My thoughts on Transgender Remembrance Day
(Cross posted at The National Gadfly)
I was traveling this weekend and did not have the time to do any posting. I saw a couple of good posts on the subject of Transgender Rememberance Day. I have to be honest and admit that I did not even know this occasion existed. I am sad that it is necessary, but I am happy to support it.
Individuality is something we claim to cherish in this country. Individual's rights. The spirit of individualism. Historically, societies punish the people that exercise the most discretion and personal choice in their definitions of themselves as individuals: Transgender.
I can think of several reasons that the TG community is targeted, but not one reason that would make them deserve it. One reason is that they are a minority. The TG population is scattered except for a few very large cities where they may be able to be more densely populated and perhaps more visible on a daily basis. However, there is no common family history or church associations to attract or support them. Every TG is kind of on their own; a very weak position from which to defend oneself against the assault of a mob. Another reason (and I think more prone to draw criticism) is that TG is a rejection of sexism as status quo. Most people assume that men are men, women are women and from there they start down the road of accepting the long list of societal sexist stereotypes. When someone changes their gender, they are making a choice in their gender. This act of choice is mostly a challenge for men that are caught up on the power advantage of being 'a man'.
Patriarchal sexism is a bully culture, built upon the brute force advantage of men over women. It is no surprise that someone who changes gender is perceived as a threat to the acceptance of sexist value based definitions of self based on sexism. The argument for sexism is not an intellectual one at its core. There are intellectuals that will argue the point, but the source and the existence of sexism is brute force. When intellectual arguments fail, brute force will be employed to defend the advantage for the bullies.
The very act of changing genders by choice is the one act that lays bare the sexist stereotypes for what they are. If someone declares that they will switch genders - of their own volition and in their own time, then what they are saying is that none of this sexism is written in stone. Further, it is tantamount to the type of challenge faced by slaveholders when slaves learned to read and write. In essence when someone changes their gender, they are stating: "I am who I say I am - and it has nothing to do with you."
For that, they are ridiculed, beaten, abused, insulted and sometimes killed. The true measure of a society is not the heights of advantage for its elite, but the level of respect and individuality of all. No minority will ever have the numbers to defend itself from the majority. It is incumbent upon the majority to see that the rights of all individuals are respected. As I am fond of saying, "The law works for everyone or it works for no one."
Please read these articles and look in your life for a place to make a difference for all of us.
Enough about my opinions! Here is a great posting that I found over on the ACLU blog entitled, Small Actions Speak Loudly on Transgender Day of Remembrance
Today marks the tenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day created to remember and honor all people who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence. The event was originally held on the first anniversary of the murder of Rita Hester, an out transgender woman who was killed on November 28, 1998, in Boston, Massachusetts. Rita’s murder, like many anti-transgender murder cases, remains unsolved.
Diane Schroer is a highly-decorated veteran, transgender activist and plaintiff in our successful employment discrimination lawsuit Schroer v. Library of Congress. She spoke at a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Chicago organized by Cyndi Richards, Illinois Gender Advocates and the Center on Halstead. The following is an excerpt from her remarks.
I would wager we have not all been personally touched by a hate crime, but we have all been touched by one of the all too frequent suicides in our community. Therefore, this list [of victims of anti-transgender violence] should be ten-fold as long when the names of all the other victims of hatred are added to its rolls. Not in any way to diminish the suffering and needless tragedy of hate crimes, but rather to paint a more accurate picture of the impact of hatred and intolerance on our community. The victims who felt no alternative but to take their own lives as the only possible solution to a world that can be terribly cold and unforgiving of violating its norms. If we succeed in nothing else, we must change this.We must convince ourselves, along with society, that it is not a sin, against God or man to be transgender.
While some are born to greatness, for the vast majority of us, we have within us the resources to produce greatness when confronted with mere timing, circumstance, and opportunity. We can, each and every one of us, “rise to the occasion.”
What I have observed, is that we often fall prey to our own worst fears and predestine ourselves to a self-imposed brand of mediocrity and acceptance of the status quo. The bright spot is that it usually takes very little, sometimes only reminding ourselves that while taking a stand may seem like great risk, it often takes little and can have significant consequences…
Solemn events are, by their very nature, powerful and moving. When you leave here this evening, you will feel, certainly, angry and compelled. Possibly, somewhat empty and helpless. But hopefully, refreshed, resolute, and empowered. Those we are remembering tonight would demand nothing less.
Let me ask my question once again: “Who speaks for the dead?” For clearly the dead must have voice, all the more especially when the value of their life was so carelessly diminished, and society and force of circumstance move to erase their very memory.
The undeniable truth is that you must speak for the dead, and simultaneously for the living, for now is our time. We have moved from the agenda of Jerry Springer, to Larry King, Oprah, Barbara Walters and, one hopes, President-elect Obama.
If a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and a four-star general are willing to publicly testify for me at trial, then this is our time. In the not too distant future we will have a renewed Hate Crimes effort, and I believe a renewed ENDA.
But time and tide do not wait.
Just as surely as society wishes to forget the names and lives of the dead we remember here tonight, we must surely be their advocate. And yes, small things matter. What are the small things you can do?
Challenge those around you.
It is not necessary to leave the closet or seem outlandish to say in conversation to one’s mates, “I believe that people should enjoy the basic freedom to love who they choose and express themselves as they wish, because life is just too short.”
How easy is it to say, “How about a little tolerance and acceptance.” Prejudice is just one of the easy solutions of a small mind. Challenge people to exercise their intellect and not their prejudice… Simply be a positive role model of acceptance in your daily lives, and take the moment to occasionally challenge others to repudiate intolerance.
Equality is not a liberal ideal. It should not be consigned to the platform of a single political party. It is a prerequisite to basic humanity.
Let us resolve a few very simple things tonight. Let us first and foremost agree that little things matter, and your own commitment to do a little thing when the opportunity arises, matters most…
Let us craft a society, a world, where people are free to express their gender orientation and gender identity as they feel from their spirit. Let us craft a society, a world, where people are free from threat and fear of hatred just because of who they are, how they look, or whom they choose to love. Let us craft a society, a world, where the measure of a person’s merit is not their birth gender or sex of their partner, but their energy toward the task at hand, work ethic, intellect, and integrity.
And for the heaven’s sake, and the sake of future generations, let us craft a society, a world, where a 14 year old trans-person does not feel compelled to take their own life, because they don’t “fit in.”
Because you and each and every little thing you do are the transgender community.
Because you and each and every little thing you do are the transgender movement.
Because you and each and every little thing you do are the future . Of our society, of our world, and of our civil rights.
I received an email from Equality Arizona reminding me that today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day when we remember and honor the transgender people who have died violent deaths because of who they were.
If you are not familiar with the term transgender or feel you could learn more, please see this link for a short introduction.
As this list sadly demonstrates, transgender people are among the most vulnerable to violence in our society. They are the butt of constant jokes, even from the likes of Jon Stewart (who chose to mock them during the one Daily Show taping I attended). When they appear in the news, it is usually as victims of violence. When they appear in TV shows or movies, they are usually portrayed as streetwalkers or, again, as victims of violence. Sadly these portrayals reflect some of the harsh realities of life for transgender people. Many are simply not able to get 'straight' jobs because they are not able to 'pass' as a member of their true gender. Many resort to street work in order to raise the money for hormones and surgery, which puts them at additional risk of both disease and violence (Ebony Whitaker, 20 years old, July 1 2008). Many have tremendous difficulty finding someone who will rent to them, and become homeless, another factor making them even more vulnerable to violent crime. But homeless shelters are nearly all sex-segregated, which exposes transgender people to additional harassment and violence. Some shelters reportedly turn away "transvestites" altogether.
Transgendered teenagers are mocked, beaten and sometimes killed by their classmates (Leticia King, 14 years old, February 14 2008). Some commit suicide (Cameron McWilliams, 10 years old, February 4 2008). Transgender teens are at least five times as likely as other teens to attempt suicide.
Those who transition as adults are frequently cut off by their friends and family and must go through the difficult process essentially alone. They too often attempt suicide - about 1 in 3 in one study. Between half and two-thirds suffer from clinical depression, which drives many to substance abuse and self-harming behaviors like cutting. About twenty percent of transpeople are hospitalized for mental health reasons during their lifetime - not because they are crazy but because they cannot cope with the struggles of their daily existence.
And then there is the violence. The murders are simply the tip of the iceberg as far as violence against transpeople. Although hate crime statistics are not collected separately for trans victims (because they are lumped in with crimes against gay people), they are in a group more likely to be harassed, assaulted, and raped. They are very likely to be victims of domestic violence. Saddest of all, when they ask for help from the police, they often experience violence at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them.
In death, transgender people are often victims again, of a press that does not understand or respect them. News media frequently use trans people's birth names and birth genders in their coverage, against the express wishes of someone who is no longer able to defend him/herself. Reporters often sensationalize stories about violence against trans people, treating the person's trans identity as a lurid "twist" in the story. They should know better, not least because they have so many of these stories to report.
The violence, the discrimination, and the jokes about "trannies" are all part of the same pattern of dehumanization. As Ceridwen Troy wrote, it is just far too easy to kill a transperson. These lists of the dead will have to be kept until we all treat transpeople as human beings, not freaks or jokes. We can act to make our society more trans-friendly by voicing our support for trans-friendly shelters, hate-crime legislation, and alternative schools for GLBT youth. We can treat people who don't fit perfectly into a gender with respect and kindness, and make it unacceptable to crack jokes about them or harass them.
For those on the list, all we can do is grieve.