“I think that Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR) is simply a vigil,” said the pastor who called the organizational meeting, “and not a time for speeches or anything like that.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “What are we trying to remember? Just a list of people we never met?
“Clearly, these lost people act as symbols, but symbols of what?”
The room kind of choked. All these people wanted to be good, liberal allies of transpeople, catching the trend, but in their minds, trans was just what they assumed it to be, not something challenging, risky and potent.
It’s just that power that TDOR was created to express.
From the first, TDOR was a political event. What it means — what we are trying to remember — is at the heart of the question, a question shaped by your own worldview.
For many, TDOR is just another reminder of racism, as many of the victims are women of colour. It becomes swept into conventional identity politics based social justice rhetoric.
For me, though, TDOR is aan event for consciousness raising about the erasure and destruction of trans visibility. It is about the forces used to kill off trans nature in society.
That requires that we face the connection between all transpeople, the shaming and the abuse that tries to crush us.
For transpeople who have spent countless energy in trying to justify why they are not bad trannies, why they are the exception that doesn’t deserve the shunning, shame and slams that other, too-queer trannies get, this can be very hard to do.
I had a transwoman murdered a few blocks down the street from where I lived. Trying to bring together community to call for justice, let alone to remember her life was an enormously difficult challenge.
Many questioned why a man was in her apartment after the bars closed. It turned out that he followed her home to rob her, seeing her as vulnerable, but the very suggestion that she may have been sexual marked her as complicit in the view of many.
Many couldn’t imagine trading their hard crafted mask of invisibility to be out to stand up and stand by her.
Trans is such an individual journey that they couldn’t see themselves as family with this woman, couldn’t imagine why they should take her questionable choices onto themselves. After all, they protected themselves by playing safe; shouldn’t she have done the same?
Race, class, economics, sexuality and much more form barriers to our own consciousness of connection. Even when we do try to reach beyond those boundaries we often find others who create their own blocks to solidarity, looking to blame others or use the shame of constructed political correctness to enforce their own identity politics.
TDOR has always been a political event, asking us to stand up in solidarity for those transpeople who have been physically erased, no matter what the reason or how different they are from us.
For the nice people in that room last night, it was a simple matter of humanity. The people on this list could be refugees or political prisoners or lost miners. Just humans who died and we should list off their names, take a moment to remember them and then move on.
For me, though, context is all. How do we legitimately remember the challenges transpeople face without engaging their narratives? How can we create a space for them in our mind unless we are open to their continuing struggle? What is the purpose of claiming remembrance without doing the work of actually understanding the context of their lives?
This was, though, much more than people wanted to handle in the meeting, than what they wanted to include in their nice vigil. The service was enough; actually remembering, which meant actually opening, knowing and engaging was beyond the scope.
I left the room feeling unheard and erased, with no one wanting to engage what I offered.
And that’s what I’ll remember.