The Transgender Day of Remembrance came around last week, and to commemorate the day several web sites ran articles about transgender people, but not necessarily with regard to the individuals who died due to violence or suicide. The Huffington Post, for one, ran a list of photos of “transgender pioneers” which for many people in the trans community, myself included, seemed an odd way to memorialize murdered people. Was the intent to offer our most stellar examples of humanity for the nontrans masses so that they could learn more about us? To contextualize the extremely stark statistics about hate crimes? Or did the list of 50 “pioneers” distract from a more helpful conversation about marginalization and the media’s avoidance of these stories and lives?
So I offer instead a better list of outstanding transgender and transsexual and genderqueer individuals. While there were some in the list on Huff Post (and why, by the way, is the column called “Gay Voices” when it encompasses LGBT-spectrum topics?) who are known for being inspirational, or who really did pave the way for others, there are several people included who are really only known for being media hogs, or who have a history of problematic behavior or comments. If we’re going to celebrate people in the transgender community why not make a list of people engaged in social justice work, progressive arts and publishing, and health care?
I’ve rounded up people who come to my mind when I think of such things, and no, this isn’t a “top X” list or anything exhaustive. So in no particular order…
- Dean Spade, Assistant Professor of Law at Seattle University–Dean teaches poverty law and agitates against the industrial prison complex. He founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City and teaches and writes about the intersection of US law with transgender rights. He is also fond of waving his arms a lot when he lectures, which I personally find helpful for following along with his riptide speed of speaking.
- Red Durkin, Comedian and Writer–Red toured with the Tranny Roadshow doing standup comedy, and she authored a pile of zines before announcing late this year that Topside Press will be publishing her first novel, Ready, Amy, Fire, in 2013. She has hosted writing workshops and done a host of solo comedy appearances, but one of the reasons I love Red is that she unravels painful things like Ye Olde Trans Narrative in her work, and makes audiences laugh at the inanity of a transphobic culture while they get exposed to some brighter ideas.
- Sara Becker, M.D.–There have been, thus far, no national studies of transgender health, no data that health practitioners can comb through to use when advising patients, no benchmarks. If an ailment affects such and such a percentage of women in their 40s, doctors have no way of interpreting those numbers for their trans women clients. Dr. Becker sees more than 1,000 FTM and MTF patients over the course of each year and publishes as many case studies as she can so that there is at least some trickle of information for other physicians to use in their practice. Also, she has a pilot’s license. How cool is that?
- Morgan M. Page (Odofemi), Artist and Writer–Odofemi founded TWAT/fest, the Trans Women’s Arts Toronto Festival, the first trans women’s art festival curated by trans women to showcase the work of their community. And when the award-winning Odofemi isn’t working on her multimedia art, she’s supporting trans youth through activism and anti-violence programs.
- Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod, publishers, Topside Press—Founded last year, Topside Press put out a call for short fiction with trans themes, and the press release itself went viral. Apparently there are trans writers out there interested in carving out a transgender literature, and Topside has decided not to wait around for someone else to take an interest in publishing their work (yes, I have a story in their inaugural collection, but that’s not why they’re listed here). Between Tom and Riley they have a background in anti-prison activism, trans community building, finance, and creative writing. So say it with me again: transgender literature. Music to my ears.
- StormMiguel Florez, Folk Singer–Miguel is a San Francisco-based songwriter and performer who takes on trans themes in his work, but also asks probing questions about the intersection of race with gender identity. He’s also addicted to zombie everything, even making a transgender zombie film that played in that city’s film festival.
- Annie Danger, Artist–Annie is a performance and tattoo artist (mostly not at the same time) who explores a radical reunderstanding of bodies and identities while mocking contemporary culture’s easy answers to stress, usually through a send up of motivational speaker Tony Robbins. Maybe she could tattoo Tony Robbins one day, I have no idea.
Honorable Ally Mention goes to Lisa Mottet, longtime staffer at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who authored Washington D.C.’s regulations protecting trans-identified people in housing, employment, education, and public accommodations. Lisa did not back down when conservative gay men claimed the regulations would take away from a push for same-sex marriage, or result in the oft-mentioned, never-happened men wearing dresses assaulting women in restrooms issue. She was one of the lead authors of the just-published National Transgender Discrimination Survey. She works on national policies to improve the civil rights of trans people.
There are more, plenty more. Perhaps I’ll have to write some followup blog posts about all of the cool and wonderful things transfolk are doing across the continent…