Foto: © Anh Ðào Kolbe/adkfoto.com
It’s Trans Awareness Week (TAW) across the country; that means communities everywhere are busy holding educational and social events. This week of events culminates with an event called Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR): a candlelight vigil where we remember and memorialize people around the world who have died for being Trans or gender non-conforming. TDOR started here in Boston, after a woman by the name of Rita Hester was murdered in Allston just for being who she is: a Trans woman of color.
When I was still a baby queer, I like so many others trying to figure out identity, searched high and low for community. I had been exposed to the lesbian and gay community; a community that has become it’s own culture, complete with genre music, media icons and cruise ships. As compelling and as shiny as this world of unicorns and rainbows is, it was not where I belonged.
What I found instead, was TDOR, and let me say, it was a stark difference. TDOR is not a glitter clad parade down Main Street USA. There are no Dykes on Bikes or Go-Go boys. It is NOT a celebration. It is a somber, solemn event, where the names of murder victims are read from a frighteningly long list. And as dark as this event can be it continues to be one of the largest events for the Trans community: a time to be with friends and loved ones, and a time to recognize our fallen.
This year, one of those names that will be read aloud is Leslie Feinberg. Feinberg came to me the same way she came to so many of you. In the gut wrenching 1993 novel, Stone Butch Blues. I was 19 when someone pushed that text into my hands with the mystical command “You must read this.” The story was dark and real, and gritty and terrifying. But it also seeded a magical quality of truth, perseverance and hope. Maybe it was naïve of me to squint my eyes through the passages of sexual assault, and bathe in the paragraphs that described so perfectly, the joy of finding a person to love. But I did these things, and took Feinberg’s words as a blanket, a road map, and a shield into my own journey that I knew would be plagued by heartbreak and discrimination.
And here I am, so many years later thinking about a world without Leslie Feinberg, and I am at an incalculable loss. One of the unfortunate side effects that I’ve experienced since starting testosterone is that I no longer have the ability to cry. So I find it ironic that the one most influential author who enabled me to start my path has also rendered me unable to shed tears over her death. Consequently, I can express tremendous rage. Feinberg was a warrior poet and a pioneer who would never allow herself to be victimized, but still was suffering from basic human discrimination by an inability to access health care as a transgender person. This is an injustice that horribly affects so many, and is something tangible that I can punch with my activist fists.
I like to remind people that gay pride in the USA was catalyzed by the Stonewall Riots in NYC. On that fateful night in June of 1969, a group of drag queens and butch dykes had the gall to fight back. They took a stand and said they would not be targeted any longer for their gender presentation or identity. The modern gay civil rights movement owes it’s start to Trans and gender non conforming people who were being abused, persecuted and murdered. Today, we will read hundreds of names of people who were killed violently: people like Jennifer Laude, the 26 year old Filipina whose hateful murder also highlights the problems with US armed forces serving abroad. And we will also add hundreds of other names of people like Leslie Feinberg who were killed by systemic and institutionalized transphobia.
My own personal copy of Stone Butch Blues was battered and loved, with notes in the margins and torn cover. Just as it was shared with me, I needed to pass it along and share with others. TDOR is in all our roots. Please remember. Come this Sunday to the Boston/Cambridge observance of TDOR. Or, find another TDOR near you.