Commemorating the Trans* and Sex Worker Days of Sad

It's frustrating that the biggest days for our respective communities are really depressing.
Publish date:
December 3, 2012
activism, sex work, trans issues, transgender, sex workers, community

Within a month I recognize two of the saddest days of the year: Trans* Day of Remembrance (TDoR) on November 20 and International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17.

A few years ago a friend referred to TDoR as "Trans Day of Sad" and I immediately recognized Dec. 17 as the sex workers' equivalent. We both felt frustration that the biggest days for our respective communities are really depressing. Our respective Days Of Sad have a lot in common.

Referring to the days we formally recognize these abuses as "Trans*/Sex Worker Days of Sad" is deliberately flippant. It is an acknowledgment that we need more than memorials; our communities need more than sadness to organize effectively. It is also a coping mechanism to deal with the intensity of the emotions that arise on these days in particular.

Both events call attention to deadly violence based on hatred, stigma, and discrimination. Both days traditionally include the reading of names of those we have lost to violence in the past year. The lists are far too long, and far too many names appear on the lists for both days.

Every reader at these memorials, consciously or unconsciously, pauses for a beat before reading the name of someone who has died. And in those pauses, the gravity of the event and oppression we face sinks in. We are reminded of the significance of every individual life, and simultaneously our positions as marginalized communities.

It is emotionally taxing to organize these events. Buying the candles, designing the fliers, and especially compiling the lists of names is incredibly difficult as we remember the meaning behind each action. Understanding the importance is not always sufficiently comforting. But working together, bringing our communities together, can go a long way toward easing that tension.


A crucial element of TDoR and Dec. 17 in fighting these systems is the declaration that the lives of trans people and sex workers matter. Our bodies and our lives are important. The humanity of trans people and sex workers is consistently and institutionally rejected, and honoring our dead with respect and dignity is one way to counteract that.

Violence against trans* people and sex workers is not limited to assault or murder. This violence extends to law enforcement deeming our bodies un-rapeable, denying access to health services, police abuse, harassment, and a host of other injustices.

The statistics and examples are staggering. And this violence extends to anyone who is perceived as trans or as a sex worker. Overwhelmingly this means young people of color on the streets -- not necessarily living on the streets -- just existing on them.

We cannot address the violence and oppression of trans people and sex workers without understanding the multiple systems of privilege and oppression that we live in, and people do not live in these systems in equal amounts. Violence against trans* people and sex workers is disproportionately enacted upon trans* women of color, whose voices are simultaneously disproportionately left out.

To help break that silence, I want to direct you to these resources to on violence and trans women of color in the sex trade: Emi Koyama's presentation on Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade, Monica Maldonado's "The Speech I May Not Give," and Young Women's Empowerment Project's Tips to help Girls, Women and Transgender people of color involved in the Sex Trade & Sex Work.


Mourning violence communally and ritually honoring the dead is important in the vast majority of cultures. Sharing our tragedy and trying to heal together is important to community building. And it is a recognizable act that our friends, family, allies, and neighbors can relate to. Trans people and sex workers are part of every community. TDoR and Dec. 17 help make communities stronger, all the communities that the victims we memorialize belong to.

One of the hardest parts about these events for me is that I am forced to actively confront the intense grief and anger that I harbor. I mourn for those who we have lost as a community. I feel sorrow for the conditions that precipitated their deaths. I am furious at the social and legal systems that perpetuate and forgive this violence. And I am enraged that things aren't changing, or not changing quickly enough to prevent more acts of violence.

I carry these feelings with me all year, but on November 20th and December 17th it feels as though my blood is boiling with rage and my bones are heavy with sadness. It is harder to access the optimism I usually cling to as an activist, and that can be overwhelming. Being surrounded by community helps, as does sharing what strength I can muster with those around me. We lean on each other and stand stronger together for it.

Autumn will end soon, and the tenor of our organizing efforts changes. March 3 is International Sex Workers Rights Day, in which we come together to celebrate the victories of our movements and communities. And summer brings Trans* Day of Action, calling for social and economic justice.

Trans* people and sex workers live with these tragedies and struggles for the entire year. But in the midst of the grief and the anger there is determination. For two days we share our sadness publicly. For the rest of the year, we fight for social and economic justice for our communities. And to survive to face the next year's memorials.