Op-ed: The Somber History of Transgender Day of Remembrance
BY Advocate Contributors
November 17 2011 5:00 AM ET
A few days ago, I spoke to the gender-neutral housing floor
at an Ivy League college about my new transgender memoir. Before introducing
me, the faculty adviser wanted to discuss the students’ responses to the recent
vandalism (a “fag” slur) on their dorm, and a film they watched, the trans
movie Gun Hill Road, which this adviser brought to campus only after ensuring that the trans character is not killed.
I keep returning to this act of homophobic harassment and
the resistance to promoting the historically dominant, tragic trans narrative
as I reflect on the approaching Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday.
This is the 13th year the growing community of
transgender people and allies commemorates those killed due to antitransgender
hatred and prejudice. The history of this day dates back to 1998, when Rita
Hester was brutally murdered in her home, and her friend Gwendolyn Ann Smith
launched the Remembering Our Dead Web project. The following year, a
candlelight vigil for Hester was held, and the date would become the annual Transgender
Day of Remembrance.
TDOR persists to raise awareness of hate crimes against
trans folk and to publicly mourn those who might otherwise be forgotten. Over
100 international events are listed on the website, along with the names (and
occasionally) pictures of those we are memorializing.
In the past couple of years, some activists have brought up
concerns over the grave tone and depressing theme. TDOR is the best-known
acknowledgment of trans people, and as a trans-questioning person five years
ago, the fact that our “special day” focused on violence and murder did little
to put me at ease with myself. Almost every trans story I came across focused
on pain, tragedy, loss, and suffering. I had to wonder: Is it possible to be a
happy, healthy, successful trans person?
While I kept my own process of internal investigation to
myself, I observed my transsexual, gender-queer, and gender-nonconforming
acquaintances in San Francisco from a distance. Over time, I watched them grow
into themselves. I witnessed them finding peace, joy, and expressions of their own
unique beauty. These people inspired me to come out, and when I sat down to
write my own trans narrative, I consciously decided to highlight the positive
aspects of my experience, to focus on empowerment, and to find the humor
Now that I am a happy, healthy, successful trans person (or
at least a person working on self-affirmations) invited to speak at a handful
of universities as part of their Transgender Awareness Weeks leading up to
TDOR, I aim to strike a balance between the somber and the celebratory, to
engender hope while also acknowledging the work that still needs to be done.
Over the last decade, more than one person per month has
died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice. A groundbreaking report
released earlier this year, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the
National Transgender Discrimination Survey,
revealed the extreme challenges that trans people still face.
The statistics are alarming: 63% of participants experienced
a serious act of discrimination (i.e., lost job, eviction, physical or sexual
assault, bullying, homelessness, denial of medical services), and 23% faced a
“catastrophic level of discrimination” — defined as being impacted by at least
three major life-disrupting events. Across the board, trans people of color
fared worse than the white participants.
As a trans person of many privileges (class, race, and
education) talking to other (mostly) privileged college students this week, I
find it important to acknowledge the disparities in what my mind links
together: a homophobic act of vandalism and the intention to shift away from
the tragic trans narrative at an elite university, and the unabated
hate crimes, violence, and discrimination against trans folk, most of whom lack
I link these here intentionally, believing our struggles are
all linked. While we may separate ourselves under our various social justice
causes, our groups and acronyms must join together in the space of our hearts.
We all must fight for equality and human rights — like the right to live — by
backing, recognizing, and honoring each other.
On Sunday we commemorate the loss of our trans folk. I call on everyone in the GLBTQIQA — buy a vowel, add a letter, become an ally — to
visit the Transgender Day of
Remembrance website and review some
names and pictures. If you are so inclined, attend a vigil in your area, or
simply light a candle in your house. Please take a small moment, even if it is
right now, in memory of those in our community, this great big community of
humanity, who have been killed in the past year for being themselves.
Then take a breath and move forward; continue your activism
by living honestly and authentically. In honoring our own lives, we remember
the dead, something we will continue to do annually until our collective tragic
trans narrative is obsolete.
A native of New York, Nick Krieger realized at the age of 21
that he’d been born on the wrong coast, a malady he corrected by transitioning
to San Francisco. His writing has earned several travel-writing awards, has
been published in multiple travel guides, and has appeared in numerous outlets
including 365Gay, Original Plumbing, Velvetpark, The Rumpus, The New Gay,
and Curve. His new book,
Nina Here Nor There, is a gender-bending exploration of the land
between man and woman, a coming-of-age story, a family dramedy, and a tale of
first love. A personal journey filled with candor and humor, this memoir brings
readers into the world of the next generation of transgender warriors.
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