This is why I stand up for trans rights, former leaders inspired me to do what I do

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By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist*

It’s been a busy month for me and for the Trans Community and so I thought I might answer one of the most commonly asked questions that I get from folks. Basically: Why do I do what I do?

I was thinking about this last night as I attended the Northampton Transgender Day Of Remembrance ceremony. It was a powerful one and the second I had attended this weekend.

As soon as the reading of the names of transpeople who have been killed over the past year began, I started sobbing. Any of those names could have been me or one of my friends. It cut like a knife to listen to the multitude of brutal and torturous ways in which the lives of my trans sisters and brothers are cut short.

It’s a reminder that violent, gruesome death could come to any of us at any time. Simply because of who we are.

Later in the ceremony, my fellow columnist Tynan Power conducted an exercise in which he had people stand up to demonstrate the visibility of those of us who put ourselves out there in the pursuit of trans rights and also to emphasize the importance of allies to help and protect us. As I stood in the small group of folks who had testified for trans rights at the statehouse, I realized how naked I was. How much of a target I often make of myself to those who hate us.

But I also thought about how important it is to do this work. How vital it is that those of us who can stand up to be heard and seen do stand up. It is only by saying “No More!” that we might stem the tide of discrimination that plagues our communities.

I thought to myself, “This is a reason I do what I do.” Still, it is not the only reason. It is easy to read horror stories and think that being trans is a life of danger and despair.

But despite the difficulties, I have been enormously lucky. I have a supportive family and many loyal friends. I struggle, but I love my life! Making the decision to stop fighting my gender and be the woman I am was the best choice I ever made.

So I think it’s also important for those of us who can to stand up and to celebrate being transgender and transsexual. To let people know that for all the discrimination and difficulty, there is joy as well. There is laughter and community. And even sometimes victories.

This past week, after years of languishing in committee, and with the hard work of a great many individuals and organizations, Massachusetts finally passed the Trans Civil Rights Bill. A great thanks goes out to MTPC and Gunner Scott particularly for pushing to make equal rights for trans people in this state a reality. This is a victory for all of us. This happened because folks like you demanded it. Because we all worked together and we believed.

Just days before this historic occasion, I was in Springfield for the Transcending Boundaries Conference. I am vice president of the board of directors and I was also teaching workshops, speaking on panels, emceeing events and performing with my longtime drinking partner, Widow Centauri. I also had the honor of moderating the spirited closing panel with transsexual author, playwright and performance artist Kate Bornstein, bisexual activist and editor Robyn Ochs and transgender author and shaman Raven Caldera.

My favorite thing about working this conference for the past several years has been getting to meet so many amazing people from a diverse intersection of communities. When I teach my workshop, “Gender Performance Through Improvisation,” I enjoy the mind-blowing privilege of getting a whole room full of people up and just playing with each other! Queer, kinky, pan, poly, asexual, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, radical disabled folks, academics, trans people from drag queens to cross dressers and transsexuals, and even heterosexual, cisgender people, all playing together like kids on the playground. This is why I stand up.

And over the course of the weekend-long TBC I was especially blessed with the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with Kate Bornstein. A woman to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude for inspiring me to be who I am today. It was the discovery of her book, “Gender Outlaw” when I was in my early 20s that showed me that maybe I could be a transgender woman and still be a multifaceted artist too!

It is to Kate, Calpernia, Bet Power, Leslie Feinberg and all the others who have stood up before me that I owe my life. They who gave me the inspiration to carry on and be strong. They are why I stand up.

And to you, who are just discovering yourself and trying to live your lives proud of who you are. You, who need someone to point to and be inspired by. You are why I stand up.

You are why I do what I do.

Slainte!