Thoughts on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Apologies for the blog hiatus. 30 Poems in November is kicking my butt. (Donate here to raise funds for literacy education.) More original content will be posted soon.

Meanwhile, I would like to share these eloquent words from Natalie at the Skepchick blog about the importance of today’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. Activists estimate that over 100 transgendered people are murdered each year in hate crimes. This is in addition to the other violence, discrimination, and sensationalized misrepresentation in the media that transpeople endure on a regular basis. On a more positive note, though, Massachusetts finally passed a bill to add some protections to our civil rights law for gender identity and expression. The compromise legislation now bans discrimination in employment, education, healthcare, and housing, though they were not able to get enough votes to add public accommodations to the list.

Natalie’s blog post explains why trans rights should matter to everyone (boldface emphasis mine):

…I suppose a question with these kinds of things is often why exactly one should care beyond simple respect for the deceased and ongoing commitment to working against bigotry in its many forms. How does this relate to those beyond the immediate consequences?

Part of it is the internalization of fear by the rest of us. Our lives begin to become defined and restrained by it. In much the same way that women may often internalize fear of sexual assault and lose luxuries such as the ability to walk around after dark without needing to be constantly attentive of their surroundings, keeping keys clenched in their fist, trans people end up losing similar luxuries of being able to feel safe in many circumstances. Our lives become limited by that fear in very real ways. It becomes a force of social control that keeps us quiet and invisible. We desperately strive for “passability” far beyond what is simply comfortable self-expression out of awareness of the very real dangers that come with being visibly gender variant. I don’t really like painting my nails all that much, but every little bit helps.

Part of it is that this affects people beyond those who fall within the transgender spectrum. It is essentially about policing the lines of gender. Using violence and the threat thereof as a means of imposing very real consequences for those who transgress the carefully delineated paths afforded to those born with certain particular anatomies. It marks in blood a line that you may not cross. This confines all of us. Male, female or neither, cis or trans, straight or queer, binary-identified or not, we all end up boxed into a coercively defined destiny based on nothing more than the configuration of one particular body part.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of victims of trans-related violence are women. This sends a strong message that it is unacceptable to value femaleness or femininity, or to consider these states preferable, empowering or fulfilling. MtF spectrum individuals embody a fundamental challenge to the assumption of male superiority. Who could possibly be happier as a woman than as a man? Who would want to trade the almighty phallus for the lowly vagina? Along with using violence and fear to enforce a gender binary, it uses the same to enforce patriarchy.

These messages are internalized into our culture. They mean something very, very real. There are untold many who remain in their prescribed gender roles only out of fear of retribution.

But this day isn’t about gender theory or politics or the struggle forward for the living. It is about recognizing, remembering and respecting those we’ve lost. But a big aspect of respecting them is to recognize what it is they died for. They sacrificed their lives for the idea that all of us, regardless of where we fall within the various spectrums of gender and sexuality, can express ourselves and exist exactly as we are, exactly as we feel ourselves to truly be. They died to build a world where we needn’t live in fear and compromise, where we needn’t apologize for our gender. Where our identity is our own. Where biology is not destiny.

So if you get a chance today, please take a moment to pause and think, or to grieve. Perhaps light a candle. Perhaps reflect a bit on the freedom that you may enjoy to express your gender in a manner that is honest and comfortable, or reflect on those who may not yet have that privilege. Perhaps reflect on how valuable and meaningful that is, what it is to feel at home in your body. Remember that it is something that some people have given their lives for.

Read the whole post here. (Hat tip to the Twitter feed of No Longer Quivering, a must-read site for women recovering from patriarchal religious abuse.)

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