By Dr. Nori Rost, Leader
On November 20, 2021, people around the world will hold the Transgender Day of Remembrance Candlelight Vigil to honor those who were murdered in the past year due to transphobia. Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester’s death and began an important tradition that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. (glaad.org)
The list is long; as of September 30, 408 lives have been lost, including 40 who died by suicide. Of the names that will be read, Brazil (as usual) tops the list with 143 homicides; second and third place go to the United States (69) and Mexico (59.) And, as of this writing, we still have 24 days to go. Many will be listed only as unknown woman or man, lives lost tragically with no identity by which we can remember them. Virtually all of them were killed in extremely violent manners, showing the level of hatred and rage these killers had toward their victims; a disproportionate number of victims were from BIPOC communities.
It’s important to note that transphobia isn’t exclusively about transgender people, but about fear of those who are different, who color outside the norms of societal restrictions on gender performance. Some of the folx killed did not identify as transgender but were merely perceived to be. (Note: People organizing and theorizing in queer, trans, and other people of color spaces use Folx instead of folks. The X is to designate gender nonconformity, gender neutrality, and/or gender nonbinary sentiments. It is a way to replace folks with a word that invokes mental imagery and association with queer/trans people. (radicalcopyeditor.com))
For the past 22 years we have been remembering those lost, but what more can we do, besides light candles once a year, to create a safer world for our Transgender kin?
For one thing, we can tell the truth. We can tell the truth to our children who ask us about bodies and genders. We can say there is a wonderful diversity of combinations of bodies and souls and sometimes they match what culture wants to see and sometimes they don’t, but we’re all uniquely wonderful and cherished; we are all of inherent worth and dignity, as we Ethical folx like to say. We can insist on the overthrow of the pink aisles and the blue aisles that exists in toy stores, that continue the lie that there are “boy” toys and girl “toys.”
For that matter, we can begin campaigns against department stores who insist on “gendering” clothing. As if a few pieces of fabric stitched together is somehow meant for a boy or a girl just because of how it’s designed. We can make the bathrooms at NYSEC gender neutral and speak to the managers of our local restaurants who have restrooms designated for “men” or “women” and ask that they consider making them gender neutral. I mean seriously, who of us has gender separate bathrooms in our homes? And yet, this is a fear Transfolx navigate in their daily lives: do I risk using the bathroom that fits me most and possibly get beaten up or worse, or do I try to hold it until I get home?
We can check out the non-discrimination policies where we work and, if they don’t include transgender employees, advocate for that change. And, for that matter, why not talk to the boss about the bathrooms at work, too?
We can come to events like the Zoom vigil Trans Day of Remembrance 2021 (gaycenter.org) sponsored by the LGBTQIA Center here in Manhattan and listen to the names being called, see the pictures of those no longer with us. We can feel the weight of their loss, the sorrow of their tragic deaths, and we can also remember the joy they held in their lives, the ways in which they lived authentically in a world that holds no space for them, and realize how, at the end of the day, they tasted the sweetness of as many apples as they could; we can be grateful for their lives, and their legacy, and we can carry forth their memories into our communities, so that the sweetness of their lives will not be forgotten.
I will also be giving a Platform entitled “Imagine There’s No Gender: A Story in Three Chapters” at 11 AM on Sunday, November 7 that will help us dream up new ways of being, complete with fantastic special music!
Let us work together to create a world where no one need live in fear due to their fabulously unique gender identity.