Last semester, I had an internship with PAVE via student affairs. I was very excited to create an affinity space for those on the margins of identity. When preparing for a group session about dismantling trans and homophobia through allyship, I reached out to a woman that I love who is a prominent figure in the entertainment/activism community, Laverne Cox. I offered her an opportunity, via zoom, to speak to my Real Talk Space group. Laverne graciously declined, expressing how, even online, predominantly white spaces are not only triggering, but can unexpectedly evoke a deep-seated hatred that she, as a Black trans woman, faces every day. In essence, it would be too dangerous.
There have been 45 murders of transgender and non-binary people this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Those killed were mostly trans women of color. This makes 2021 the most fatal of all the years since the first Trans Day of Remembrance. Trans Day of Remembrance was created in 1999 after Gwendolyn Ann Smith lost a beloved friend in 1998 to a murder, a trans hate crime. Since then, holding a vigil every year on November 20 has been a time-honored tradition, with little results. Here is why: y’all are choosing not to see and somehow think these women deserve to die.
For those of you who sit on perches of gender privilege, cushioned with morals that seem to be fabricated from sheer dogmatism, you are disgusted with seeing something that does not agree with your own sensibilities. Many of you adhere to a religious doctrine which makes your attitudes diametrically opposed to the tenets of your own faith. Your self-derived hatred disguised as morals obscure your vision of lovingkindness, yet you express how much you love God and “his” creations. Well, if you believe in creation then you must understand that God created trans women and non-binary people in such powerful divinity that one form of expression cannot hold their glory. If your morals erase the humanity of transgender, non-conforming, LGBTQIA and people of color, then it is time to reassess your life. Existing is not a problem, prejudice and hatred is the problem.
Let me be direct. Transgender Day of Remembrance is meaningless here on a campus with almost no representation of diversity. So, we are going to have to do a little extra work to derive some semblance of empathy in order to see caricatured, tokenized and fetishised bodies in their natural human state. Before we can remember those we have lost, they must be visible to us. The way that some students have responded to humanizing the LGBTQIA community has been to “pour liquid” on chalk art. Others have been assaulted, and others have had the value of their very lives called into question. If you are sitting on the sidelines, then you are the problem. As Audre Lorde says: “Your silence will not protect you.”
It is a nice performative act to have me compose an article regarding the presence of Trans Day of Remembrance, but it is only performative. On the surface it seems like Maryville College is a welcoming place, but have you ever seen a Black or Brown college trans woman walk freely from Isaac’s Cafe to Pearsons Hall? We all know the answer to this, as did Laverne Cox.
As a student body, it is our responsibility to create the kind of college atmosphere that we wish to live in. It is up to us to demand from the powers that be that meaningful, real action is taken to protect the lives of marginalized people.
Additionally, It is our job to educate ourselves about this issue, not to simply rely on the Laverne Cox’s of the world to save her own kind. No matter the identity, human kind is human kind. The prejudice does not lie within trans women, it lies within those of us who cannot understand nor empathize with a life different from the status quo of white, cis-het patriarchy. This hurts all of us, even those who designed these exilic spaces.
So, instead of remembering those nameless bodies that have piled up since 1998, let’s work on seeing those that are alive, crying out to be heard and honored for a life lived in truth. Let’s start with a Transgender Day of Visibility each and every day.