Posts Tagged ‘tdor

19
Nov
13

Preserving the Transgender Day of Remembrance: A memorial for our dead

Our Transgender DeadTonight 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.
17
Nov
12

Santa Monica Boulevard Through Hollwood

As I sit  here in my room in Springfield, MA, typing these words, I have tears running down my face.  It’s the week when we observe the Transgender Day Of Remembrance and I’ve just read another news story about a transgender woman who was murdered.  Honestly, I read a lot of these types of stories.  Not just this week, but all year.  I’m an activist, a speaker on transgender issues and I write a regular column (and this blog) about transgender lives and people.  These stories are always sad to me, but some very specific stories always hit me particularly hard because they bring the horror so very close to home for me.

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded, I’m not.  But you read so many stories of horror and violence and even for someone constantly reminding others that we are human, other people with lives and loves; there is a distance to the stories that necessarily desensitizes them.  An intentional distance that makes it possible sometimes to simply get through the day and do the work that needs doing.

But every so often, like just now, I read a story of violence committed against a transgender woman in Hollywood.  Specifically the strip of Santa Monica from Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood to Vermont Avenue in East Hollywood.  And it tears my heart out.

Because this was my neighborhood.  90% of my life in Hollywood was lived out against the backdrop of this very strip.

I worked, played, performed and drank at The Improv and The Second City in West Hollywood and lived for several years, first by the intersection of Highland and Santa Monica, a block or so from, what some locals refer to as, “The Tranny Taco Stand” (and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center) where Transgender Sex Workers would often congregate at night.  Then by the intersection of Santa Monica and Normandie, which roughly bracketed the other end of the stroll informally/formally designated by the LAPD as the Trans Sex Worker Strip.

I was not an average Angeleno by a lot of respects.  For one thing, besides my ethnically Irish disdain for the sun, I lived in LA for 8 years without a car.  I walked, biked and took the bus everywhere I needed to go.  I was also very good at “scamming rides”, sometimes with virtual strangers.

I did not, as many Angelenos do, see the city as a blur through the car window.  I knew it from close up, the pavement under my feet.  The people I passed by, aware of me, as I was aware of them.  I closely interacted with the city, I knew it’s smells and patterns and the other denizens.  It is how I prefer to know the world.  I’m a writer and a storyteller, I live for and actively soak up the details.

And it was also during this period that the man I was still trying to be was actively ripping apart at the seams and I finally began my own transition.  It was where I went, in a very short span, from actively repressing my gender issues to occasional cross-dresser to part-time, transitioning transwoman to “Full-Time” Me.

And so very much of that journey was so intimately tied to this strip of geography.

For one thing, I have always been fascinated by the underbelly of The City.  The red-light, sex worker districts, the ghettoes and the decaying downtowns.  The City that lives when all the “good, decent folks” have gone home to their houses in the suburbs.  The City of Night, to borrow a phrase from John Rechy.

I’ve wandered the “Combat Zone” in Boston at the very end of it’s days.  Known the darkened streets of some of Chicago’s more ill-advised neighborhoods.  Lived in a dilapidated Movie Studio at the very boundaries of New Orleans Lower 9th Ward, after Katrina.

So it should be little surprise that I was drawn to Santa Monica Boulevard running through Hollywood, like a moth to a flame.  Even before I found myself living in that area, I would walk the strip from West Hollywood to Highland late at night.  Fascinated, wanting desperately to figure a way to talk to the transwomen I saw there.  To connect with them somehow.  Or as I later discovered, really to connect with myself.

I had the oblivious attitude of a very tall, white skinned person, used to being perceived as male.  And also, a definite disregard/active neglect for my safety.  I carried so much guilt for so very long, I think sometimes I wanted to be punished, to be hurt.  To commit a sort of a “soft-suicide”.

Let me be very clear, I do not/did not actively believe there was/is anything wrong or in need of “punishment” about being trans.  And I am extremely fortunate to have been able to come out the other side of these feelings to a bright new world, physically unhurt, if a little bruised and battered psychologically.  But intellectual belief and subconscious fucked-up-edness can be two totally different things.

As I passed through my own journey, finally accepting myself, deciding to do something about it and then breaking through my own self-imposed barriers of identity, Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood was my backdrop.

I went from being a furtive tourist to a part of the landscape.  Though I had little direct interaction with these transwomen who were also living out their lives in this same geography, when I began transitioning myself, I came to greatly value the little nods of recognition.  The eye contact we would make in passing that said, “I know”. 

As I began to recognize specific people, transwomen who lived in my neighborhood, who waited for the same bus with me, those little acknowledgements where the first time I began to feel myself part of a community.  Part of a family.  These were my sisters.

I don’t want to appear to place myself all that far apart from them either.  I was not merely a tourist.  I did my own small share of sex work.  Not much, as I was always skittish of sex work and extremely fortunate to have a network of support and people who took care of me.  I never had to work the street.  I did a little as a dominatrix and mostly as a dominatrix’s assistant.  But don’t let anyone’s semantics fool you, it was sex work nonetheless.

And though I had to work through a lot of repressively puritan issues myself (I am a Yankee Girl from Cape Cod…), I have neither regret, nor shame.  It was part of my own journey and I have many friends who are proud to be sex workers and own it as their profession of choice.

I also know that, while some actively choose it, sex work is often the last option left between starvation and survival for many women, especially transgender women.  It baffles me when I hear folks in my community expressing disdain for our sex worker sisters.  When I know they know as well as I do, the massively institutional discrimination we face.  How much harder it is for us to find employment, housing and support, just to live our lives.

And I well understand the fetishization of trans bodies .  The cold looks that turn us all into sex objects, that imagines there must be an access price for our sexuality, whether we have done/are doing sex work or not.  I will readily admit, I have been guilty of the same.

But these are our sisters.  These trans women I came to noddingly know, the community of the streets.  The trans women who lived and worked in and around my old neighborhood through Hollywood, on Santa Monica Boulevard were the first to acknowledge me as ME.  They accepted me far more readily and unquestioningly, on the basis of little more than a nod and a glance, than did many more “respectable” members of our community, by whom I often felt judged.

So, this is why, when I read these stories of violence, it is the ones from my old neighborhood, East to West Hollwood; Santa Monica Boulevard; South of Sunset and North of Melrose, that are the stories that tear me apart.

Every murdered trans woman I see on the news from that area, every time I hear about another attack, I look at the picture and I think, “Did I know her?”  “Was she the woman who would smile at me when I would ride the #4 bus home from work late at night?”

These are not just stories.  Not merely news items or statistics.  These are our sisters.

There, but for nothing more than blind good luck, go I.
Here is the post I was reading when I began this piece, from the excellent blog, Planetransgender:  “LAPD Task Force Looking For The Western Transgender Murderer




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