Friday, November 20, 2009

Remembering the dead

Today is the eleventh Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to honor those who have been murdered because of their gender identity.

I believe very strongly that equal rights and equal protection under the law for trans people is an important feminist issue. Gender-based violence is still endemic in our society, and it falls with the most vicious hatred upon those who dare to cross gender lines in order to be true to themselves. Many victims of transphobic violence are also people of color; many are sex workers, living and dying at the intersection of two incredibly marginalized identity groups. As noted by Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity:

A large percentage of trans people who are killed are prostitutes, and their murders often go unreported or underreported due to the public presumption that those engaged in sex work are not deserving of attention or somehow had it coming to them.

Some trans people are killed as the result of being denied medical services specifically because of their trans status, for example, Tyra Hunter, a transsexual woman who died in 1995 after being in a car accident. EMTs who arrived on the scene stopped providing her with medical care—and instead laughed and made slurs at her—upon discovering that she had male genitals.

The perpetrators of these murders often attempt to take refuge in the so-called gay/trans "panic defense": claiming they were so horrified to discover that a person they were sexually interested in was "really" the "wrong" sex that they killed him or her. The fact that this is still entertained as a valid reason for taking a human life underlines a deep and monstrous discomfort with gender and sexuality that feeds and is fed by gender essentialism and bias.

For those of us who are cisgendered feminists--women and men fortunate enough to be born and recognized as who we are, without having to fight for our basic gender identities--it is crucial for us to honor, include, and educate ourselves about the battles fought by our trans allies at the front lines of the gender wars. The stereotypical ideas about gender, the strict binaries that damage our self-image and fuel violence against our bodies, are the very same ideas that lead to the silencing, sexual abuse and murder of so many trans people each year. Even the media messages that teach us to hate our bodies do not spare trans people.

Unfortunately, many feminists continue to perpetuate transphobia, dismissing the perspectives of trans people and treating them as pariahs in the feminist movement. This is incredibly damaging to the movement and counterproductive to feminist goals of dismantling oppressive hierarchies based on gender. Instead, we should strive to be better allies, beginning our confrontation of societal privilege with our own.

Start now, by taking seven minutes of your time to watch this video and remember the dead. Our dead. Consider the courage of those who choose to live a life true to themselves under the ongoing threat of rape, torture, and death. Let it inspire your courage and your alliance for all people facing gender-based oppression, regardless of whether they possess the privilege of the "right" chromosomes or the "right" bodies. And never forget those who have died.

Every November I am devastated.
I count my people pulled up by the roots
From the gardens of their lives,
Not like harvest in the fullness of fruition
But even in a world of abundance
Torn as if worthless weeds yanked young and helpless.
Slashed, broken, trampled, tossed on a pile, debris.
More blows than necessary to kill,
Killed many times over
So their wildness will not return
And their wisdom will not spread,
Invasive to the status quo, the way things are.

--Bet Power, from a poem written for the Transgender Day of Remembrance held in Amherst, MA, November 20, 2007.

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