November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and there’s no time like today (I mean, just like every day, forever) to reflect on the transgender and gender-nonconforming people we’ve lost.
It’s hard to forget exactly where I was on February 20, 2014: I was sitting in my college newspaper office, located in the basement of the central building of campus. No windows. I was sitting at the fancy computer we used for laying out the paper. It was my main homework spot. I was casually writing a paper, casually joking with my friend who happened to join me this time. It was a Thursday night.
My evening came to a screeching halt. It was like the sound of burning rubber. A text message from a friend asked me if I had heard the horrible news. No, I hadn’t. And then she told me. Earlier that day, my best friend from high school and one of my very few trans guy friends had killed himself. He was 22 years old.
Now that we are approaching 2017, 2014 sounds like it was a while ago. We are going on three years. But I don’t think I’ve ever been more affected by an event in my life.
He had depression. He didn’t die because someone else killed him, as is what is traditionally recognized on Transgender Day of Remembrance. He died of depression and what caused his depression is probably many things, but among them is the world we live in, and how it sees transgender people. Feeling the need to hide or hold back, feeling the stress of trying to be one’s self but also live up to the expectations and comforts of others. Trans people know this all too well.
So I think of him on November 20, just as I do every day. I went to a candlelit vigil for Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) at my college, and I think it was the one in 2014, the November after he took his own life. I remember standing in that circle, holding a candle, feeling like even though exactly 9 months had already gone by without him, I would never feel the inner peace I had on February 19 ever again. I didn’t even know I had it.
I also felt like, holding that candle, maybe somebody would be standing in that circle one day thinking of me.
He and I had always had so much in common. We were both poets, hopeless romantics, with long pony-tailed hair to be later cut short, awkward, motivated by praise, cheesy, depressed, lesbian-then-trans-men, musicians, old souls, sensitive flowers, lovers, worried and tired. He was the version of myself I allowed myself to love.
It was natural to wonder if I too, would also die from myself, as he had. I worried about it for a year, as if I didn’t have control of it myself. (Sometimes I occasionally still worry.)
And then the moment I reached the age he never became, 22 + 4 months, I realized I was blazing my own trail at that point. Now that I’m turning 24 in December, I still don’t know what this all means, but I will truly never be the same.
It would be nice of me to provide some action items. There are a lot of (scathing) conversations happening right now about things you can or cannot do to show support of marginalized communities. People started wearing safety pins; people freaked out about safety pins. People change their profile pics to have pro-trans filters; people are name-calling about that.
The point of it all is you’d better practice what you preach, not just wear a little symbol to get the approval of your fellow “less-marginalized” community members. I personally am under the impression that you’re taking a half-step when you wear a symbol or a profile pic filter. I think people getting really mad and judge-y when people do a tiny thing to TRY is really harmful to developing and growing allies. Nobody is perfect at this–and effort to me is huge. I’ll take it. Anything. As long as you keep fucking growing. Because people are literally dying over their own identities. Sometimes they get killed, and sometimes they beat people to it.
Wear a symbol, don’t wear a symbol. I don’t care, just be human for us when we feel like empty shells being filled by reasons to die.
Not that you asked, but I think one of the best forms of allyship is patience with the people who are hurting us. By this I mean, if there’s a dumb facebook fight or something, and a marginalized person is getting attacked, a common (but unhelpful) thing to do is burst in and say “YOU’RE A TRANSPHOBIC/RACIST/SEXIST PIECE OF SHIT” instead of having an actual dialogue with that person. Marginalized people rarely have the emotional capacity to do actual educating with oppressive-behaving people. We are triggered, or tired, or fed up. The best thing you can do as an ally is take the baton and work on changing hearts of others instead of calling them pieces of shit. Educate them, for god’s sake. You may be emotional in your role, but your job as an ally is to DO THE WORK–not show how upset you are about it. We get you’re upset. But your level of upset-ness shouldn’t outweigh someone else’s need for safety.
I say this because countless times, people have stepped in and actually just made things worse. It’s not just clumsy allyship–it’s harmful.
Anyway. That was a tangent, but an important one.
In some ways, November 20 is just another day. But taking the time to remember why we’re here, remember why we’re doing the work, is really important I think. It’s not just some stranger getting triggered on the internet (being triggered is a very real concept that I think is a little diluted), it’s because people die over the problems we have in this culture. They literally stop living, VIOLENTLY, because of people’s intolerance.
I talk about this a lot, but the obituary for my friend’s suicide said he took his own life “non-violently.” It just meant he didn’t experience pain, I think. But to me, there is no such thing. I mean no harm to the people who wrote it, and I love them so much. How do you write about your child’s suicide? It’s impossible to do that. I have so much empathy for that position. At the same time, I don’t think he could have died in a more violent way. The violence he experienced as a transgender person came in the bullying he had in school and the tiny interactions of people making fun of gender and the non-acceptance of many he loved and once admired. All those violent acts came together in that one moment in February 2014.
And I won’t be forgetting that any time soon.