Sunday, November 20, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR)

Today, November 20, 2011 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember trans folk who have been killed due to anti-trans hatred or prejudice. The website for much more information can be found at

I became most clearly aware of violence against trans folk in 2008 when 14-year-old Larry King was murdered by his classmate, Brandon McInerney. Larry was shot in the school computer lab at a school in Oxnard, near my home in California. He was shot because he was gay, wore makeup, and dressed in "feminine ways." That year I wrote a sermon about dry bones and Lazarus' death:
There are a lot of teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, family members, friends, and police officers pointing fingers and asking, “Where were you? Why didn’t you do something? What’s wrong with this world that this could happen? Why didn’t I do something when I saw the warning signs?”  One Los Angeles Times article was full of quotes from 20 or so different people asking those questions. And I guarantee you that Larry’s and Brandon’s friends and family are asking their pastors, “Where was God? How could God let this happen? 
Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died. Lord, if you had been there, Larry would not have died.
While researching the news for this sermon, I found brief news reports of two other trans women of color murdered in February, 2008: Simmie Williams (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and Ashley Sweeney (Detroit, MI). There was so very little news coverage of their murders, I could not even discover how old Ashley was other than "young." Simmie was 17. I was horrified by these deaths. I was horrified by the callous news coverage of their deaths.

As I wrote my sermon, I tried to figure out how to connect my mostly white, cisgender, straight congregation in New Jersey to the death of a gender queer, gay, black child in California. I wrote of Paul Sartre's play "No Exit" and how connected we are to one another:

Three people who have died find themselves in hell. They are locked in a room together for all eternity, unable to sleep, eternally stuck with each other’s company. They don’t even have toothbrushes. At first it doesn’t seem so bad, but after a little while they begin to drive each other crazy. In an effort to make the situation more bearable one of the characters suggests, “Let’s all sit down again quite quietly; we’ll look at the floor and each must try to forget the others are there.” For a while they try it until suddenly one of them cries out, “To forget about the others? How utterly absurd! I feel you there, in every pore. Your silence clamors in my ears. You can nail up your mouth, cut your tongue out—but you can’t prevent your being there.” Sartre’s depiction of hell is a parable that leads us to understand life in community. We try for a little while to stay separate, to distance ourselves from death and suffering. But I know someone who knows a kid whose friend was murdered on February 12. And I feel it, in every pore. Don’t you?
Can you feel these deaths? Can you feel the fear our trans friends live with? Do you listen to the stories of their lives with the same openness and love you listen to the lives of others? In 2011, TDOR recorded 23 murders of trans folk. Within the U.S., all of the murder victims (except one) were people of color. Do you feel this in every pore? 

In 2008, I began to follow several blogs devoted to queer and trans concerns, and in 2009 I joined Twitter and connected with a few trans women who honored me with parts of their stories. I've met up in "real life" with several trans folk. Last year I helped with child care for the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. I've come to believe that how we connect with trans folk determines and reveals who we are as humans.

Most people I have talked to have told me they just don't know much about trans folk. They tell me they have never met anyone who is transgender or genderqueer. If that is true for you, here are three resources to begin your education.

TransFaith Online: TransFaith is an interfaith group dedicated to "educating churchfolk about TransFaith,TransFolk, and OtherWisdom; supporting Transfolk in our sacred role as OtherWise; nurturing the expression of the sacred OtherWise. There is an extensive list of resources on their website for further reading.

Monica Roberts keeps a blog called Transgriot: "News, opinions, commentary, history and a little creative writing from a proud African-American transwoman about the world around her." We have racism and transphobia problems within the lgbtq community, and Ms. Roberts calls us to account frequently with her writing. She also frequently highlights trans women across the world working in many fields. This blog is a must-read.

Finally, Julia Serano has written an excellent book: Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Reading this book in 2008 helped me understand better the life stories of trans women who were willing to share with me.
Perhaps no sexual minority is more maligned or misunderstood than trans women. As a group, we have been systematically pathologized by the medical and psychological establishment, sensationalized and ridiculed by the media, marginalized by mainstream lesbian and gay organizations, dismissed by certain segments of the feminist community, and, in too many instances, been made the victims of violence at the hands of men who feel that we somehow threaten their masculinity and heterosexuality. Rather than being given the opportunity to speak for ourselves on the very issues that affect our own lives, trans women are instead treated more like research subjects: Others place us under their microscopes, dissect our lives, and assign motivations and desires to us that validate their own theories and agendas regarding gender and sexuality. 
Trans women are so ridiculed and despised because we are uniquely positioned at the intersection of multiple binary gender-based forms of prejudice: transphobia, cissexism, and misogyny. (Serano, 11-2)
As I look at the names and faces of trans folk murdered in the last few years, it is clear that racism plays as strong a part as gender in the violence directed toward trans folk. We need to look to this and do better--how we treat the most vulnerable in our society is a measure of our humanity.

One of my twitter friends said this today: "If you think #TDoR isn't important--especially as an ally--you're so wrong. Be advised: we notice who can't be buggered to even acknowledge the slaughter."

So this is me, acknowledging the slaughter. And also acknowledging my beautiful trans friends and their lives. Thank you for sharing your stories with me.

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