the answers to these questions, I know that others are asking similar ones. We are inching our way, slowly, towards a cultural shift for trans people and anytime such a shift occurs so do our requests of rituals, movements, and allies. There is so much work yet ahead and the Christian community has the opportunity to help the trans community answer these questions, pursue justice together, create additional rituals and days honoring the lives of trans people, and most of all, to put an end to the need for a Transgender Day of Remembrance all together.
In the meantime, I hope you will join me in living into these questions.
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