There has always been an aspect to being transgender that I have never been comfortable with and that I see too many people focusing on as the most defining thing of being transgender: misery.
When you read the biographies, watch the documentaries, or listen to the interviews of transgender people, after they obsess over our junk, they turn toward the misery. They revel in the broken relationships, the depression, the thoughts of suicide. They obsess over the loneliness so many transgender people feel, the alienation, the objectification, which is in no small way ironic as they objectify us. Everyone from the lowliest street hooker to the biggest transgender celebrities is marveled over in the ways that their lives contain heartbreak and despair. It is true that being trans does contain no small amount of pain from the bullying the violence and the angst of dysphoria.
Yet we are so much more than that.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day when we remember those of us who died over the past year. Not from heartbreak, age, or illness, but from violence. It’s a day that we chose ourselves to celebrate, because if we did not remember our dead, then who would? Even within the community we have existed in, we have been the bastard children, the unwanted, the unloved, and unmourned for most of our existence.
I often like to point out that the meager levels of acceptance and tolerance we experience in our world today is a vastly different world of just 20 years ago. When I first began to comprehend who I was deep inside, it led to a deep terror within me. It meant that if I embraced it, I would become an oddity, I would have to abandon most of my dreams, and what family I had would probably turn their backs on me. The jokes told about transgender people would become jokes about me. TV shows and movies where we were freaks and weirdos would be about me. The violence transgender people faced would be a risk that I would take on.
Yet it was misery and pain that drove me to transition. The despair that I felt of being in the closet and denying who I was played no small part. Yet one of the most important factors that played a role was the thought that I would spread misery myself if I did not. I would continue to drink, to lash out at people, to be angry. What if I started a family, had children? At the time, there were no celebratory tales of happy 8-year-olds transitioning, of transgender prom queens and teen models, just stories of people in their 40s who hit their midlife crisis and finally accepted who they were and finally transitioned, usually with devastating effect on their families.
I couldn’t do that to any spouse or children I had. My choice was to make the misery of being transgender my misery alone and hope for the peace of being myself a better choice than spreading it out to others.
Between that point and now, we have accomplished so much as a community. Not merely with having positive stories told of us the media, of having our own celebrities and glamour, but with the rights we have won. Nearly every Fortune 500 company at least has a policy in place to protect us from discrimination.
While the legal fight continues, transgender people can serve their country, our legal rights are being secured, and we are not the freaks people thought we were. Of course, those rights are under threat, and we still face so much discrimination and violence, but we have so much to celebrate to. Where we used to be the ones fighting alone, often thrown under the bus while the rest of the LGBT community moved forward, people have begun to close ranks around us. We have become vocal, angry, and defiant. Not merely do we write angry posts on the internet or wave posters in protest, we fight to remove those who would oppress us from power and win.
The Day of Rememberance still serves its purpose. Far too many of us face violence and discrimination to the point it takes our lives, by our hands or others. There is still so much misery we face; poverty, discrimination, loneliness, hatred, and yes, the ever-present violence. We should without a doubt remember those of us whose lives were taken from us. While some would be remembered by their family and friends, far too many would be forgotten in a pauper’s grave. If we didn’t remember them, then who would? Yet, memorializing them is only half of the way we should mourn them. We should use them as fuel for our fire.
Using the memory of the fallen is often the greatest motivation for an army seeking victory. For those of us who have been to too many memorials and funerals, we’ve been told that the best way to remember people is to live well. It’s been said that the best way to fight our enemies is to never break, to laugh and love, and most importantly thrive. It’s time to move beyond the Day of Remembrance. Our lives never were solely about the misery the media and popular narrative told us it was. We have long lived happy lives. Be they in the spotlight of fame or obscure poverty, we have found happiness.
Those of us who have never passed have found love and family just as much as those who have achieved transgender perfection. We have worked rewarding jobs, changed lives, and raised beautiful families. For our whole history, we have defied convention and discrimination at every opportunity and fought back politically and emotionally. We have lived defiantly. It’s time for us to celebrate a Transgender Day of Defiance.
We need to celebrate our accomplishments, our happiness. There are those of us who make changes every day without headlines and red carpets. Many of us find happiness doing everything from fixing computers to fixing hair. We go home to families, raise children, and create beauty in the world. All of this is in the act of living a life those that would oppress us would deny us. Our very happiness is defiance. It is time to not only mourn and remember, but celebrate our joys and defiant existence.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City and a regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.