“It Was Personal”: Why I Don’t Take Part in the Trans Day of Remembrance

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.

I don’t participate in the Trans Day of Remembrance because in 2011 I read a pair of essays by Morgan M. Page and Alyssa Caparas.

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.

Three months later, Meadows committed suicide. Posthumous complaints poured in. But by then it was too late. Littlejohn’s op-ed was removed, but he kept his job.

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.

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Maryam has written 6 articles for us.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. It’s so well-written and powerful. It does such a comprehensive job of describing the complexities, and difficulties, surrounding TDoR.

  2. I really like this, especially the point that the vast majority of those who suffer are Trans* WoC.

    I would say that (to me at least, and maybe I am wrong) when it comes to marking TDoR my thoughts aren’t limited to the people on ‘the list’. It is a time also to think of the living who are suffering for reasons related to their Trans* status.

  3. Miriam, you have a perfect right to attend or not attend anything you want. What I don’t appreciate is you or Mirha Soleil Ross putting down the intent of the TDOR. To put it bluntly… to what extent was violence against trans women covered in the media AT ALL before the TDOR? What was the conviction rate of the people who did these very violent crimes? How often did police departments and DAs even prosecute the men who perpetrated those crimes? What was the understanding that this was a worldwide issue? How much attention did the non-trans LGB community pay to any of these acts of brutal violence? The answer is pretty much zero on almost all accounts. And you’re extremely wrong when you say it was all about Rita Hester… there were lots of murdered trans women the community talked about during the 1990s… Hester’s murder was just the tipping point. In the earlier days of the TDOR it was very much about individuals, which is how it should be. It’s only with the internationalization of the memorial that it’s become about so many people that they become a blur of names, which is objectifying and dehumanizing and, I agree, not honoring their lives.

    I would never pretend the TDOR is an ‘ideal or perfectly conceived’ memorial (how could it be?) Yes, I have big issues with white trans women, trans men and queer-ID’d people taking center stage in what is overwhelmingly a memorial for trans women of color. Yes, many named on the TDOR were involved in sex work and that needs to be put front and center in the memorial, as does many different issues of intersectional oppression. But to have Soleil Ross (someone who I understand is part First Nations but not in any way visibly a woman of color) put down TDOR as though it’s some kind of joke just makes me very angry. The reality is, most organizations or books which are pro-sex work or discuss its ramifications don’t even mention trans women. They’re offensively categorized as part of MSM (men who have sex with men). If you’re going to rip on anything, how about ripping on those women’s and sex worker rights organization which have seen fit to make invisible the issues of trans women who work in sex trades?

    Again, if you don’t like it, don’t attend the TDOR (there are lots of years I don’t either). But don’t put down the people who made it happen, have maintained the list or planned the memorials. And please don’t pretend you’re somehow more sensitive to the issues surrounding the murder of these women (and one or two trans men) as those people are. I also note that “Pretty Queer dot com (which should have been called ‘queerer than thou dot com’) is pretty much a dead site, perhaps a result of some of the pompous posts which appeared on there? Needless to say, it was a site which wasn’t read by virtually any of the populations of trans women who were likely to appear on the TDOR lists.

  4. Such a powerful and nuanced piece. I appreciate that many of the systemic ways that society oppresses trans individuals and leads them sometimes into desperate courses of action for survival / transition was brought up in this conversation. I understand the talking points made concerning appropriation of minority narratives within the larger community and the TDOR criteria of making it onto the list (an interesting consideration to say the least) but for me such an event was always more about solidarity than separation. The places where our lives intersect as trans women as opposed to being separate.

    For me, I can say that an event like this is better than nothing at all (which is the reality given how many places in the US do not have ANY type of memorial event at all). It is still so young and I am sure it will continue to evolve and improve over the coming years.

  5. I have to say, I think the author comes from a place of significant experience and privilege in writing this. It reminds me of people who criticize their parents for not knowing what “cis” means, when Mom just got the hang of “LGBT” last month.

    Nothing organized by human beings is ever going to be perfect. But as Gina pointed out above, prior to TDOR, there was NOTHING. This year was my first TDOR. It was my first time learning that worldwide records of any kind are kept about the murders of transpeople. It was my first time being told the names of any of those who were mentioned. I understand your frustration, somewhat, but — these ARE our folks to remember. It “appropriates poor trans women of color”? Not everything that involves PoC being front and center is appropriative. I’m poor and trans* and of color, and I cried from the experience of seeing my sisters’ names on the walls of the church in which the service was held. There was no narrative being built. It was only remembrance.

    You said that you would prefer to attend a small function where the people being remembered were those in your community. That’s great, but the majority of those murdered this year have no communities to remember them. It is incredible that you (the author) live in a place where your chosen family would come together like that. That is not the case, most places. If I were murdered, I would want my name spoken aloud, somewhere. I would want to be remembered, somewhere.

    TDOR isn’t just about the people recorded on the website. It’s a time set aside out of our schedules to reflect on those many more who weren’t counted, whose countries didn’t report their deaths, and whose parents don’t miss them. When I went to TDOR this year, I didn’t just think about the 238 names that flashed on the screen. I thought about them, and the ones that are missing, and the ones being invisibly written right now.

    Not everyone is in a place where they can afford to remember only those they knew personally. Some of us don’t even know any others. For some of us, it’s the only chance we have to come together with others in our community and remember those who have been forgotten almost everywhere else.

  6. I have to comment on the Matthew Shepard thing: I started UWyo a couple years after his murder and I know people who knew him and Steve Jimenez’s book is utter bullshit. I completely take your point about drug use, prostitution, and criminality being one result of oppression and marginalization. I think these are important issues that should be addressed in a more helpful, non-judgemental way by queer communities at large. But that’s not Jimenez’s book is about, so he can just fuck right off.

  7. I understand that I am coming from a very different place than you, Miriam, and I don’t want to tell you that your personal feelings are wrong, and I know that this article is expressing your opinions.

    That said, I think that TDOR is incredibly important. TDOR is being recognized internationally, and it’s really impossible to express what a big deal that is, especially in Latin America (where 78% of the reported murders of trans* people occur), and where the biggest cause of these murders is the dehumanization of trans* people (especially trans women).

    I don’t really understand the sex work point either; murders of trans* people in Argentina, for instance, are counted in international numbers by REDLACTRANS and TGEU, and over 90% of trans* women in Argentina are sex workers (though luckily that number is decreasing), their status as sex workers doesn’t invalidate their standing on that list. Isn’t that kind of the point of intersectionality? A sex worker might face more violence than someone who isn’t working in that arena, but that doesn’t mean that a trans* sex worker doesn’t face other kinds of violence and discrimination that cis sex workers don’t deal with.

    I feel like there is a very strong trend, especially in the queer community, to reject an idea or theme if it isn’t doing something the absolute best way, rather than engaging in that movement and working to remedy the problematic areas of it. Yes, it’s incredibly fucked that trans people are denied access to medical services, education and jobs. Yes, there are all kinds of mental health issues that are bound to arise from discrimination. But that doesn’t change the fact that trans* people are also being murdered by people who dehumanize them, and it doesn’t change the fact that without visibility, many of these murderers face little to no penalties.

    No, the movement isn’t perfect, but can’t we work on that, rather than decrying it altogether?

  8. “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.”

    Thank you for this. It may be controversial, but it’s what I needed to hear.

  9. Thank you for this article and to those who commented. As many have said above, you’ve given me a lot to think about. What macmac89 said above has really stuck with me: ‘Not everyone is in a place where they can afford to remember only those they knew personally. Some of us don’t even know any others. For some of us, it’s the only chance we have to come together with others in our community and remember those who have been forgotten almost everywhere else.’

  10. So, I feel like these defenses illustrate my point.

    If the defense of the TDoR is its political effects (more reporting, police action), then it’s political activism. But that’s not how it’s advertised. It’s called a day of mourning, grieving, and reflection. That’s the standard I’m judging it on: it’s ability to help people grieve and mourn the ones they know.

    It’s possible to be both, like Rita Hester’s vigil.

    But, like with Lucie Parkin, the political aspect is taking precedence over the grieving one.

    One of the links I wish was included was Amber Dawn’s “How to Bury Our Dead”. Part of it recounts how the author went to a TDoR to memorialize a friend who was listed, and her discomfort at watching a complete stranger say effectively take on the identity of her dead friend.

    Does it matter if that stranger was white? Or a sex worker? The irony is that if Dawn, a white cis woman, had memorialized her friend, thought pieces would decry it.

    This isn’t about ‘personal choice’. If it was I wouldn’t have written this. This is about how the vital, and repressed, mourning process is becoming circumvented by political efficacy. This is about the effect it’s having on the way we argue for our rights, the strategies we take.

    And, I even offered a really simple idea of fixing it: make the memorial personal. It’s wrong to think that no one loved the people on the list. Even the ones who are listed as ‘unknown’. It may take years, and be far away from where they originated. Bit everyone will be remembered.

    That is, if people are given a place to remember the dead on their own terms. Where they won’t be judged, but supported. And, yes, that includes allies, death and mourning affects us all. That seems like a really effective way of uniting the broader community.

    Also, I want to thank everyone for sharing, and wish everyone a Happy Turkey Day. If writing this piece and reflecting on death has taught me anything, it’s how important it is to be good to each other in the time we have.

  11. “If the defense of the TDoR is its political effects (more reporting, police action), then it’s political activism. But that’s not how it’s advertised. It’s called a day of mourning, grieving, and reflection. That’s the standard I’m judging it on: it’s ability to help people grieve and mourn the ones they know.”

    It doesn’t HAVE to be either/or… it can be a combination of the two or experienced by differing people in differing ways. For example… I had a large percentage of my family who were murdered during WW2. People in my greatly diminished family loved and knew them well, I have photos and personal artifacts of them, have many stories of people who should be related to me but were murdered. I have other family members who did survive but lived through hellish experiences. Those are all highly personal experiences. Does that mean that somehow I don’t think other people have a right to discuss or represent what happened in academic/political, solidarity or media-driven ways or to grieve how such acts ever happened in this world? No. Unless I feel my family or those persons who died are specifically misrepresented by others, I have my relationship to it and they have theirs. For instance, I think trans people have a right to be upset with the public memorial service for Islan Nettles where she was repeatedly misgendered and, (even though I profoundly don’t agree with them) her family has a right to remember her as they wish.

    TDOR is not just any one thing… it’s a memorial, it’s about grieving the loss of people in one’s own community (or for allies of that community), it’s a sign of survival and it’s about political action. Sometimes it’s just about community coming together. Just as any other group who has been targeted finds ways to come together with similarly complex relationships to the commemoration. And who’s ever said allies shouldn’t be part of the TDOR? My point was that it should be focused and centered on the communities which bear the brunt of the violence. As to judgment (‘it needs to be fixed or ignored’)—that’s what I’m hearing from you and the Pretty Queer essays.

  12. I’ve got to say this has been a really interesting discussion to follow, lots to consider, as always with this website!

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