A Thanksgiving Story

A week ago, it was the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A couple days later, of course, it was Thanksgiving. Two annual events that I often have rather mixed feelings about. Obviously I’m almost a week late in writing this post, but more stuff kept happening last week, so it’s only now that I’m getting around to telling the whole story.

The Day of Remembrance has never been my favorite anniversary. I know a lot of trans people who feel the same way: why is the only day devoted to talking about trans issues all about people who have died? All too often, TDOR events have felt to me like some kind of semi-obscene pity party, an opportunity for many LGBT politicians, community leaders, and other professional gays to express their solemn condolences about all the dead trannies before going back to whatever they were doing the next day and mostly ignoring all the most vulnerable parts of the trans population: the poor, the youth, the homeless, sex workers, the HIV positive, people with many overlapping oppressions, and a whole lot of trans women of color.

This isn’t to say that the downcast faces and sorrow aren’t real, or that people don’t know folks who have really died. At some TDOR events, it’s friends and loved ones who are reading the list of the fallen, as opposed to a well-meaning white lady who can’t quite pronounce the names (yes, it’s happened). It’s important to commemorate the dead, to draw attention to the incredible murder rate of trans people–14 times the national average in the US, according to one estimate. 2007 was the year when Erica Keel was run over repeatedly by a man who threw her out of his car, a man who wasn’t even brought up on hit and run charges, much less murder. This was the year when Ruby OrdeƱana/Rodriguez was found strangled on a San Francisco street corner, then was subsequently called a “psychopath” for no reason by a radio shock-jock, and had her funeral hijacked by the Nicaraguan embassy, who ordered the funeral home to dress her like a boy at her father’s request. This was the year when at least nine other trans people were murdered or died from lack of medical treatment and a year when odds are we’ll hear of at least a few more.

But why has the TDOR become the key “trans day” of the year? It’s an evening where trans people gather with our friends and family and allies to light some candles, read some names of victims that most of us didn’t know, and then disperse to go home in the night. I couldn’t possibly put it better than Little Light did:

I think it breaks most of us a little, knowing that sometimes the only time in a year we all get together is to read a thick stack of names of those of us who have been ground into the ground, punctured, stolen, crushed and rent apart, all in order to satisfy someone else’s ideas of what the world ought to be–and to tell all the rest of us, look out. You could be next.

I’ll leave the beautiful eulogies to a natural priestess and poet like LL. As for me… I mostly just get pissed off.

So I was thinking about a lot of things last Tuesday.

I was thinking about all the men and women who have died for being trans this year, of course. I was giving lots of hugs to one of my best friends, who had spent a little too much time during the day reading all the stories of the dead.

I was thinking about the Human Rights Commission, the largest gay lobby in the country. They robbed the trans community of tens of thousands of dollars in donations! They promised trans people that they’d only push for a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act–but then they turned around and supported their congressional allies who moved forward with a gutted version of the bill that shockingly, only really protects “straight-acting” gay people. In a breathtaking display of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too hypocrisy, they even planned to host their own celebration of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, but this caused enough outcry that they canceled it the day before.

On the night of the TDOR, I went to the memorial event at the local LGBT center, where there were some very heartfelt readings and speeches–by trans women of color, even. I was particularly touched by Julia Porfido’s exhortation that trans people not tear each other apart over issues of appearance and assimilation. After that, I went by the Stonewall Inn, where the HRC was holding a meeting of their women’s caucus. How ironic. A group of protesters outside, many of them long-time gay rights veterans, were demanding the resignation of HRC executive director Joe Solomonese. I hung out there talking with folks until they decided to pack up the picket and go over to the Day of Remembrance event.

I was also thinking about all the living trans people who are ground beneath the boot-heels of the system every day. The women who are locked up in men’s prisons where they are forced into prostitution and pimped out by prison guards. The people who are forced out of homeless shelters or denied health care and HIV medication because they’re trans. Who are fired right after being hired, simply because their employer finds out they’re trans. I thought about the Trans Day of Action, a local event I helped put together in New York to be the opposite of the Trans Day of Remembrance–a warm summer day when our community marches for the rights and well-being of the living. And I thought about Mariah Lopez… who, I am very sorry to have to report, was beaten up and arrested again.

Mariah is a young, proud, and outspoken activist who has been opposing the NYPD brutality and fighting for her rights with NY governmental authorities for many years. She was arrested in the West Village on the night of Saturday, November 17. Officers from the NYPD’s 6th Precinct, who she’s clashed with before, dragged her out of a car and beat her so badly that they couldn’t even take her in to be booked and arraigned. She went straight to the hospital. The police charged her with solicitation, a charge that trans women of color are routinely profiled for on New York city streets. We even had a case where several trans women were hanging out at a friend’s house, only to be raided by the police and arrested on solicitation charges, which were later dropped. If you’re a young, femme trans woman of color in this city, you can’t stand on a street corner, get in a car, or go to someone’s house without some cop following you and potentially trying to bust you. One of the worst parts of the whole crisis was that she was supposed to start at a new job last Monday, working at an AIDS education and outreach program. She didn’t make it for her first day on the job.

Thanks to the work and support of attorneys from Amnesty International and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Mariah got out on bail yesterday and is recovering. But for a while we weren’t sure what was going to happen to her this time. One of her attorneys was almost arrested while trying to document her injuries in the hospital–apparently taking pictures is against the law–but was at least able to talk to her. She was most worried about her dog and cat being alone, so in addition to trying to raise bail, we set about trying to make sure her pets were fed and taken care of. (This is where this whole post turns into a stranded-puppy sob story.)

By the next night, we found a friend who was willing to board Mariah’s cat and look in on her dog. She rode on the train about an hour to the edge of Queens and found herself having to deal with Mariah’s angry superintendent. Apparently the landlord is trying to have her evicted for being a criminal, and the super threatened to call animal control on the dog. Our friend decided she better get the dog (a very cute little sheepdog-like pooch) out of there as well, but couldn’t convince the pup to leave the apartment. Back at headquarters, which consisted of me and Mariah’s lawyer talking on the phone and instant messenger, we told her she should just take the cat. We decided we’d have to figure out something for the dog on Thanksgiving. So our friend put the cat in a box and got in a cab. The cat proceeded to get very anxious and threw up in the back of the car. The jerk cab driver stopped the car, opened the back door and told both of them to get out; then the cat really freaked out because of the yelling and ran away. Despite an hour of searching, Mariah’s cat could not be found, and is still missing.

We managed to organize a miniature expedition to go get Mariah’s dog the next day, since none of us felt like eating Thanksgiving dinner while worrying that a dogcatcher was arriving to take her last remaining pet off to the pound. So I put the homebrewed broth for the turkey gravy on simmer and hopped in a car to Queens. We had to climb up onto a balcony to get her downstairs neighbor’s attention, but they were much nicer than the superintendent, and let us into the building. Apparently her landlord doesn’t see fit to repair gaping holes in the floor or provide her with running water; it wasn’t a very pretty sight. The dog had been trapped inside for five days at that point, and was very matted and upset. We fed her some sausages and coaxed her out into the car, then drove her to Manhattan, where a friend’s family was willing to take care of her for a while. Finally, we went home and ate turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and gravy. Then I collapsed. And played Rock Band for about three days, and got the current world high score for playing the bass line of “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s a song I really like.

I haven’t heard yet whether Mariah and her cute little dog have been reunited. I hope so. I know what it’s like to have a pet that always loves you even when the rest of the world is hostile and cruel. This might seem like a bit of a shaggy dog story, in more ways than one. But for those of you wondering what’s going on in the trans community in New York, I kind of thought the story of a few of my days last week, with all their ups and downs and varicolored background, might give you a glimpse into what it’s like. What folks have to deal with, the struggles going on, how we pull together to get everyone through… as much as we can. I guess that’s part of why I don’t like to think much about the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I don’t like to think about next November. I don’t want to wonder who we’re going to be mourning, if it’s going to be someone I know. So after you remember… remember to take action too.

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14 comments for “A Thanksgiving Story

  1. November 27, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Ack, the “Entering or leaving a motor vehicle or residence, or walking down the street while a trans woman of color” arrest. :(

    I agree with the mixed feelings about the Day of Remembrance, as well as the attempts to milk it for the GLB cause. :( It seems like – to some – trans people only matter when they can stand on our corpses to accept donations.

    Many sympathies to Mariah. I hope her cat finds its way home.

  2. November 27, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Holly, this is beautiful. Thank you. And fuck the HRC, dammit.

  3. Marissa
    November 27, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    This story breaks my heart in so many ways all at once…

  4. November 27, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    oh, oh. i probably shouldn’t be welling up over her having lost her cat out of everything else that’s heartbreaking, but goddamit, you’re right: pets love you unconditionally, and it’s just one more gratutious cruelty…

  5. November 27, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    I did the same over the cat. :( I mean, yeah, that.

    The police brutality just terrifies me. I’ve never been big on trusting the police, but stories like this just show they’re another gang.

  6. November 28, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Update: we had to tell Mariah about her cat. She told us that the cat was a feral stray that she found and adopted not that long ago, and that it knew how to take care of itself on the streets. Plus, since the cat ran off in the general neighborhood in Queens where she lives, she’s hopeful that it’ll show up at her place again looking for food. Hope springs eternal!

  7. November 28, 2007 at 12:39 am

    Is there anything any of us can do to help?
    I’m on Long Island and might be able to go into the city (if I don’t have work) to do something; even if it’s just cat/dog-sit or pass out flyers.

  8. November 28, 2007 at 1:39 am

    Definitely hoping the cat makes out okay, then.

    Is Mariah okay?

  9. Trin
    November 28, 2007 at 1:58 am

    oh holy Mother. how horrid. i have nothing at all coherent to say. fuck.

  10. Marissa
    November 28, 2007 at 2:05 am

    Thanks for the cat update. On top of everything else that just about broke the camel’s back. I’m sitting here reading this and petting my own kitty. What the hell about the world considering some people less human. It makes me so upset and want to do something so bad, but I’m not sure what. The best I can do is talk to my friends and family to open their minds and hearts. It is so frustrating when I talk to my parents for instance, about this very issue and they laugh as if trannies aren’t REALLY part of the population. This coming from otherwise open-minded people who fully support human rights. The dehumanization of marginalized people makes me want to rip out my hair and I wish I could do more. My thoughts are with Mariah.

  11. Jane
    November 28, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    The HRC have lost their way. That’s pretty clear.

    What on Earth were they looking to charge Mariah’s lawyer with? I hope he managed to get back in there for some photos after they’d gone.

  12. November 28, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I have no idea what they were going to charge her with. Obstruction of governmental administration or something ridiculous like that, probably.

    Mariah was finally able to get all of her personal effects back from police HQ today, but not until after some more angry phone calls from lawyers, since for some reason they wouldn’t give her her stuff back otherwise. As usual, it’s likely that trans people’s records get messed up in the system somewhere (we’ve seen it a million times) and it’s rare that someone’s favorably inclined to help out. She’s all right now, though.

    As for how people can help, I’m not sure when her court date is, but it’s likely we’ll want local folks to help pack the court and show support. I’ll post something here, or you can e-mail info@srlp.org with your e-mail address (and/or snail mail address) to be on our mailing list.

  13. Ailurophile
    November 28, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Sending all good thoughts Mariah’s way. And I hope she is reunited with her cat. I have cats myself, and I know my first thoughts would be “are they being taken care of?” I’m glad the dog could be rescued and is being cared for.

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