In the beginning, the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) had only one name. Rita Hester.
She was a well-known figure in Boston’s trans community. On November 28, 1998, she was found in her apartment, brutally stabbed to death. The news sent shockwaves among the local community. Exacerbated by the thoughtless news coverage and the inaction of the police, people sprang into action.
On December 3rd, 50 members of the Lesbian Avengers and Queer Riot protested the offices of the Bay Windows and Boston Herald. The next day, a week after Hester was found, a candlelight vigil was held. It drew 250 people, both inside and outside the trans community.
Charito Suarez, who attended the event, said,”It was personal. I’m not talking just about another transgender person. I’m talking about a person I actually knew. I knew her character and I knew her heart. I’m doing it for her. We must speak for her.”
It’s considered a turning point for trans rights in Boston and the US. The next year, San Fransisco activists began the “Remembering Our Dead” project, which morphed into the Trans Day of Remembrance.
Hester’s killing remains unsolved.
Let me save you some time.
The basic gist: TDoR appropriates the narratives of poor trans women of color. It exploits them to create a culture of fear and advance a political agenda that will do nothing for the people named.
In short, the dead aren’t ours to remember.
That’s what I’m arguing. There’s also names. People. Some are trans women, some aren’t. Some were killed, some weren’t. Some have their names on the TDoR website, some don’t.
Who’s who is complicated.
In October, Miguel Inostroz was sentenced to 112 years for the murder of Lucie Parkin, a Bay Area trans woman.
This wasn’t justice. Inostroz had attacked Parkin, an acquaintance, over a debt. One of Parkin’s friends intervened, and in the ensuing scuffle, Inostroz’s gun went off, killing Parkin.
The prosecution knew this, but still charged Inosroz with second degree murder. His sentence is based on California’s third strike rule.
Parkin’s name isn’t on the TDoR website. A couple of local organizations held side memorials for those who knew her to pay their respects.
Rita Hester’s personal connection to her community was central to her memorial. It’s what drove people to organize like never before.
Just over a decade later, and that personal connection was a side piece. It’d been replaced by an official memorial, full of names of people they’d never known until that day.
But not Parkin. The TDoR is for people who are considered to be the victims of ‘anti-trans’ violence.
So, what does it mean to be killed by transphobia? We can think about it by looking at Matthew Shepard, maybe.
His murder was a lightning rod for the LGBTQ community. It was the catalyst for hate crimes laws. It renewed interest in the Brandon Teena story, resulting in the movie Boys Don’t Cry. The disparity of the coverage between Shepard’s murder and Rita Hester’s sparked the protests that became the TDoR.
Since then, Shepard’s murder has been reenacted, either directly or not. And, I suspect, it’s become the archetypal anti-LGBTQ hate crime, the standard by which all other crimes are judged.
This year, Steve Jimenez came out with a book claiming our account of it was wrong. Matthew Shepard, Jimenez claimed, was a meth user and dealer, who’d had sex with one of his killers. He was killed because of drugs, not sexual orientation.
There’s been considerable debate around whether or not these claims are true, partially true, etc. I don’t know enough to offer an opinion.
Honestly, though, I wouldn’t be surprised either way.
Criminality is part of the queer/trans* community. It’s a way to earn a living when you’ve been pushed out of the workforce. There’s fewer barriers to entry, so it’s easier to circumvent discrimination.
But it comes with extra dangers, including being targeted by people who know you won’t – can’t – go to the police. That’s what police suspect happened to Tyrell Jackson and 3 other ‘transvestite prostitutes’, who were all robbed at gunpoint on April 4, 2012. Jackson was shot trying to flee, and died.
Jackson is on the TDoR website.
In her article, Morgan Page quotes Mirha-Soleil Ross saying that if trans activists factored sex work into the Trans Day of Remembrance, the list would lose half its names. She also talks about how the names are used to advance a culture of fear for political purposes.
I think about those comments when I see the argument of anti-trans violence. Say this, do that, and you’re Just As Bad as the people who kill trans people on the street.
More than the culture of fear being used for politics, the politics of fear has become the main justification for our existence.
And it’s a problem.
It’s a problem because it inherently removes the complexity of the people whose names we call. And it’s a problem because it removes the nuance of transphobia.
Because, yes, sometimes it is what you’d expect. But it’s also not being able to get a job because you have no legal ID. It’s your soon-to-be-ex trying to get ‘incriminating’ pictures of you so they can take the kids. It’s the government not recognizing your new family like they did the old one. Sometimes, yes, it’s sex work and dealing. Or, it’s getting a temp job in a warehouse and saving pennies for an out of pocket surgery.
It’s rough. And sometimes it’s violent. But it’s more complex than the perpetrator-victim model. And when we reduce it to that, it distorts how we organize against transphobia.
On January 8th, The New Statesman published Suzanne Moore’s contribution to Red, the Waterstone’s Anthology. It contained an oblique reference to the “Brazilian transsexual” ideal.
She was questioned about it, a fight erupted, and, on January 11th, she left Twitter.
On January 13th, her friend Julie Burchill published a defense of Moore in The Observer, using every transphobic term she could think of.
It unleashed a torrent of criticism from the online feminist community. Hundreds wrote to the Press Complaints Commission, saying that Burchill’s words were personally threatening to them. On January 14th, The Observer removed the piece and issued an apology.
That same day, The New Statesman published a story about one Lucy Meadows.
She was a primary school teacher who’d made the difficult decision to transition between the Fall and Spring semesters. In response, a couple of parents went to the papers, decrying the situation.
The papers ran with the story. Richard Littlejohn issued his own transphobic op-ed calling for Lucy to leave her job. Papers suppressed the accounts of supportive parents. Reporters were camped in front of Meadows’ door.
She’d filed her own report with the Press Complaints Commission. This, incidentally, is the type of behavior they were meant to police: when journalists invade privacy, target non-public figures, suppress parts of a story.
But hers was the only complaint filed. There was no one to protest the Daily Mail, or the other papers involved. No one to organize supportive neighbors into filing more complaints. People were busy protesting Julie Burchill for threatening the trans community.
Just to recap: everyone who wrote to the PCC saying how Burchill’s writing threatened them is still alive. Lucy Meadows is not.
Incidentally, Suzanne Moore’s piece is still on The New Statesman. It still says “Brazilian transsexual”.
Lucy Meadows is not on the TDoR.
Suicides aren’t included. You can be hunted by the press to the point of despair, but if you kill yourself, it doesn’t count. If you overdose, it doesn’t count. If you go in for unlicensed injections and get pneumonia, it doesn’t count. If you die from complications because a doctor refuses to treat you, it only counts if you die that night.
There are a thousand ways to die from being trans. But they’re only included if they can be made as sensationalist as possible. Nevermind that all these things kill you just the same. Never mind that self harm, substance abuse, and suicide are some of the biggest killers of trans women around. Nevermind that there’s a whole generation of us relying solely on black market medicine, potentially creating a host of medical issues.
Nevermind the reality of the trans community, as long as it makes a good story to browbeat someone with.
What, exactly, is being remembered? And what isn’t?
A couple of weeks before the TDoR, some members of the local queer community held a small, public memorial. It commemorated the lives of queer/trans* friends lost in the last year.
The list was small, and the cause of deaths weren’t dramatic (one died in a car accident). The memorial wasn’t widely attended. Its record wasn’t widely shared.
But if I had to choose, that would be the memorial I’d attend.
If you want to fix the TDoR, I only have a small piece of advice: don’t read the name of someone you don’t know. I don’t care how they died, or when they died, or if they were an asshole. But know them.
If you don’t have a name, wonderful! Great! Be there for the people who do. Make it about the trans community as a place of support, not suffering.
If the person talking isn’t trans, okay. As long as the person they’re talking about is trans. Transphobia doesn’t just affect trans people, but also their lovers, family, friends. Have this be a place they can go to, and share the stories of the people they knew and loved.
And, maybe, don’t call it the Trans Day of Remembrance. Maybe have it be its own thing.
We have a need to grieve. We’re human.
And in the queer community, that need is often taken away from us. We’re denied access to our loved ones. Legal families disrespect their identity in services.
It’s why people fought so hard for gay marriage. They wanted the chance to mourn those who died in the AIDS crisis. They couldn’t stand being torn away from their loved ones’ beds any more.
To some extent, the Trans Day of Remembrance can be a conduit for that mourning. But it can also be a barrier to it.
But more than the TDoR, our mourning needs to be for us. Trans people and allies, who do share in a lot of the same trials and tribulations. It shouldn’t be about building the narrative. It should be about listening to know what the narrative is.
On November 20th, a trans woman was found at the base of a bridge. It was deemed a suicide. She was a Youtube personality, and fellow trans Youtubers delivered a tearful eulogy, and shared on an online support. The rest of us took turn offering condolences.
Yes, I know it’s online. And you wouldn’t have to do much work to find out who this is. All the same, I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here. It’s personal.