The first words I think when I wake up in the morning, before I’ve even reached for my glasses and rolled over to see what time it is, before I’ve untangled from the sheets to pick up my phone and see what arrived in my inbox overnight. It’s not always a sure thing, being alive.
I was privileged to grow up in a community where I could access mental health services, where gender variance may not have been entirely understood and accepted, but wasn’t grounds for assault, either. I was privileged to attend institutes of higher education where I had opportunities to learn about gender variance and understand my own gender identity within that context. I was lucky, too -– my suicide attempts didn’t work.
Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, set aside as a day to remember our dead. An estimated 260 people died worldwide last year specifically because they were transgender/transsexual, many horrifically. They were beaten to death, they were burned, they were shot. Most of them were transgender women, and most of them were women of color.
Helen G. points out that these numbers equal about one murder of a transgender/transsexual person every 36 hours. Countless other deaths fly under the radar. They aren’t explicitly identified as the hate crimes they are, or they’re the result of medical neglect, bullying, abuse. They’re the result of suicides.
Being alive while trans is dangerous
All of these deaths happen because of a lack of acceptance for transgender/transsexual people, which is one of the most frustrating things about this day for me. This is a day about our community, about mourning our dead, but it’s also a day when we are calling on the cis community to do something, because our survival is contingent on not being marginalized, on the cis community fighting back instead of remaining passive in the face of transphobia.
There has been a greater awareness of trans issues in the last 10 years, and that’s equated to wider acceptance and more explicit campaigns to fight transphobia, but this issue is far from resolved. Not when the media continues to exoticize and misgender trans women, treating them as freakshows for prurient fascination rather than human beings with lives and identities, for example.
And not when individuals engage in hate speech on a routine basis -- hate speech that is widely condoned and accepted, whether it be using the t-word, or deliberately misgendering people, or referring to trans women as “she-males,” or simply resisting the idea that transgender people need medical treatment not hatred, for example.
And not when governments still condone discrimination against trans people -- not when some nations still require proof of sterilization before they’ll recognize a gender change on someone’s identification, for example.
One in three LGBQT teens attempts suicide. As much as 40% of the US homeless population is LGBQT (thanks to readers who caught this typo), and 29% of trans people report being turned away from shelters due to their gender status. Private as well as public sector workers face discrimination at work due to their gender and few enjoy legal protections. Many trans women turn to sex work to support themselves, and face a very high risk of exploitation and abuse. Trans people report a high incidence of health care discrimination, not just for trans-related health needs but also for all health services, including acute emergencies. Trans victims of sexual assault are often denied access to rape crisis services and shelters.
These things are all connected. They are part of a larger pattern of systemic violence against trans people, and they are part of a larger system that rejects the humanity of trans people. Being alive while trans is dangerous. You run the risk of being murdered for who you are, discriminated against with no legal recourse, left without adequate health care.
Action, not just words
I remember our dead today, but I remember our dead every day, because our dead do not go away for the rest of the year. Nor does the hatred, discrimination, and fear which surrounds our community. At the same time I value TDOR, I also worry that it gets used as an excuse to pay lip service to the very real and urgent issues in the trans community, allowing cis people to check a box and move on with their lives when we need their help year round, not just on this one day a year.
We need their help when it comes to writing legislators and other officials to ask them to support anti-discrimination measures. We need their help when it comes to joining protests asking for justice for trans victims of murder, discrimination, and abuse. We need their help when it comes to writing friendly letters to trans prisoners, many of whom are caught in the prison industrial complex, which chews up young people of color in the US. We need their help when it comes to speaking up in a conversation where someone says something transphobic; sometimes it really is that simple, is being the one who is unafraid to say, “Hey, what you just said makes me really uncomfortable.”
You don’t need to do everything alone. No one is asking you to do that. What we’re asking for is your solidarity and your willingness to work with us for a better world, a world in which TDOR is superfluous because no one is murdered for being trans. A world in which no trans person has to fear going to the doctor, working in the sex industry, going to school, being employed, seeking housing, entering into relationships, being alive.