It speaks to the world’s conscience every time we come together for this. Their stories cut to our hearts because of the people they were, because of the grossness of injustice against them and us, and because of the limitless hate echoing in the depths of brutality. Each time we do, the same issue tugs at our minds, “It could have been me on this list,” and the odds of that happening increase each year as we become increasingly visible.
Each time I observe the International Transgender Day of Remembrance I listen. Could I hear the ones for whom I came? I do in my own way. I hear them in the tugging of my heart. So I ask you, “Have you heard the voices of the spirits of those gone before us?”
If we remember someone you know in this year’s Day of Remembrance, let us reach out to comfort you if you permit us.
If we remember nobody you know in this year’s Day of Remembrance, consider.
From antiquity the world accounted us as “moribund,” appointed to death from birth, stagnant, failed, or in decline. Somehow societies generally consign us to such things more than other peoples. All must die. But they who account us as especially moribund do their best to use that as an excuse to exploit us. They who account us as particularly moribund do so without understanding.
They understand not because they cannot know what it is to struggle for an identity the world refuses to recognize. When we struggle, we give it every part of our being to actualize the truth we know and we actualize how that truth connects us to the universe and beyond. Because of that connection, many account it as rebellion against truth as they define it… an open defiance of the dogmatic regimentation of society that denies individuality.1
So it means, more often than not, a life of privation and disciplines that invoke physical beauty and strength to awaken inner beauty and strength, both in ways the world does not understand.
It often flowers in the ghettos and tenements, in places full of vermin and filth. It may awaken to full lucidity in the grasp of the empty promises of a pimp or a sugar daddy. It screams in the faces of those who threaten us with violence in the angry glare daylight, or at the point of a weapon in the mists of night. Sometimes we must account a curbside as a home to share with the sewer rats instead of a warm hearth. Sometimes a passerby stops to sexually take advantage of us in our plight, only to deny to his fellows the next day that he would ever offer love to anyone like us, genuinely a half-truth since his actions toward the afflicted had nothing to do with love in the first place.
Too often that’s all we’re offered: an illusion of love that’s only about stroking inflated egos, and when they deflate, too often invoices a debt of our blood.
That’s our sacrifice: a sacrifice of blood, a baptism of spirits whose voices do not die but cry, “Liberty!”
And liberty they finally attained, but not the way they had intended.
Therefore, I invite you, dear reader, to join me in the observance of the International
Transgender Day of Remembrance, to listen to those voices that cried for liberty, knowing that the same cry in our own hearts. It isn’t a funeral. It’s a memorial, and more than a memorial.
For liberty is a miracle, fragile in the loss of innocence, but magickal where innocence sits enthroned. We find it in the most unlikely places. Its guardians are incredible, keepers as it were of an exotic butterfly or of a holy, hidden, dancing flame, liberty in the hands of innocent “criminals.”2
Let’s listen to those voices.
They’re voices of people who at times had been liked. Once in a while they experience love. They’re also voices of those who have cried out in deep pain, and wept tears much like those you’ve wept. Your tears are theirs. You are one with them.
They’re the voices of people who have wondered and thought concerning what life should mean. In so doing they gained perspectives that challenged the world. As they have challenged you challenge now. You are one with them.
They’re the voices of people who had reached out despite the exploitation, who dared to work as their true selves, to travel the best way they could knowing that the next day they might not be so fortunate. Their obstacles are your obstacles. You are one with them.
Because you are one, you may dream similar dreams. Because you are one, the drive to seek a better expression of humanity burns within you. Because you are one, you remember and in another year you may be remembered also.
Some of you may have personally known one of the many slain this year. I felt it in 2002 when a friend I had known in the Bay Area, Gwen Araujo, fell at the hands of 4 assailants, 3 of which actually faced prosecution.3 We had met in 2000 at The Edge, Fremont, and immediately clicked. Back then she was still going by her birth name. But I will never forget her charismatic demeanor, her constant questioning about the trans experience, or her eyes that sparkled with hope. That’s how I remember Gwen, not as the messed up and troubled teen depicted in some newspapers and in film.
Many of us came to that Day of Remembrance with a deep anger, noticeably raw from the horrible news, mostly because she never reached adulthood. Her assailants murdered her at 17. I went to the West Hollywood observance in silence, inconsolable, blaming myself years after for knowing her but not preparing her for people like her killers despite others telling me I was not at fault.
That year the Los Angeles County Sheriff gave us Santa Monica Boulevard. We marched to Matthew Shepard Triangle on Santa Monica and Crescent Heights to dedicate a place for a monument to the transgender dead. But sadly, that monument would not appear till 7 years later and across Crescent Heights from where we had dedicated it.
But the plaque thereof said enough. Every time I pass through the area I stop to pause at that pyramid regardless of the time of year, but the Day of Remembrance sealed what had been written on that plaque at the edge of a garden:
“Healers, Shamans, Two-Spirits,
From a place of wonder and magic we were born, to a place of misunderstanding and hatred we have been taken. Now, in the new millennium and forward, we deliver ourselves back to our rightful place.
Along that journey many of our Trans and Gender Gifted family members have fallen. It is in the beauty of their light that we place this memorial. The solid resolve by which they lived their truth is represented here and serves as a reminder that when we are strong, we are not just strong for ourselves, but for all of us.
“Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial, November 20, 2009, Placed by the West Hollywood City Council and the West Hollywood Transgender Task Force”3
Every time I stop here I weep. I’ve left more tears than I have flowers. I don’t care what cars pass behind me on Santa Monica Boulevard. I don’t care how many point and laugh. I don’t care how many sneer and shout at me.
I don’t care because the voices of those spirits continue to echo in my heart. Do they echo in yours? If they do you can’t help but consider the future as much as the here and now, asking where we go from here and how can we make a better world. Of course, that begins with the one who asks.
I had challenged myself with this question at the beginning of my transition: “Did your transition or your gender expression make you a better person?” I’ve posed this question to others also. But too few have been able to answer. Sooner or later, every transperson must embrace this essential drive to better themselves in order to better the world. If we do not become better people, the awakenings that transgender lives offer and transgender deaths seal lose their meaning. These capacities may appear at any time in any transperson. But the heart must enshrine those higher aspirations.
I’m persuaded, and place my hopes in better things. True to ancient wisdom it’s better to attend the house of mourning than the house of feasting; for in the sorrows and inner workings of truth the heart may be made better.4 I ask again, “Have you heard the voices of their spirits, those who had departed, sometimes in prolonged pain through torture?”
I also hope this: that the answer for you not only may be affirmative but that we all walk away from our memorials more dedicated and more compassionate. It’s a hope that warms like the candle flame that defies the darkness and winds of strife that blow mercilessly like ghouls through urban canyons, for those canyons might not be in the city without but among the temples scoured by those winds within.
Most observances of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance occur on the traditional day, November 20, though local observances may occur days before or after. For an observance near you, please check the website for the International Transgender Day of Remembrance at https://tdor.info/.
- Corombos, Greg. Pastor: Transgenders Are Really Rebelling Against God (June 15, 2015) Web: WND: http://www.wnd.com/2015/06/pastor-transgenders-are-reallyrebelling-against-god/. Retrieved October 26, 2016.
- Stuart, Lynnea Urania. The Téssara: Enthumesia Ch. 5 (2008) p. 229. The Téssara remains out of general circulation except for a few. The author has determined that The Téssara may not be released in its full form to the public until the death of the author.
- Kuruvila, Matthai Chakko; Wronge, Yomi S.; Fernandez, Lisa; and Reang, Putsata. Newark Wonders about Silence (October 21, 2002) San Jose Mercury News. The story, however only mentions the 3 assailants charged. The 4th would later be granted immunity for testifying against the 3.
- Text of the Transgender Memorial, West Hollywood CA
- Amplification of Ecclesiastes 7:2-4.