This blog post has been written by a member of a:gender.
Today marks International transgender day of remembrance, which was inaugurated in 1999 following the murder of Rita Hester, who was found with more than twenty stab wounds to her chest.
I will begin by speaking of what TDoR actually represents, even though the title itself should tell us. I will apologise in advance, for I will get emotional, but I am sure you will understand why.
I will stress that today is not just a day of mourning, but one of celebration of life, which is the way all such occasions should be marked. Nevertheless, we continue to mourn people such as these:
- Leelah, who put on dark clothing and walked down a major road in the dark, no longer able to cope with her family’s transphobia. She was only 17, and got four miles before the first lorry hit her.
- Dee, stabbed 237 times, mostly in the face, as she went back to a hotel room with a man she clearly thought was a decent human being. He stayed with her for twenty minutes, just long enough to have sex with her, but already had the knife with him. She was 25.
- Rita, the original symbol of TDoR, stabbed dozens of times and left dead on the floor of her room. She was killed two days before her 35th birthday.
- Lucy Meadows, a UK teacher hounded by a newspaper columnist for no other reason than that she was a trans woman, who took her own life. She was 32.
We look at the horrendous murder rates of trans people in Brazil and other countries, and we mourn.
We see the heightened suicide risk for unsupported trans children, and we mourn.
We look at the recent death of Naomi Hersi, murdered in a Heathrow hotel room in March last year, whose death is excused by bigots as not worth worrying about because “he was a sex worker”, and we mourn.
We see the wave of murders of trans women of colour in America, so many of whom are sex workers only because when society leaves you no room to live, no right to a home and free to be sacked from any job that you might find, selling your body is the difference between starvation and a half-life, and we mourn.
There is that other side, though, the celebration of lives that are now lost. People whose lives have been snuffed out still remind us of what the human spirit can achieve, and that is what we should hold to today. There is a picture of Naomi Hersi that has been used in every news report, and it is of a smiling woman, clearly happy in her life. Dee Whigham had finally found her life, and was on a ‘girls’ weekend’ with other women. This does not alter the horror or the brutality of how they died, but it does give additional focus.
The waves of hatred that are directed at trans people can feel unbearable. Recently, a well -known campaigner against trans rights, who features regularly on television, responded to a question about the possible effects of Hormone replacement therapy on trans women, described, naturally as “men”.
“What would the effect be?” was the question, and her response was two words: “Death, hopefully”.
I am not here to speak at length about that hatred, for it is evident and obvious for anyone with a few minutes to look at the press or social media, with 323 trans hate articles in one newspaper alone in 2018. It is there, though, and it is real. Sometimes, that reality can become personal, and it did so for me, quite recently.
On October 21st, I was myself physically attacked by a man in broad daylight, on Broad Street, in fact, in Birmingham. All very alliterative, and the reasons for the attack were made very clear when he asked repeatedly “What sort of *** queer are you?”
I ended up bruised, and in shock. Fortunately, I was on my way to help set up the a:gender conference, so when I made it into the venue, into a place of safety, after spending half a mile watching over my shoulder in case he came back, when I was finally safe, and broke down, I had friends around me who understood.
That sort of incident has a profound effect on mental health, and my own has suffered over the years. I am actually a mental health first aider, so I am perhaps more able to recognise the impact simple, callous bigotry has on my life, and understand its impact on others. I regularly see negative comments about being transgender as a form of mental illness, and there is a high level of mental health problems associated with transgender people, but I would suggest that it is a simple case of cause and effect. If you are being told on a daily basis, for example, that your mere existence is a threat to women and girls, it can be a little difficult to maintain that stiff upper lip, or indeed a balanced response to adversity of all kinds. There is a coordinated attack on trans people in the UK, largely funded by right-wing groups in the USA, and they have made their plans very clear. In their words, the way to untangle the alphabet soup of LGBTQ etc is to start with the weakest letter, the T.
They have made it abundantly clear that once they have removed rights for that alphabet soup, they will be after the rights of women. At the moment, there is a US court case underway concerning Aimee, a trans woman working as an undertaker. When she announced her transition, she was sacked. The employers tried to justify it as religious conscience, but that was thrown out of court. They are now basing their claims on dress codes, that as Aimee is “a man”, she must wear a collar and tie, while women wear skirts and high heels.
Several well-known anti-trans activists from the UK have travelled there, to stand alongside neoNazis and misogynists in order to support forcing gender stereotypes onto all women simply so that trans women can be discriminated against. That bigotry, that hatred, is clearly visceral and unthinking.
We now see a new group calling itself an LGB Alliance, claiming that it is there to represent LGB people. All but one of its first 100 tweets was about trans people. As an additional titbit, their members include someone who hates bisexual people, as well as all men, and another who recently claimed that bisexuals “erase women”. The pressure is relentless.
Coming back to that day in Birmingham, I am in no way attempting to compare what I went through, and have done on many previous occasions, with the events involving Dee, Rita, Leelah, Lucy or Naomi. What I suffered is utterly insignificant compared to the horrors that have taken so many trans women in Brazil, so often found in shallow graves or, awfully, on internet videos as they are beaten to death.
No. I am one of the really lucky ones. My emotion is one of gratitude; not for the deaths of others, but for the fact that I am here today to mourn those who weren’t as fortunate, and to give thanks that I am allowed to do something, however small, to help explain what has happened, to raise awareness, and to try and stir people up to work against hatred. I am grateful that I have people around me to offer support, to lift me up, and, yes, to put their arms around me when I break down in tears.
Yes, I do feel hate; I would be an obvious liar if I pretended otherwise, and I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel that way. That isn’t the way forward, though. What I should be doing, what I am urging you all to do today, is to take a moment of silent contemplation, to remember so many dead, and perhaps to ask yourselves what you might do to encourage that hatred to leave. To help others to understand what fellow humanity means.
I want to think of Naomi’s smiling face, of Dee’s delight on her weekend away with the other girls. Life, joy, futures opening up.
No more seventeen-year-old girls walking down an unlit road and waiting for a lorry to hit them.
Are you with me?
a:gender are the staff network that supports all trans and intersex staff across Government. To contact them, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.