By Persephone Smith
“This is a day when we remember those who were taken from us this past year.”
“Let’s take a moment of silence to remember those who have passed.”
“Tonight we remember those who were taken away from us this past year.”
“Let us recite the names of those who have passed on this previous year.”
These four lines are burned into my memory. One line for each year I have been out as transgender. Four years of me living out and proud to be the person I am. Every November 20th is a reminder that I do not live a lie anymore. And each year in the days that follow November 20th (Trans Day of Remembrance), I always feel invisible and silenced by its weight. Transgender Day of Remembrance has held a space in my memory and soul, reminding me and others of those of us who have fallen.
But from the time I became aware of this day I, like many of us, forget what it is about.
So let me remind us again.
Trans Day of Remembrance started as a web project in 1998 called “Remembering Our Dead” in response to the murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman, who was found murdered in her apartment in Allston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1998. This led to Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a trans woman, activist, columnist and graphic designer, to found Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999.
I am not here to give a history lesson. I am here because I have a chance to voice my anger, opinions and sadness. This is my chance to have a voice and not be silenced. If my words make you feel attacked or chastised in any way, then perhaps this is a chance for you to look deep within yourself and re-examine why that is. Perhaps I am chastising you for some of the choices that are made in the name of this day.
What I am here to talk about today is those who are being remembered. Let us not overlook them as we are attempting to remember them.
I want to say something about statistics and the various places that we all find the numbers. Knowing these numbers does not express the problems we are facing. Because the problem is more insidious than we want to believe. It is not just that we are being erased and silenced. It is more about the question of “Who?”—by whom are we being erased and silenced? And in what ways other than murder are we being silenced and erased that then lead to murder? Is it by those who proclaim they are helping us? Is this at all possible?
So who is it that we are remembering? To me, it seems that we are only remembering the people that organize these events. We memorialize the people who use hashtags to demonstrate their anger. We idolize the allies that dress up their Facebook avatar with whatever filter of the day is on tap. This day is not about remembering those who were killed. It seems to have become about selfish pride, social capital and shameless plugs. Has it been effectively co-opted?
I want to know how we got to this point. How did we get to this place where people’s reputations are built on the graves of the oppressed? Oh wait, it has always been this way. And it will continue to be this way until we do something about it. In the microcosm that is the LGBT community, I have seen calls for our dismissal. We, who have kick-started this movement of fighting for respect and equality. To this day, we are still the ones who are the oppressed and marginalized. Still there are those we have fought alongside for so long that want to throw us under the metaphorical bus.
In these times, Trans Day of Remembrance is not just about mourning those who have been taken away from us. To me, November 20th and all of the days before and after are to remember us all. Because to so many we are already dead and forgotten even as we exist in the here and now. This needs to change.
We are as dead as the many personal friends that I have lost to suicide over the last four years. We are as forgotten as the uncounted number of trans people who have died worldwide who have gone unreported. We are as erased as those who fear coming out and realizing their true self due to the uncertain fate of this country from the impending Trump presidency.
I would like to see us reclaim Trans Day of Remembrance in a new and different way. Bring it back to the people it was meant for. It is not for cis folks, gays and lesbians or allies to score cookies with us. It is by us and for us, the trans people who are continually disregarded and often even derided as being divisive. I want to see our flag held high by trans people every day of the year. I want to see trans people bolster the voices of trans people of color and let us kick-start this movement again. I believe every day should be Trans Day of Remembrance.
Persephone Sarah Jane Smith is a non-binary trans femme of color. She is a writer, poet, musician and programmer turned activist. She is a resident of Northampton, Massachusetts.