What My Trans Community Wants You to Know

November 20th 2015

Aron Macarow

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is here, and with it comes the annual lists memorializing those who were killed in anti-transgender attacks this past year. Those names will be read aloud at events across the country, perhaps with longer lists that include trans suicides or international murders related to perceived gender non-conformity, as the trans community holds vigils we've held since the practice started 16 years ago in San Francisco's Castro district.

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I couldn't dredge up the enthusiasm this year to attend another mass vigil. Almost every two days a person is killed somewhere in the world because they are perceived to not conform to gender stereotypes. This year in the U.S., a transgender person has been murdered at the alarming rate of nearly one every two weeks. More stunning, this year didn't just see an increase in murders; there were actually more killings of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S. than any other year on record, particularly of Black trans women.

Let that sink in. More anti-transgender deaths happened in America this year than any other year.

This could partially be attributed to both police and media reporting hate crimes better due to increased awareness of the trans community. (Trans women are often recorded as male by police and news media at their time of death.) But sadly I think that's only part of the story. Right now, trans and gender non-conforming people often have limited legal protections, rocky relationships with area police and lower economic resources. Frequently, we're a community in the cross hairs. In light of the numbers, I'm left wondering: Is Transgender Day of Remembrance what we need now?

Is TDOR still making an impact?

A 2014 psychological study at the University of Oregon describes a phenomenon known as pseudoinefficacy. What does this term mean? A stranger will donate more to help one starving girl than they will if that same child if she is part of a larger statistic on hunger.

"As the numbers grow, we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need," explains study author Paul Slovic.

I worry that this is what happens when we cite the staggering statistic on anti-trans violence. I'm wondering if hearts actually close when we publish roll calls to memorialize those who have been killed each year because of their perceived gender identity. Just looking at the response of ATTN's readers on Facebook to another article about TDOR leads me to believe that statistics may be important to those of us in the trans community, but may be meaningless to many looking in from the outside:

Facebook comments on TDOR post from ATTN readers.

What the trans community and its allies want you to know about TDOR

In searching for my own feelings on Trans Day of Remembrance this year, I asked members and allies of the gender non-conforming community to share what TDOR means to them. Here are some of the words that they shared with ATTN:.

"To me Trans Day of Remembrance is important because it's one day out of the year that the effects of violence and hatred against transgender people is brought to light and illustrated by the names of those we have lost to murder and suicide. But it's also an opportunity to educate both our community and our allies on the struggles trans people have to face everyday, and to help work towards a safer and more supportive tomorrow."

Kris Bruce, trans boy from Chico, California

"[On Trans Day of Remembrance] we will get together and say we love you and thank you to those who are no longer with us but whose authenticity inspires us to fight harder. [...] It's a day when we come together to honor the strength and beauty of those in our community who made the ultimate sacrifice to live their truth."

Drian Juarez, trans woman from Los Angeles, California

"[A]s a straight cis ally, Trans Day of Remembrance helps me gain perspective; it is a much-needed reminder of the danger that many people face just by being themselves. It is a danger I do not face and it can be easy for me to forget that my experience does not represent everyone."

Nicole Redman, cisgender ally from Redwood City, California

TDOR = Trans Day of Resilience

Personally, I found meaning again in TDOR thanks to the artists responsible for these eight beautiful posters that celebrate "trans power, vision and leadership" in the face of harassment and violence. They highlight that we're more than mournful statistics, but also thriving human beings.

I also found meaning in what may be the first every police-sponsored joint event with the trans community for TDOR in the country. Called the Transgender Walk of Remembrance, the march took place on the eve of Trans Day of Remembrance in Los Angeles, California, to "memorialize the courage and perseverance of victims and their families" according Los Angeles Police Department officer Ian Lewis, who spoke at the event.

While marching allowed those of us attending to memorialize the lives of those lost, the event also took concrete action toward a brighter future — building bridges that have long been lacking between the transgender community and the LAPD.

"For us, we're in the business of preserving life [...] and any life lost is a tragedy. So to think that those [transgender people] that we're trying to help and protect don't trust us is a problem. We're ineffective. You're not going to call us when you need help. Building that relationship is about building the bridges not the walls," LAPD officer Ruby Malachi told ATTN.

"I think that tonight with this Transgender Walk of Remembrance, we remember those silent voices who can't be here to walk with us. [...] This is all part of progress, and today I want you to see beyond the badge," Malachi said.

There's no one right or wrong way to commemorate Trans Day of Remembrance. But for me, TDOR has become Trans Day of Resilience, a time at which we take action on behalf of those who died to create a better tomorrow and we celebrate those that are still breathing. I want to be seen as a community of the living, not a community of the dead. Or perhaps I just have candle fatigue.

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