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Friday, Nov. 22, 2013

My Love-Hate Relationship with Transgender Day of Remembrance

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Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed annually in late November. Milwaukee’s Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held on Friday, Nov. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, 1110 N. Market Street. TDOR has its origins in events commemorating the murder of Rita Hester on November 28, 1998, and its purpose is to honor and call attention to people who have been killed by anti-trans* violence. All are welcome to attend Milwaukee’s event, and anyone who has something to say about violence, hate, hope and resilience is invited to submit a piece to be read at the event, which can be sent to AskFORGE@forge-forward.org.

I have participated in TDOR events in several cities, and I have mixed feelings about them. We cannot ignore the fact that trans* and gender non-conforming people, especially trans* women of color, experience very high rates of violence—the 2011 study Injustice at Every Turn found that 61% of trans* respondents reported being physically assaulted. 2012 statistics collected by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects showed that 54% of LGBTQ homicide victims were transgender women. These acts of violence are compounded by the fact that the media often either does not report them or reports them in a disrespectful, re-traumatizing way—using incorrect names or pronouns for transgender victims, for example, or sensationalizing information about victims. This “media violence” is one of the most important reasons for TDOR—we cannot count on the mainstream media to sound the alarm about anti-trans* violence, so we must do it ourselves. We can’t count on the media to memorialize trans* victims respectfully, so we must create that space ourselves.

Trans* people live with the constant threat of harassment, discrimination, violence and even death, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. However, it pisses me off that the most visible annual event for the transgender and allies community is one that highlights the most terrible aspects of being trans*. It reminds me of how, in the mid-90s, it was very in-vogue to talk about how being lesbian or gay was not a choice—because (dramatic pause) who would voluntarily choose this life of discrimination and fear? I believe that when our most prominent activism about being gay, lesbian or transgender is focused on discrimination, harassment and violence, it makes it harder for people to come out to themselves and to their loved ones and colleagues. It increases the likelihood that LGBTQ people and their families will worry that life as an LGBTQ person is inevitably fearful and unhappy.

I will always support and observe Transgender Day of Remembrance, as long as it exists. But I wish it could be balanced with more celebration. I will do my part to get there by continuing to educate and write about gender identity, hoping to reduce transphobia and make the world a safer place for trans* and gender non-conforming people—and, in fact, all people, since a binary system of gender based on rigid stereotypes benefits very few. If you have ever felt limited by our society’s gender norms, I encourage you to take part in this year’s TDOR and learn more about ways that you can be an ally to trans* people.  

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than fifteen years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXPress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.