It's Trans Day of Remembrance, and as I sit in my relatively comfortable home writing words, I feel spirits surrounding me.
As I have walked through this life, of being a trans woman, of transitioning, of fighting to be seen, of being out – which is one of the hardest things anyone can do – and of building and rebuilding my life and celebrating in so many ways, death has lurked.
There are hundreds of trans people, mostly women of color, across the globe, who were brutally murdered this year. I will never get to meet them. We light candles and say their names if we know them. We cry and mourn and lay roses. So: how the hell did we get here? Why is this society so cruel to trans people?
But — and I'm talking to cis people here — if you think that this isn't a societal problem and your problem to solve — you're wrong.
In many ways, it really comes down to institutional oppression and assimilationism. And there are so many aspects that weave together to create the fabric of a problematic society. For instance, for many years (and still in many places), to access medical care as a trans person, you were forced to adhere as closely as possible to heterosexist gender norms, and to move far away after you transitioned -- to literally start a new life, with a manufactured backstory. It was actually written into the so-called standards of care for medical practitioners. Because no one could know you were trans; you weren't allowed to be out as a trans person. Why? Because, it was written, it could potentially bring shame upon – who? Family? Church? Employer? All of the above.
But let’s say you didn't agree to assimilate, and to go away, to create a new life and a new backstory. These doctors would kick you out of their offices. And even when people had access, and passed the gatekeepers' tests, the costs were prohibitive to so many and still presented a significant burden to those with the means.
So many of my friends have told me of the depths they went to, the sacrifices they made just to pay for life-affirming, life-saving medical intervention. Think about how many others were and still are in that precarious financial position. And there are still countries (and states!) that ask for a litmus test for trans people to be able to access care. Hell, to this day I go to "important" meetings with doctors in full femme getup. I am genuinely scared I will be denied access -- because I have been denied access, many times.
We live in a culture of shame. It’s still dangerous to be trans, because these norms continue to prevail because denying access to trans people turns us into second-class citizens. And when you’re looked upon as less than, or other, no matter what rights you have and what country you live in, you are at risk.
It is a culture that makes trans women into a Jim Carrey punchline. It forces people into hiding. It kills people.
So I ask: Cis people, please treat this day with real reverence, and I ask our true allies in positions of power – especially leaders in the mainstream gay community, religious leaders, and those who work in medicine — please, use your voices and privilege to call for change. Change the way you treat your children, your friends' children, the way you treat your own friends, your clients, on so many levels. Make this world different. Unpack the oppressions you see — and learn to recognize the ones you don’t.
And make no mistake: this is a day for trans people to honor and to remember our dead. Our voices and tears are real, and too often cut short by hatred and violence, or dismissal or the derisive laughter of others.
Honor my dead siblings by making this society a place where we don't have to fight simply to live — by making a world where we can be celebrated and thrive as leaders, professionals, and valued community members existing however they wish to exist — not to have to assimilate into a world that is built to exclude them.