Thursday 20-11-2014 - 14:41
What Transgender Day of Remembrance means to me as a QTPoC*
* A Queer and Trans* Person of Colour
Trigger warning: periods, gender dysphoria, suicide, death
I am sat here occupying a small space of my double bed, laptop open and phone on charge. The far side of my bed is scattered with the array of clothes I wore to work this week and empty plastic bags. I have my noise cancelling headphones on but I am not listening to anything. I just want to block out the background noise yet I am sat in silence.
Last week when I was sitting on the overcrowded bus home, amid thinking about wanting to move house and how crappy the bus service I use is, my mind abruptly turns its thoughts to getting a hysterectomy. I feel a sharp pang through my stomach as my ovaries release an unfertilised egg. I take a moment to mourn the loss of potential life which is currently seeping into a cotton pad. Amongst the heightened sense of smell and the decline in my mental health, this time of the month is perhaps one of the rare moments in which I willingly don a dress and feel feminine, as my body forcibly reminds me that I was assigned female at birth.
I first thought about transitioning at the age of 11. Now, at the age of 23, I often think about transitioning, but for various reasons, I’ve decided not to- at least for now. When I am dressed androgynously, I take a lock of my long, thick, wavy, part-green hair and wonder how people would read my gender if it was shorter. I constantly worry about having to explain myself as genderqueer, non-binary, gender fluid and very dysphoric to prove my transness because I feel inadequately Trans* as I have not transitioned. I stroke my facial hair and wonder if I could actually grow a beard. And at other times I adore my locks, curves and soft facial features.
As a Queer and Trans* Person of Colour (QTPoC), I often feel awkwardly visible yet invisible in ever whitewashed LGBT+ spaces. I am tokenised and supposed to feel grateful for being invited to things, but I know my presence is more of a box-ticking, diversity-quota-filling exercise. And when I’m not being tokenised I am being ignored or actively silenced. This is in stark contrast to the history of the LGBT movement and queer liberation, which was led at the forefront by pioneering QTPoC such as Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major.
Transgender day of remembrance is probably one of the few occasions which forces white LGBT people to admit or at least acknowledge that the outlook is much bleaker for Trans* People of Colour, particularly Trans* Women of Colour. In 2012, half of all homicide victims in the USA were Transgender women. The statistics speak for themselves:
The NTDS (National Transgender Discrimination Survey) found that 34% of Black Trans people were living in extreme poverty, over a fifth were HIV-positive, and nearly half had attempted suicide. Half the respondents had faced harassment at school and 15% had been physically assaulted at work. It is also well-known that Black Trans people are more likely to be incarcerated, face police discrimination and abuse whilst in custody, as well as experiencing high levels of homelessness and problems accessing adequate healthcare.
International Transgender Day of Remembrance was established to remember those who were killed due to transphobic prejudice or hatred. The day is marked in November specially in order to honour Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 sparked the “Remembering Our Dead” online project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has still not been solved. Although not every individual remembered today explicitly self-identified as Transgender, each was a victim of violence that arose due to transphobia and transphobic bias.
The main purpose of Transgender Day of Remembrance is to create awareness of transphobic crimes, as these are usually not covered by the mainstream media and thus go unnoticed by the general public. The day also acts to honour, remember and mourn Trans* people who may otherwise be forgotten. Through holding a candlelit vigil, we are able to show our respect and love for those that died at the hands of hatred. The day also allows cis people to remember that we are their colleagues, friends, siblings, children, parents and partners.
Personally, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time for me to reflect. It acts as a stark reminder that whilst I recently faced the prospect of homelessness myself, that I currently have no contact with my family, that I sometimes think of hurling myself before oncoming trains or traffic, that despite all of the odds being stacked against me, I am alive or at least surviving. But it’s also a reminder that one of the names read out at future transgender day of remembrance services could indeed be mine. However, Trans* people are more than statistics, numbers or even our names. Trans* people deserve to live freely and be themselves without fear of discrimination, prejudice, violence or being misgendered. Trans* lives matter.
The day is also a chance for me to celebrate. To celebrate my favourite Trans* activists such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Janani and Alok who make up DarkMatter. To celebrate the progress that’s being made for Trans* people in my home sub-continent of South Asia. Last week, the first ever Trans* pride was held in Bangladesh to celebrate a year of the Bangladeshi government officially recognising the third gender (hijras). Earlier this year, Bangladesh launched its first ever LGBT magazine, and India’s Supreme Court also officially recognised the third gender.
If you can, attend a local transgender day of remembrance event; this usually involves a candlelit vigil and a reading of the names of transgender people who died due to discrimination. But don’t stop there. Think about what you can do to make the world safer for Trans* people who currently inhabit it. If a Trans* person tells you about their preferred pronouns, make a real effort to use them and don’t ignore their request because it inconveniences you. Never use a Trans* person’s dead or birth name. If you’re able to, go through your institution’s democratic structures and make the case for gender neutral toilets. Actively stamp out transphobia when and where you can.
Trans* is an umbrella term for those who identify as a gender outside of the gender binary norm and those who's gender identity differs to the gender identity which they were assigned at birth. .
Noorulann Shahid is NUS LGBT Committee (Black Rep, Open Place)