posted Nov. 17, 2012
Well, people it's that time of year again. All across the United States, in cities with an appreciable transgender population (and some cities in other countries), are having Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR) celebrations...for those who don't know by now (even though they have been held annually for at least 14 years now), that's when we pay homage to our fallen transgender individuals who have lost their lives at the hands of others simply for living their lives as transgender/gender non-conforming persons.
GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has announced "Transgender Awareness Week", creating a page for it on their web site. Here in Atlanta, GA., we've got a weekend of festivities planned to celebrate the lives of our fallen and "look to the future" of those still living.
I attended one such dinner two nights ago, presented by an LGBT HIV/AIDS prevention organization. While it was enjoyable, with a mime performance by a transman of my acquaintance, a beautiful rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" sung by a personable young gay man and a small local 3-piece band, I left it feeling entertained but empty. There was a great, entertaining presentation about "Stigma Surrounding HIV/AIDS Infection" given to us by a terribly charismatic transgender woman (she really "took us to church"), and the food was good.... Don't get me wrong, I had a good time, but at the bottom of it I still felt empty.
I felt this way because I knew when all was said and done, the only reason we were 'entertained' so well was because this LGBT organization was getting funded by a pharmaceutical company who paid for the dinner so as to give the presentation (no word of our fallen, past the fact that the event was titled "Transgender Day Of Remembrance Celebration"). No mention was made of what we're going to do about changing the position of the transgender community in the future, although there was a "humanitarian award" given to a doctor known for her attendance to HIV positive transgender individuals, with a couple of honorable mentions for young gay men who worked with this organization (the young singer among them). I had to wonder, "What's the point?" and "Would this event even have taken place without the pharmaceutical company's funding?" as well as "Who is this helping?" Okay, so we got out for a couple of hours, ate some good food and chuckled for a minute...but what next? Out of an audience of maybe 50 people, I'd say 30 were transgender (including the presenter); nothing was learned, no future plans for transgender advancement made or real homage paid to those of us who have died due to murder, abuse or neglect.
Last evening I was part of a "community discussion" on transgender issues; a very well-intentioned effort of a transgender affirming church. This was to be part of a "Transgender Celebration Weekend for TDOR". In attendance there were maybe 17 people (counting the young woman who volunteered to direct attendees in the parking lot), and 12 of them were transgender, 2 gay women and 3 gay men.
This was suppose to be a chance for "the community at large & LGB community to become enlightened and discuss transgender issues"...I'd warned the organizer that most events labelled "transgender" generally get very little attention or attendance (even from the LGBT community, unless it was a "drag show or pageant"), but he felt optimistic and felt it important to do. While I agree on its importance, can you see any "enlightenment" happening in the scenario above? It was like our panel singing in a choir; every transgender person there had (is) living the experiences we were there to talk about! We did however, "turn lemons into lemonade" by setting some real goals for changing the situation for transgenders here in Atlanta (hopefully by beginning with lobbying efforts at our State House and the Mayor's office).
So you may be asking, "Well Cheryl, what are you suggesting we do to 'pay homage to our transgender fallen' ?"
In my opinion, while I think it may be honoring and well-intentioned, as well as serving some purpose in an overall recognition of what's happening in and to our community, I'm tired of calling the 'names of our fallen' lists. This practice is depressing, takes forever (the lists get longer every year) and just reminds us of the victims we can be if we continue to allow it. Additionally, I think it ignores the great number of transgender folks who die yearly, not in the usual ways thought of as murder; death by another's hand (shooting, stabbing, strangling, etc.) specifically, but die by the conditions transgenders are compelled to live/exist under (i.e., homelessness, joblessness, lack of medical attention, etc.). These conditions are also the cause of suicide, so isn't that a 'murder' in its way as well?
I feel the most REAL 'homage' we can pay to our transgender fallen is to get off our asses and organize around doing those things that will improve the situation for our LIVING transgender sistahs and brothahs! Find transgender groups in your area, join them and begin taking legal actions to make change in your community. If there aren't any transgender organizations, get two or three of your good trans friends together and start one...remember "where two or three are gathered in MY name" [paraphrased] has started whole religions.
And we've got to start holding our self-identified "allies" accountable for even taking that title. When they only pay lip service to the title, taking public opportunities to voice their support, we need to start calling them out publicly (that they're only available at "TDOR events", and MIA the rest of the year, unless there's a grant available earmarked for the transgender community); calling on them to show their "alliance" in tangible ways (if not through monetary help to trans organizations, then by offering (and giving) services that will assist in those transgender organizations' progress and survival, that they may continue to serve the transgender community).
But most of all, we've got to look out for our young transfolk. Try wherever possible to befriend and mentor young transgenders in your area, providing moral support when they are rejected by their birth families or feeling abused/harassed at school. Too often these individuals are feeling alone and unwanted (often times finding this "I am desired" feeling on the streets). You know the young ones you see and you just KNOW "she's (or he's) just beginning"; you know the ones you feel in your heart need 'makeup tips' or just putting themselves together. Encourage them to prepare educationally; if they've dropped out (and can't see going back to school), urge them to get their GED. Without education of some sort, they don't stand a chance at all in the world.
In other words, I feel the best, most real way to pay homage to our transgender fallen, is for us as a transgender community to be about the SERIOUS business of being our own salvation, because it's a damn sure bet that we can't count on ANYONE else to get serious about it if we don't.