My ambivalence about remembrance

I don’t have a smart phone yet, so when I’m traveling, I’m mostly without email and Internet. Thanksgiving week, I was driving south with my partner to visit her family. We were somewhere in West-by-God-Virginia when Sue emailed, “Are you going to write something about Transgender Day of Remembrance?”

Crap, I thought, when I finally saw her message, as a trans* person, I should have posted about it. And I considered hurrying up and writing something, but then I felt … well, like I’m very ambivalent toward Transgender Day of Remembrance. So here’s my post, only three weeks late, and shame on me. (For you playing along at home, it was Tuesday, Nov. 20.)

Transgender Day of Remembrance was launched in 1998 in honor of Rita Hester, a transwoman brutally murdered in Boston, Mass., in 1998. Media coverage of her death outraged many in the trans* community—news accounts used incorrect pronouns (calling her a “man”) or emphasized that she was involved in sex work (implying she was “asking for it”). Hester was stabbed more than 20 times, according to media reports, and her murderer was never found.

A candlelight vigil in her honor led to a website called “Remembering Our Dead” memorializing all trans* people victimized by violence, and eventually the permanent, international day of action called “Transgender Day of Remembrance.” In Pittsburgh, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center hosted events this year including free health screenings and a vigil.

I think it’s wonderful for GLCC and other organizations to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, and we should remember victims of violence and discrimination, but I also feel like it plays into this same old narrative I’ve heard called “tragic trans.”

For years, narratives about transgender people have focused on pain and loss felt by partners whose wives or husbands have transitioned and children whose mothers or fathers have been “taken away.” Or, those narratives focus on trans* people when we’re victims of bigotry, or we’re left unemployed, discriminated against and ostracized by family because we’re not gender-conforming.

(And seriously, can we get through one week without media misgendering or mocking trans* people? Right on schedule, today in the news are these two knucklehead radio talk show hosts from Washington, D.C., calling a transwoman “he/she” and “it.”)

In Pittsburgh, what sorts of recent news stories have you seen featuring trans* people? Well, there were those bashings in Bloomfield, and police round-ups of sex workers, and Pitt banning trans* people from public restrooms. (No wonder my otherwise wonderfully supportive mom worries about me!)

All sorts of bad things certainly happen to people when bigots learn they’re trans*, but all sorts of bad things also happen to people when bigots learn they’re gay or bi or atheist or physically challenged or former addicts.

And while lots of bad things happen to trans* people, what also often happens is that trans* people come out and feel happier and more productive, and find relationships are easier because they’re not hiding away part of themselves. Many of us “part-timers” also find acceptance from our families and friends when we cross gender boundaries.

I guess my point (and I do have one) is that I wouldn’t be so ambivalent about transgender day of remembrance if there were also more transgender days of celebration. Heck, I’d be just peachy-keen with some occasionally transgender hours balancing out all those “tragic” narratives.

So, if you wondered, that’s why I’m ambivalent about Transgender Day of Remembrance, and why I didn’t write anything before Nov. 20. I just feel we should be more concerned with keeping trans* people healthy, and celebrating our triumphs, than with remembering victims after they’re dead.


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  • I hear what you are saying about the need to acknowledge the positive – absolutely. But a few things pop to mind

    1. The media is always going to focus on the tragedies so holding them accountable for accurate reporting in those cases is an important tool for the larger cause as well as respecting the person who was victimized. Yes, it is distorted but anything with the media always is distorted.

    2. The personal stories aren’t salacious even though they are often world rocking. Hence, I’m glad to have you blogging so we can tell some of those stories.

    3. You were right – I did email you about the DOR and then I didn’t follow through with my own post. It isn’t your responsibility to write it. It is also mine because the loss of our brothers and sisters is a loss to everyone.

    One reason I think we have a little bit of responsibility to cover the stories is because we *want* them to be told. 🙂

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