Ask a Boston Transwoman: Moving Forward from the Bombing, Becoming Stronger

Trans PeopleLorelei Erisis, The Rainbow Times' "Ask A Trans Woman" Columnist.
Photo: David Meehan
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Lorelei Erisis, The Rainbow Times' "Ask A Transwoman" Columnist.  Photo: David Meehan

Lorelei Erisis, The Rainbow Times’ “Ask A Transwoman” Columnist.
Photo: David Meehan

By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist–

As I’m writing this column, I am sitting in the midst of a news storm. I have some things to say, and this is not going to be anywhere near my usual, informative-with-a-jokey-tone kind of column. Although I promise I’ll try to make it clear how my thoughts tie into my usual subjects of gender and sexuality, the things I have to say right now are both more wide-ranging and very personally specific.

So if you’re looking for your usual smarty-pants pageant queen, check me out next month. I’ve got a really good column about how to do activism with a smile that I had been intending to write.

But right now, I’m angry, I’m hurt and I’m very, very worried, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of my readers feel the same way.

A couple days ago, as of the writing of this column, someone blew up bombs in my home state, in the first city I ever knew and loved. I need not rehash the details, I’m sure that by the time this is published, you will all know everything there is to know. Perhaps the people who did this horrific act will even have been apprehended. I can only hope.

This is not a singular tragedy. As I write this, the smoke is still settling from the explosion near Waco, Texas that killed many more people. And my news feeds are regularly filled with reports of tragedies not unlike this bombing happening in countries all over the world, all the time. It is not even the worst tragedy of this type to occur on American soil. 9/11 was undeniably larger and more deadly. There are school shootings and wedding bombings and daily horror in other places.

I know all this.

But this one happened in Boston, in Copley Square. A place I know so well, I can close my eyes and walk around the block in my head. I’ve trudged through slush there and watched the flowers of spring bloom. I’ve taken a date to the Boston Public Library. Sat on the steps to watch the crowds rushing by. I have stumbled drunk into the T stop at Copley. Last summer I stood in the very spot where the explosions went off as I waited to march, fist raised high, in the Boston Pride parade at the head of the MTPC contingent.

The past few days, my email has been filled with check-ins from friends and family in and around Boston, letting each other know that they are okay. So far, no one I know was injured. I selfishly pray that continues to be the case. [pullquote]I’m worried that this will become another excuse to take away more of our precious rights in the name of “safety,” and that the damage done by this horrific act will continue well beyond the amputated limbs and tragic deaths.[/pullquote]

As a Bostonian and a New Englander, I know we will pull through this. We are a strong people. And though we will not forget, Gods help whoever did this, because we are a famously tough bunch. Indeed, probably the most appropriate punishment for whoever did this would be to lock them into an Irish Pub in Southie just before closing on the night of a Red Sox game.

But we are hurt and we are angry, and this is what I’m worried about.

I’m worried that this will become another excuse to take away more of our precious rights in the name of “safety,” and that the damage done by this horrific act will continue well beyond the amputated limbs and tragic deaths. We have seen how it happens, I don’t need to elaborate too much. What we need to remember is that once those rights have been relinquished, it can be damn hard to get them back.

It’s not a difficult scenario to imagine IDs being scanned at checkpoints blocking off whole city blocks, cameras following our every move, random bag searches on the street.

Even the profiling and detention of folks who “don’t look right.”

It’s already going on. Three days ago, a flight out of Boston’s Logan airport was returned to the gate and two men removed.

The reason? The two men were speaking Arabic, one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, right after English and Hindi. They weren’t even sitting together.

Also, in the immediate aftermath, a Saudi student, struck by the blast himself, with shrapnel wounds and burns, was tackled to the ground for “acting suspicious” and smelling like gunpowder. Yeah he smelled like gunpowder! He was just caught in an explosion.

The NY Post immediately trumpeted that there was a suspect in custody and the student’s apartment searched by FBI agents. Eventually he was completely cleared and has apparently been doing all he can to help with the investigation. And yet, his name is still being bandied around by folks convinced there’s something fishy there.

What was “suspicious” about him? It seems to be that he was brown skinned.

There’s more, much more, but let me get to my point. Perhaps by the time you read this they will have caught the perpetrators of this horror, but whether they are homegrown or foreign, black, brown, yellow, red or white, this can only be bad for people of color. In the coming weeks and months, people of color will be watched, harassed, hurt and likely even detained for no other crime than having extra melanin in their skin.

So, what does this have to do with trans people and LGBTQ people generally? Well, quite aside from the simple fact that many in our communities are people of color, especially in trans communities, they are already the most at risk for violence, harassment and discrimination. Aside from that, as I have often said in this column, the struggle for LGBTQ rights is a struggle for human rights. It is a struggle for the rights of oppressed people everywhere.

Additionally, I think most trans people understand quite well what it is like to be looked upon with suspicion and harassed simply for “looking suspicious,” and for being different in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

We know the fear and danger a person can be put in by being taken aside for questioning; the humiliation, stress and real damage that come from having to produce identification to authority figures for no crime other than standing out in the crowd.

Finally though, it is this: If we do not speak up now, we do not stand up for our sisters and brothers. Stop and think and take a moment to check facts, sources and consider our own prejudices, before making accusations or passing along rumors. If we do not do these things, then those monsters who bombed my city, OUR city, truly will have done us lasting damage.

I hope that we are better than that. Stronger. I believe we are.

Slainte Chugat!!!

*Lorelei Erisis is Miss Trans New England 2009. Send your questions about trans issues to her at: loreleierisis@gmail.com.

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