Guest Blogger

Making Meaning of Transgender Day of Remembrance

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 19, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: coming out as trans, Jaan Williams, Transgender Day of Remembrance

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jaan Williams is a policy assistant with the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He's also a friend of mine and one incredible guy.

jaan-williams.gifIt was 2004, and I had volunteered for my school's Queer Straight Alliance to type the individual names of transgender women and men who had been murdered on cards for Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I sat in the computer lab at school, silently typing the name of each person, where they died, details of their murders, and learning with each key stroke about the violence that claimed their lives and how unsafe it is for trans people to simply exist.

The following summer, I realized, I too was transgender, setting off a stream of emotions that were far from the joy and relief I should have experienced in finally understanding who I was. Instead, at that moment, I flashed back to the names of the women and men I had silently typed the year before, recalling the ways they had been killed. In that moment, all I understood was fear. I shook with sobs, tears rolling down my face, as I thought about what my life could be as a trans man.

It's been five years since I began to transition. I pass now, and look male enough that most people don't notice me on the street. But I still fear for myself, my friends, and countless others. And I can't ever shake the feelings that I had when I first realized I was trans, or stop thinking about the countless women and men who lost their lives simply for being who they were.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 40 percent of hate murders committed against members of the LGBT community were against trans women of color. I cannot be content with the relative safety that I am afforded while knowing that trans women of color in my community are at such high risk of being targeted for violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, set for Saturday, November 20, is a day of remembering, of bearing witness, of not forgetting the names of the women and men who died, of demanding an end to the violence. This Saturday, I'll remember Tyli'a "NaNa Boo" Mack, a trans person murdered in Washington D.C. after I moved here in 2009, and the first for whom I attended a memorial service.

If hate violence stems from a belief that some lives don't matter, remembering those lives proves unequivocally that they do. We remember them because they were--and are--a part of us and our community, and because their lives run parallel to our own.

Someday, I hope that there will no more names to add to the list of women and men who we'll remember on Saturday. But until that day, I'll work to end the violence against our community.

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Thanks Jaan,

"If hate violence stems from a belief that some lives don't matter, remembering those lives proves unequivocally that they do."

What an eloquent yet, simple way to put it...

I'm so sorry you have to live with so much fear.

If anyone is reading from Chicago, there will be a vigil this Saturday at 5 PM in front of the Thompson Center. For the first time, we're having it outside & downtown, instead of in a private space, so the city can be confronted with what's going on.

Hey - Met Jaan at NCTE's Lobby Days a few years back. Great guy!

What a thoughtful and beautifully written post! I'd love to see you blogging here (or elsewhere) more regularly!

I remember having a similar moment on Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2008, a few months before I came out and started living as male. The hate violence statistics are shattering to anyone, but as a trans person (and even as a white, college educated trans man) the thought of such hate aimed at my trans sisters and brothers left me feeling so incredibly vulnerable.

So often murder is only the end of a life time of bullying and abuse, physical and emotional.

Add to that the economic violence that marginalizes so many and put them in a place where their lives are more precarious.

For some that is doing sex work. For some it is the dangerous neighborhood.

For others the crushing loneliness or inexperience that causes them to risk going with someone who shows them affection.

I wish we could help prevent these murders rather than mourn those murdered.

But for that we need not only social justice but a kinder and gemtler society.

Rev. Dr.Ron Wrinkle | November 20, 2010 8:58 AM

How naƮve I was. The subject was never discussed when I was in seminary. I equated transgender with sexual reassignment surgery; even as a volunteer at the San Francisco Pride office.

Perhaps telling your story of abuse and discrimination in a program such as IT GETS BETTER could provide a wake-up call the fact you are a human being, a person, someone who loves and seeks love can help change a heart.

If your personal story could change just one person, there is the potential of starting a wild fire of love and compassion for all.

Dare to dream.

I have identified with my transgender experince my entire life. As a child who struggled to make sense of my existance to a androgenous youth who was never comfortable with being called gay or lover of men. Coming from a middle class upbringing one would think there is a better chance of survival. None of that matters when you are trans. Growing up trans and surviving the horrors of street based sex work, drugs, violence and discriminination in Detroit Michigan was no easy feat. I can count on one hand, the trans folk that are alive from the dozens I grew up with in the 90's.

As I fast forward to today, I live a life were I pass, am college educated with a successful professional carreer, experience love and support from my family and friends and respect from my community and mainstream. I cannot be remiss when I think of all those who have been snatched away so soon. Who didn't have the opportunity to flourish, discover and experience life's full potential. I live my life for them, their families and loved ones. For some, it gets better but for the majority it never does and sometimes ends in death.

Today, I choose to celebrate life and the lives of those taken away. Realizing that they died so I can live. I will never forget who I am, where I'm from, why I'm here or where I'm headed in this fight for true equality for all .

How truly human to remember those of our LGBT community who have succumbed not by choice to the misguided hate of the "righteous"-misguided out of ignorance and false teaching. As a gay man closeted for 47 years of my 52 years, I was often the target of hate language and even physical attacks. Last week, in the city of Reading, PA my church sponsored a Memorial service for the 8 teens who took their lives due to the "bullying" of hateful people. We had 8 additional churches and civil groups attend. We need to continue the fight to reeducate the ignorant that GOD indeed creates us to be a vital part of His world. So much violence and loss of wonderful life. All of us have purpose and meaning. I lost a dear brother who was in the transition stage. Sadly she developed cancer and died within a few short months. Kim was an inspiration to me and often gave me words of comfort and wisdom as I tried to deal with my scars of growing up gay "secretly." I miss her tremendously. I often drove her home after service. We would end up sitting in the car talking. How hard sometimes when I glance at my passenger side. I still see her and hear her consolation. Dang, the tears are flowing again.. But thank you so much for caring as one who truly walks in "Kim's Shoes." My love to you for being all you were and are to be. GOD never makes mistakes.
PS. I must admit that your transition indeed reveals a handsome man... you are blessed as all you touch. Truly a wonderful brother in our community-one who becomes a stronger pillar in all our cause... equality, acceptance, and plain ole human love.
Rick Gaylor
Reading, PA

Hey Jaan,

I've come back here to read your guest post several times over the past three days. I've wanted to comment since the first time I read your post but just couldn't come up with the right words.

Until recently I was a hater but by the graces of whatever gods really do exist I had the great fortune to (cyber) meet a woman who sent me down a path of learning that has really changed my beliefs towards LGBT (and whatever else is out there) people.

I was never so much a hater that I would initiate violence against someone who identified as LBGT; but I used to take the view of "they had it coming" when I read of violence towards a member of the LBGT community.

I hope you do well and are accepted as "you" where ever your future may take you.