Transgender Day of Sadness

TDOR posterXena bless Gwendolyn Ann Smith for starting the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, to focus on the losses our chosen family incurs from bigotry and hatred. But there is a kind of bleakness in the event—we’re certainly not celebrating as we come together, and I for one have to stave off the blues the week afterward because the names of the dead float around in my head. And trust me, I already think about those who haven’t made it on a regular, frequent basis.

Still, I won’t let the day pass without some reflection; it’s a time to re-commit myself to mentoring others, to putting myself out there so I can be a resource in times of trouble, in agitating my local community to push past their stereotyped notions of who trans people are, and in doing work that materially benefits the “T” part of LGBT, since it is so often carelessly forgotten. We want to stop future deaths from violence, but all we have to work with are ourselves and our sense of mission to cobble together a response to that violence. I try to focus on proactive work—call it violence prevention if you will—but I’m supportive of others who take different paths. A variety of responses gives us a better movement, if those responses are in concert with each other and not in opposition.

So, this year, I’m going to put my fat ass on a limb, and call on ourselves to do a better job as individual and coalition voices in our patchwork movement for civil rights. This past year alone, I’ve seen the following happen:

  • Ashley Love consistently calling to divide transsexual and transgender/gender queer people from each other, as if we have separate political interests
  • Thomas Beatie insulting Chaz Bono for his selection on Dancing with the Stars
  • Trans women calling Kate Bornstein a “Tom” (I guess Uncle Tom doesn’t fit) for writing that she still wants to be able to use the word “tranny”
  • An article in one of my favorite magazines that asserted that trans men were hogging the media spotlight from trans women
  • Dan Savage insisting he’s not transphobic, even as he doles out advice using “she-man” and “freaky tranny porn”
  • The Executive Director of Equality Maryland arguing that removing public accommodations from the trans protections bill wouldn’t make a difference to trans people, despite legal precedent that it would
  • The hate mail I’ve received in critiquing Dan Savage, telling me I don’t have a sense of humor and I should shut up about him

I am over all of this sentiment. My brilliant partner tells her students to ask the question, “Who is served by…” to help identify the cultural or economic motivations in a given situation. And so I ask, who is served by these sentiments, these accusations, and these statements?

I’m pretty sure it’s not people with complicated gender. I’m also sure it’s not gay men, other than Dan Savage, who is making bank on his speaking engagements and with his MTV series.

No, I’m not seeking to silence debate, or run away from principled critique. But I think we’re past the point where we need to question any moment of public ridicule, sweeping generalization, or unfair demonization. We need solidarity, because the public’s perception of our perceived strength has got to be more helpful for us than this stream of infighting and name calling. If we think some LGBT personality unintentionally mispoke, we can decide to call them out self-righteous style, or we can lay out our criticism with respect. Of course we will disagree with each other—there are those among us who use “insider” politics to get protections passed, and there are direct action activists, and many individuals who work in between these poles, and each strategy carries its own consequences for the future of our movement, patchwork though it may be.

I am tired of our youth dying to suicide, addiction, homicide, neglect, and a lack of access to the services they deserve. I’m exhausted from the online bloviating, because I see how far fewer people put themselves out there in the world to improve other people’s lives. I’ve not gotten over the easy hostility of the Internet comment-writers who somehow have copious amounts of time to tell me how I just don’t get offensive humor, or who will call out an instructor who gripes about an entitled student when they themselves have never had to spend 60 hours a week coddling entitled students. If we want to be offended by the world, we will find a lot of targets.

My targets are, in no particular order:

  • Our elected officials who take an oath to serve all of us and then immediately cow-tow only to their close friends and those interests
  • Self-appointed spokespeople who use their bully pulpits to foster division and anger in already marginalized communities
  • Anyone dedicated to playing the oppression olympics game, especially when it’s between transgender vs. transsexual or trans women vs. trans men
  • In-community political operatives or lobbyists who are culturally competent on trans issues but who leave them out of their mobilizing efforts because they think it will make their causes more palatable or politically popular

No, these people aren’t directly responsible for the deaths of our trans sisters and brothers and genderqueer loved ones, but their actions don’t contribute to the fight against that violence, either. And damn it, I want less of that violence.

Walk away from the infighting this year. Sit down to discuss what’s happening in our local trans communities, find what we each can do to support each other and our most vulnerable community members—for me, these are transfolk of color, our youth, prisoners, and our elderly. I will still be saddened at TDOR over all of the deaths we’ve seen this year, but on November 21, I’ll be back to working on stabilizing our collective future. I would love to join in with all of you to make that happen.

Much love to us all,


Tags: , , ,

Categories: LGBT Civil Rights, ponderings


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