On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Remembering Why They’re Not Here

A photograph of a lit candle against a black background. Overlaid on the image is the transgender symbol, and text reading Twelfth Annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance. In the bottom left corner reads "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." -- George SantayanaToday is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a day set aside to remember all of the lives that have been lost to anti-trans violence, most specifically in the past 365 days, but also further into the past.

I never know quite what to say on days like today, days set aside to mark the extraordinary impact that oppression has on people’s lives, the toll it takes, and the violence it inflicts. I especially don’t know what to say as someone on the “outside” — as a cis woman, transphobia and transphobic violence affect me both as someone who has friends who are trans* and as someone who cares about social justice. But I’m not the one living with the threat and fear of violence every single day. This day is not mine, and I cannot speak for trans* people, nor do I want to when they are perfectly capable for speaking for themselves.

But as a cis person, I feel the need to say something. Because if it wasn’t for cis people, if it wasn’t for our hatred and violence, there wouldn’t need to be a Transgender Day of Remembrance at all.

This past year, 179 people who we know of were murdered as a result of anti-trans hate. There are undoubtedly more who were killed, whose names we do not know and may never learn. In addition to those 179 murder victims, whose numbers are extraordinarily disproportionate to the number of trans* people as a whole, there were countless victims of non-deadly assault, sometimes sexual and sometimes not. And in addition still to those victims of physical assault, there were countless trans* victims of verbal threats and harassment on the basis of their identities. Trans women were by far the most likely to be victims, though trans men and trans people of other genders and non-genders were and are also at risk. Trans* people of color were by far the most at risk, though many victims were white, too. Poor trans* folks and sex workers also faced an extremely disproportionate risk, though money and occupation often do not protect. Almost all who were killed were horrifically disrespected and dehumanized after they were gone. And sadly, these trends are entirely expected to carry on into the next 365 days.

Almost all of these victims, virtually every single one, was killed or assaulted or threatened by someone who was cis. And while most perpetrators were cis men, cis women are as far as can possibly be from innocent.

And so, to my fellow cis people and to my fellow cis people only, I would suggest that we remember all of those who have died or suffered as a result of anti-trans violence, but to not stop there. For it would be letting ourselves off much to easy. I would suggest that we remember not only who died, but who killed them. That we remember how they died. Why they are no longer here.

It’s because of cis people. And that makes it our job to stop it. It is not the job of trans* people to stop cis violence against them anymore than it is the job of women, trans or cis, to stop men from raping. (Though it should always be trans* people from whom cis people take leadership and cues.) It’s on us. Especially those of us cis people who see ourselves as “the good ones” who “aren’t prejudiced like that.”

It’s up to us, cis folks, to stop treating this like it’s not “our” issue. It’s up to us to stop making anti-trans jokes, to stop treating gender like a binary, to stop using anti-trans slurs, to stop defining gender by genitals and reproductive capacity, to stop misgendering with wrong names and pronouns, to stop denying access to medical care and domestic violence shelters, to stop making “woman-only” spaces that are trans-exclusive. Just as importantly, it’s time to start speaking up whenever we see other people do these things, instead of waiting for trans* folks to do it themselves. Because while speaking out is not always 100% safe for cis people, it is a million times more likely to be safe for us than it is for those who are trans*.

And it’s time, too, for cis people to start recognizing all of these supposedly “small” things, the jokes, the assumptions, for what they are — the roots of violence, violence themselves against people’s identities, the precursors to even more severe violence. It’s time to recognize that when you make someone’s identity a joke, you make their humanity a joke, too. And there is no way for that to not end in violence.

So the Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds us, but which cis people need to do a much better job of remembering all year.

To those who have died, may you rest in peace. I will not forget you.

0 thoughts on “On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Remembering Why They’re Not Here

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  3. GallingGalla

    Thank you for this.

    Because trans* people are few in number (perhaps 1% of the population, including trans* folk who do not medically transition, and trans* folk who are genderqueer or otherwise non-binary or non-gendered), cis people need to step up to the plate and speak out and act against transphobic violence – and especially, as Cara makes clear, the casual violence done by words.

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