Tonight I went to the Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial in Boston. The city where this sad tradition was started in honour of Rita Hester, a local transgender woman who was murdered in 1998. And honestly, I’m having kind of a hard time. TDoR is always difficult for me. Surprisingly, I haven’t cried yet. But I usually do and I can feel the tears at the back of my eyes.
I go to a lot of trans events. And as a rule, I really try in my own work and activism to focus on the positives. I think it’s important for people to hear the good things about being trans. For trans people themselves to be given hope and even perhaps a little bit of joy in our shared experience.
But TDoR is a different thing. Transgender Day of Remembrance is the time to remember our struggles. To speak the names of our dead. To remind ourselves that no matter how far we have come, there is still a vast mountain to climb.
For the past couple of weeks I have been wanting to write something about Transgender Day of Remembrance, but not known what it is I should write about. Something that was said to me by a friend before the memorial tonight planted the seed though. I mentioned how difficult I often find TDoR to be. He responded with something to the effect that they were going to try and be a little more positive this year. So many people were being “triggered”.
It’s not the first time I have heard discussion of how people have a hard time coming to TDoR events. They’d rather celebrate life than focus on all this death. Talk about moving forward, rather than dwell on the past. I even hear more and more people every year, people I care about and love, talk about simply not going anymore because it’s just too depressing or they feel they’ve moved on with their own lives and transitions.
It all got me to thinking, and here’s the thing. I’m not sure I think it’s the worst thing that people find Transgender Day of Remembrance “triggering” or depressing. It should be “triggering”*. It is depressing. We are reading the names of trans people; transsexual, transgender and gender variant; whose lives have been tragically cut short.
These are our sisters and brothers. This is our family. But for little more than luck or accident of circumstance and privilege any of our names could be on that list. We need to remember that first and foremost, this is a memorial service. Transgender Day of Remembrance is for mourning our dead. Remembering each of these lives, so the deaths of our sisters and brothers do not go unmemorialized.
We take note of the available details surrounding their deaths. Every year as the names are being read, I make it a point to focus. To truly hear each name, take note of where they died and if it is available, their ages and the circumstances of their deaths. Realize this is more than just words being read. These were vital, vibrant lives ended.
And though I keep referring to these people as “our sisters and brothers who have died”. Let me be more specific and more frank. These are primarily our sisters, transwomen of colour, more often than not; who have not merely died, but were murdered. It’s important to keep that fact in mind.
It’s far, far too easy to become numb to these memorials. To go through the motions, because by now it’s a valuable community tradition that many of us have gotten used to. But let us not forget what this is about.
It is about pain and tragedy. The loss of human lives to the spectre of blind hate and pervasive ignorance. This IS dark. This IS painful. That is as it should be.
It is NOT a time for celebration. Unless it’s an Irish style Wake for the dead, cocktail parties are not an appropriate event. It is also not an LGBT “Holiday”. Though these deaths represent a common point for trans people and our allies to come together over. Let’s not forget these are trans deaths. This one is Big T, little lgb. If you have not involved trans people as leadership in your Transgender Day of Remembrance event, you’re doing it wrong. And if you have forgotten trans people of colour, specifically trans women of colour, you probably haven’t even gotten the point.
And yes, I think it’s important for all of us, no matter where we are in our transitions, to be there.
The rest of the year, let us focus on moving forward. Tell our stories about how it can be wonderful to be trans and proud. Work on coming together, building our community up. Laugh and sing and dance even!!
But this one day. Let this be for our dead. Plan on being upset. Don’t try to fight the tears. Really listen to the names. Whether it’s in a voice strong and powerful or quavering with sadness, read out the manner, place and date of their murders. And also, try to step back and let our trans sisters of colour be our face and our voice. Truly think about how we can stand together, but still give focus where it needs to go.
We acknowledge death so we may remember why it is so important for us to live! Why it is so vital that we never give up the fight!!
With our tears we water the garden of our future.
- My use of the word “triggering” here, with parentheses added for emphasis, is not meant to criticize those for whom the word trigger has a stronger, more medical meaning. For instance, folks suffering from moderate to severe PTSD, or victims of violence, often with resulting panic attacks. It is instead directed at the growing usage, co-option if you will, of the word to indicate things that folks simply find deeply upsetting or difficult or that they prefer to avoid. It is also worth noting that the people I hear expressing a desire to avoid these memorials are not the folks I know who suffer from these genuinely distressing issues.