*Content Warning: transphobia, murder, transmisogyny, death, cisnormativity
by Angela Lemus-Mogrovejo
It is difficult to reflect on what this past year has meant for me and those who belong to my trans community.
Another Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) has passed and another set of trans folks (mainly Black trans women and other women of color) have been murdered, whether by loved ones or by larger structures that kill us slowly everyday. Another year has passed and I am left wondering who cares about us.
Who cares about trans folks when they die beyond simply having a figure to report on this yearly vigil? More importantly, who cares to help keep us alive, as opposed to just reflecting on how sad it is that trans life is synonymous with death?
Perhaps it is too much to want a better life for myself and other trans folk but I don’t care. I know that people like me deserve better and the only way to figure out how to make better happen is to start with the uncomfortable, the profane, and the unwanted discussions that are not happening yet.
In light of all this, I find myself thinking deeply about the recent allegations against several Hollywood figures, in particular, Harvey Weinstein. For those unaware, Weinstein has been accused by several women of committing various acts of assault and abuse, primarily through using his position in the entertainment industry to coerce them. In regards to the entirety of those allegations, I firmly support believing these stories and the individuals who came forward and, as Brit Marling so succinctly states, deem them “courageous” for doing so.
And even as I steadfastly support those who have come foward, I want to highlight something Marling touched on that is critical to understanding what is sorely lacking in public discourse regarding trans people. Throughout her piece, Marling states time and time again that much of what it means to give consent in this world cannot be separated from questions of power. To give consent is intimately tied to possessing some form of power with which to give it--those who possess power are able to leverage it over those who do not have power and, by extension, consent. This is to say that for many women in the world, whether they are in the entertainment industry, work in produce fields, or struggle in an abusive relationship, consent is never fully present. Consent can be provided for certain acts, perhaps, but very often women are not in socio-economical positions and working conditions in which they can give consent without coercion.
Acknowledging these unequal power dynamics as the groundwork upon which heterosexual, cisgender sexual relationships rest makes me realize how even more coercive these dynamics become when applied to trans lives. In particular, how these dynamics structure the entirety of how I have seen cisgender people discuss the trans lives worth valuing, worth supporting, or just the ones that matter at all. At least, in the moments in which they remember trans people exist at all.
I hold nothing personally against my cisgender friends or family, particularly those who have reached out to me and cared for me in times of need. It means the world to me that some of my family and friends have even tried to learn how to better support me and be there for me around my trans identity.
However, I cannot ignore the ways in which I (and I am sure many other trans people) are asked to be open books for the sake of being deemed worth caring about. We are asked to lay bare all our demons, and recount all the twists and turns our lives have taken in our attempts to understand our bodies just so cisgender folk can begin to understand and categorize us. We are asked to share very personal parts of ourselves that should be reserved for private occasions, all for the sake of achieving basic access to needed resources like food and housing.
Mia Mingus writes that this kind of forced intimacy is ubiquitous with being a disabled person living in this violent, ableist world and it is even more so the case with trans folk (of color) who are disabled as well.
I’ve lost track of how many stories I have heard about the invasive questions my trans siblings have had to endure simply to be treated with the respect which cisgender people take for granted.
I’ve lost track of how often, even in my most feminine outfits, I have to reassure myself that I will definitely be treated as a woman so long as I can believe I will be assaulted by men who pass me on the street.
And I’ve lost track of how open I have had to be (against my will) about my trans status and disability in order to convince employers I am worth hiring without scaring people who will interact with me.
In this context, it is clear that the recent affirmations to stand by survivors of assault are shallow. It is a willingness to show support only for those who were not required to demonstrate vulnerability and proximity to abuse as a prerequisite to being worthy of care, let alone being thought of as anything close to human.
So much power could come from sharing these parts of myself with people if I had a choice in the matter. So much could be gained from being able to slow down, process, and speak the truths of my life with others in a way that feels mutually helpful and healing. And yet, I find myself time and time again reduced to feeling like the words “tragic” and “burden” will follow me around according to how cisgender people evaluate me. I, and many other trans folk, are a stand-in for death, misery, assault, and all the things cisgender people do not want to discuss because it would implicate themselves in the cycle of violence. Or worse, we are a reason for cisgender folk to remember bad things exist in the world yet never do anything substantial to prevent such things from happening. In the midst of reflecting on trans folks’ position in the world as tragedy porn, cisgender people forget to actually try and help us, let alone believe trans folk experience hurt like them. We need to heal, just like them. We are human, just like them.
What would a proper Trans Day of Remembrance look like, one that moves away from this prerequisite of forced intimacy? What would proper consent that includes trans and disabled folks (of color) look like?
I’m not sure, but I believe it would start with a bare minimum of not mourning trans folks but fighting for and advocating alongside us, not pushing us aside for cis allies who speak our names in death but never in life.
I have lived long enough to know that many of these vigils, like TDOR, are occasions to revel in a cycle of death and ignore much more important things when it comes to trans life as a whole. Namely, that trans folk have lived first.
We have lived lives where people who loved us and cherished us and made space for our pain, our trauma, our wisdom, our grace, our humor, and everything else, not only the misery that cisgender people see before moving onto the next purposely forgotten tragedy. We have crafted visions of liberation and beauty that our ancestors could only dream of, in the midst of an aura of death that has hung over many of our short lives. While many of us can be desirable and enjoy being desired, we have lived and found peace with not always being fuckable, with not always holding onto this lens of desirability that many cisgender people use to evaluate who they treat well. We have lived to be wonderful and brilliant even if the work or art we create is mundane, everyday, or even easily forgotten. We have been wonderful in the way that every human being is simply by nature of existing, not by being a story which cisgender people can read cleanly and easily for disposable entertainment.
To remember trans folk should be to remember our lives, not quietly relish our deaths as signs of how the world has avoided harming cisgender folk who have escaped certain structural oppressions (despite being bound by others). To remember us would be to know that there is no reason to fear us, let alone expect us to be always ready to share personal pains that any other person would take time to divulge. We make mistakes like many others, hurt people like many others, and learn to do better like many others. We are human in all the messy and contradictory ways that anyone else is. Though we share many of the same burdens, none of us can tell the whole story of trans existence and we should not be expected to.
What would a proper Trans Day of Remembrance look like?
In the eyes of this disabled, trans femme of color, it is a day to speak an uncomfortable truth to cisgender friends that trans folk deserve better. Trans folk deserve better than you have been willing to give us and I will not apologize for saying so. Such a thing may be uncomfortable thing to hear. However, it is perhaps only in discomfort that we all can “move in the direction of a humane world to which we would all freely give our consent,” the consent to tell our stories as we desire to without force.
As regards our deaths and, more importantly, as regards the lives we live wonderfully in spite of that death.