Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Remembering our Dead

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and we remembered our dead. We remembered and celebrated the lives of 265 people who have been killed due to having a gender identity or gender presentation perceived to not be “normal”. 265 in the last year.

Many of them will not have been remembered or celebrated on any other day, or by anyone else, except for the day of remembrance. Some didn’t even have recorded names, only recorded brutal manner of death.

We remembered, and acknowledged that those transgender people who are more likely to be killed are women, people of colour, those who don’t live in Western Europe, and particularly those who live in Latin America, and those who were sex workers – usually due to the above factors combining to make it very difficult for them to be accepted in any other line of work. Whatever the factors, none of them deserved to be brutally murdered.

Today I remembered with about 200 other people (a rough estimate – generally LOTS, the chairs ran out) in London. The last time I went to the service in London was four years ago, and we fitted into a much smaller venue then. To have a bigger service with more people paying their respects is significant. Sadly although the numbers of participants and audience in the service has changed, I think there has been little change in the number of names read out. Just to give an idea of the scale, reading out the name, age, and location of each person murdered in the last year, takes about an hour in total – no breaks.

It also required readers who were adept at Spanish and Portuguese pronunciation – a vast majority of those murdered had lived in Latin America, specifically Brazil and Mexico, and some in Venezuela. Countries further south in America, such as Chile and Argentina, were not represented in the names in any number.

I can’t help but wonder what on earth they must be doing to Brazilian boys and young men to instil a culture in which gender conformity is everything and anyone who disobeys society’s gender rules deserves to die, and it is their right to ensure this happens. What goes on in a society to cause that to be commonplace? And what can be done to counteract this?

I don’t imagine this blog has any Brazilian or Mexican readers, why would it, but just in case it does: look after your country’s trans people, and do all you can to create a culture in which gender diversity is not only not stifled with death, but actually accepted. Love each other – if only love could stop murder.

It sounds strange, but I found it almost difficult to be moved by the service. So many, many names, they start losing their meaning and stop being people, if you don’t engage your brain and emotions and register what’s actually been happening to them and what’s being said. Today’s service didn’t include mode of death – it did a few years ago and some of the youngest participants at the service were understandably very upset. But on the other hand, it forces people to acknowledge the horrors that have happened and not just allow the hundreds of names to wash over them. I forced myself to really think about it, and even then it’s impossible to fully comprehend the scale of systematic transphobic murder that’s taken place – I’m lucky and privileged enough to not be able to get my head around it.

I try every year to attend a trans day of remembrance service – I didn’t two years ago, I went on holiday, and it felt a bit wrong. That was one of the first blogposts I almost wrote (but didn’t quite) about how important it was to me, even though I hadn’t attended. The other half and I even attended the service in Berlin, six weeks after arriving there, and we added some words to our German vocabulary, that we had never wanted to add (e.g. geschossen = shot). Attending today’s service was one of the deciding factors in me taking today as leave and being in London. Even though I find some of the more upbeat parts of the service slightly difficult to swallow given the juxtaposition with the sombre nature of the service (some feel it’s also a celebration of life/want to ensure people don’t go straight from the service and into the Thames because it’s so harrowing), I’m glad I went.

Here’s to a shorter list next year. And every year thereafter.

Just to dispel some misconceptions, which I picked up on in the comments of this Guardian article from last year: TDoR does not commemorate trans people who have died by suicide. There are many – being trans is a significant risk factor for experiencing mental health problems, self-harm and suicide, but TDoR is specifically for trans people who have died at the hands of others, not their own.

It has nothing to do with Remembrance Day or poppy day or Remembrance Sunday at all, except that both are to do with remembering dead people. The trans people who we remember at TDoR did not fight for us or die for us, they simply lived their lives, tried to be themselves, and were murdered for it. Nothing whatsoever to do with soldiers and war and Remembrance Day.

Also, although I refer to “service” there is nothing religious about it. Some people may choose to bring a spiritual element to their remembering, but it is not a church service and is not religious.

To finish, because sometimes art speaks better than prose, and because it was such a poignant and appropriate piece to have in the service, I am sharing the poem Elaine read out, with her permission. It makes the reality hit home further.

It’s not about us.
It’s not about those of us sitting here, standing here, living here.
It is about those who cannot be here.
Those who should be here with us, somewhere in the world.
Those who are gone.
It’s about them.

It’s not about us.
Yes, we have many things to say, and many things that need saying, and maybe our voices are often ignored but we can still speak.
It is not for us to put words in the mouths of those who have had their breath stolen from them.
Those who should still be able to tell the world who they are.
Those who were taken from this world for who they are.
It’s about them.

It’s not about us.
I stand here white, middle class, here in London with a warm bed to return to.
It's not about us.
Because this world finds so many ways to hate, to silence, to erase those it deems less worthy.
Their race is not incidental. Their work is not incidental. Their nationality is not incidental. These things are not incidental but integral as this is intersectional.
And did we pay them any attention before they were gone?
It’s about them.

It’s not about us.
We are still fighting battles, personal and cultural and political. And these are battles to be fought but
These people are not martyrs, these people did not die for a grand cause.
Their deaths are pointless, senseless, symptoms of violence and racism and misogyny and the ways we casually turn people into nothings.
Their deaths should not be our politics.
It’s about them.

It’s not about us.
We are not here for us.
We are here to remember and to mourn and to mark those who society finds so easy to overlook.
We are here for them.
These people are so much more than names, a photograph, if we even have those to remember them by.
These people deserve to be remembered but far more they deserve to still living their lives, telling their truths, laughing and crying and dancing and smiling but they are dead.
It’s about them.

And not just the people on the list, all 265 of them when even 1 would be too many.
It’s about those people who are not on the list because nobody noticed, nobody knew, or nobody even cared.
Those who were further erased in death, identities taken and torn apart from those no longer able to defend themselves.
Those who never even made a footnote in the paper.
Let us think of them.
It’s about them.

It’s not about us.
We can always have tomorrow.
It’s about them.
They don’t even have a today.

It’s about them.
And next year, may the list be shorter.

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