Ask a Trans Woman: TDoR, a Vigil for Our Dead, a Reminder for Our Community

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—

I’ve been avoiding writing this. It’s been in my head for a while now, but every time I sit down to write, I find something, anything else to distract me. It’s not the sort of column I like to write. I prefer to focus on the positive things about being trans. There are more than enough horror stories and cautionary tales of the trials and tribulations of being trans. We all know them. For a long time, they were the only stories we were likely to hear.

And gods know, I’ve lived my share of these stories. I’ve even written about a few of them, but for the most part, I’ve been very, very lucky. For all the hardships, I love being trans! Not everyone gets the chance to not only figure out what has been wrong with their lives, but to actually take steps to fix it, to be the person they were meant to be, the person they honestly are. So, when and where possible, I like to focus on the good things about being trans. I want to encourage and uplift.

But this is not one of those times. This is not one of those columns. This is November and it is the month in which we observe the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR), and I have some very strong feelings about this. [pullquote]But this is not one of those times. This is not one of those columns. This is November and it is the month in which we observe the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR), and I have some very strong feelings about this.[/pullquote]

I have, over the last several years, watched TDoR drift. I have seen it moved away from its roots, observed attempts by perfectly well-meaning people to transform it into something else. I have heard people, friends from the community whom I love, talk about a desire to no longer attend TDoR events or continue to acknowledge the day. They say it is too depressing, too sad. They are tired of the horror of it and they are ready to move on, focus on the good and happy things about their lives as people who have reached somewhat more comfortable places in their transitions.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand. It’s a reasonable impulse. I get the desire to live our lives just as people, not as trans, with all the sometimes heavy baggage that goes with that label. I support that, if that’s what you need to do to be happy and whole. At least, I do for 364 days of the year.

But for this one day in November, I strongly believe it’s important for us to come together as people who share an experience of being trans. It’s important for us to read the names, to think about their stories—the stories of trans lives that have been ended horrifically, cut all-too-tragically short. Maybe it’s because I was raised Irish Catholic with a hefty seasoning of Russian Jew. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost so many people myself, cut down before they could grow and blossom. Maybe it’s because I know just how close I have been and continue to be to not being so lucky. [pullquote]But for this one day in November, I strongly believe it’s important for us to come together as people who share an experience of being trans. It’s important for us to read the names, to think about their stories—the stories of trans lives that have been ended horrifically, cut all-too-tragically short.[/pullquote]

The trans community, for all our growing visibility and larger-than-expected numbers, is still a small one. I guarantee that each one of us is only a step or two removed from a name on that list of the dead. I will never forget the moment that I realized, some years back at a TDoR observance in Amherst, Mass. that one of the names of the dead was a person I had seen often in my old East Hollywood neighborhood. A woman I never spoke to, but who in passing would smile back at me in acknowledgement of my newly transitioning self. Those little connections mattered so much to me.

Now that smile was dead, brutally murdered and read out in a list by people on the other side of the country who could barely pronounce her name, which leads me to a point I want to stress. It could have been my name on that list, but it wasn’t. I say I am lucky, and that’s certainly true, but if I’m “lucky” it’s at least partly because I’m white. Though I may be as a trans woman pretty far down the privilege ladder, I’ve still got that, and in this deeply divided world, that’s still a lot.

I think we need to remember that. Though TDoR may be a vigil for our sisters and brothers, zisters and others, the vast majority of the names on that list are, have been and will very likely continue to be primarily trans women of color. [pullquote]It could have been my name on that list, but it wasn’t. I say I am lucky, and that’s certainly true, but if I’m “lucky” it’s at least partly because I’m white. Though I may be as a trans woman pretty far down the privilege ladder, I’ve still got that, and in this deeply divided world, that’s still a lot.[/pullquote]

I want you to remember.

When somebody suggests TDoR should be livelier, remember the dead. When they suggest a celebration or an “awareness event,” a fundraiser or a show, remember it’s a vigil. When someone you know, or even you, decides they’d rather not hear the names or think about the horror anymore, remind them how lucky they are that they have that option. If you look at the people running your TDoR and notice they are mostly men and mainly white, ask why there are not more trans women of color involved and how can you help fix that.

For the rest of the year, let us remember to stand together and raise each other up, tell each other the stories that uplift and encourage, use our privilege, whatever we may still have, to fight for us all. But on this one day, read the names, think about the lives, remember the danger, mourn our dead, and let our trans sisters of color take the lead.

That is the heart of it. That is what you must do—face the things we’d like to avoid.

For information on Boston’s local observance of TDoR, visit the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coaltion (MassTPC) website. For other information about TDoR, visit the TDoR website at www.tdor.info, or GLAAD’s page about this year’s events at www.glaad.org/tdor.

*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer, and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at askatranswoman@gmail.com.

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