Transgender Day of Remembrance

This is a guest post by C. L. Minou. C. L. Minou has written on trans and feminist issues for the Guardian’s Comment Is Free,, and Tiger Beatdown. She blogs at The Second Awakening.

[TW for transphobia]

I don’t remember when I first heard of the Trans Day of Remembrance. It must have been at least five or six years ago, when I was just beginning to connect the private tortures of my transness to larger societal concerns. I can’t, to be honest, remember very well my reaction to it. Probably something along the lines of “that’s a good idea.”

I mention this not to give you insight into the Banal Morality of C. L. Minou, but because it seems that nowadays some trans folks are turning against TDOR. Not just the various observances of it, but against the entire concept of having a day to remember the murdered trans people of the previous year. “It’s depressing,” say some. “Where is the positive day?” say others. “Why do we only talk about the depressing deaths, when trans people have accomplished so much?”

And some say, “why should I care about a bunch of prostitutes who have no bearing on my life?”

I’m not going to dispute the first two points. Yes, indeed, remembering the deaths of people who died simply because of who they were is depressing–horribly depressing, and it’s horrible that every year there isn’t a shortage of names to add to the list. And of course trans people are doing amazing things: becoming judges, working in government, bravely taking a stand against ongoing discrimination. These are all amazing things and we should celebrate them.

But that still doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a day to remember the dead, or exchange that day for one of unfettered celebration.

Because, frankly, there isn’t all that much to celebrate, not really, not for the great majority of the trans people in the world. For a fortunate few transition is a relief, a difficult obstacle but one that can be overcome and bring a new and more fulfilling life. But for the rest–for the people who don’t live in cities that protect their privacy or guard against their discrimination; for the poor who lack even the basics of care like hormones; for the ones already suffering from racial, religious, or ethnic prejudices–for them, every day is a crisis, and surviving the only celebration they can afford.

Easy enough for me to say; I am one of the fortunate few, after all. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year I can avoid thinking about the trans folk who weren’t so lucky, who have so little in common with me.

Or it least it would be pretty to think so. But that’s a fiction. Because I am like them. A knife’s edge separates almost every trans person in the world from success and failure–or even death. Here, a successful trans woman lives in fear of her colleagues finding out about her history; there, a trans man worries that he will be the first fired when the economy worsens; everywhere, encounters with even the most routine items of daily life take on a risk, an uncertainty, that cis people probably never think about. I am looking for an apartment currently, and I worry about what my credit bureaus will say, not just about my credit, but who I am, since nowadays no purge of financial data is ever really final.

The fact of the matter is that at any moment, I could be at risk simply for being trans. Simply for being me. This is something all marginalized people face–certainly, it’s something every woman in the world understands. But just as it’s possible for the shielded women of the world to sniff at the poor and unprotected and blame them for their own misfortunes, so its possible for the lucky trans people of the world–the professors with tenure, the software engineers with rare abilities, the fortunate few who have managed to avoid most of the ways society turns people into others, to disclaim connection with the rest of the trans world. Rape happens only to people who live in slums, and transphobic murder only to prostitutes turning tricks for street ‘mones.

Except when it doesn’t.

So I will Remember today. I will remember because that body lying somewhere unmourned could be me. Because it is me. I mourn because remembering makes me angry, energizes me to fight again. I mourn because we don’t have all that much to celebrate today, not really, not when even the most elemental of basic protections elude the vast majority of trans people the world round. I won’t shrug or carp about how there’s so much death brought up today. Because there is a lot of death. And that needs to be remembered, to be brought up, to be shoved in the face of those who are indifferent to it until something changes, really changes, and trans people are allowed to join the human race.

I’ll celebrate then.

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25 comments for “Transgender Day of Remembrance

  1. JR
    November 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    love and solidarity, C.L.

  2. November 20, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Well said, C.L.

  3. November 20, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    As you pointed out, class, education, money, and also luck are part of it. There’s a clinic here in DC that specifically focuses on LGBTs and also those of low-income, since it takes almost all insurance plans and makes payment arrangements for those without it.

    While in line, I have heard patients who are transgender openly discuss hormone replacement therapy, noting to myself how rare that is to observe. When so much is still misunderstood by science and where advanced medicine is essential to aid those who wish to undergo transition, I will keep today in mind.

  4. November 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    You mean like Kate Bornstein… who recently had this exchange with someone about the TDOR:

    “WCT: Kate, do you have plans for Transgender Day of Remembrance this year?

    Kate Bornstein: What day is that?

    WCT: Nov. 20

    Kate Bornstein: Let me see here… Oh, that day I am not speaking. I’ll be home. I’ll probably be on my Twitter account that day. … Transgender Day of Remembrance is problematic because it’s so concerned with death and despair. We should be celebrating. We should be celebrating because those who are gone whether by murder or their own hand are not here to.

    WCT: What would you rather do to celebrate Trans Day of Remembrance?

    Kate Bornstein: If I could, I would rent us all a big nightclub. We’d all have an orgy, and there would be a fashion show and we would be our queer fabulous selves!”

    No comment, except…
    If someone doesn’t understand or appreciate the meaning behind the TDOR or what it represents… then don’t do it. Stay out of the way. But when people in the trans/queer community proceed to rip on it because it’s not fun or fabulous enough, and there isn’t a DJ or a 2 drink minimum to make money for those LGBT organizations out there… then they have their heads seriously screwed on wrong.

  5. Li
    November 20, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    I went to a TDoR performance night last night and it managed to be celebratory AND depressing. Like, I don’t think it’s really this one or the other thing. I think we often expect grief to operate in this one particular way, but really it’s not really that predictable or coherent.

    I come to TDoR as a cis person. I’m sad and angry at the deaths of all these trans people and the continuing violence and bullshit my friends have to survive all the fucking time and I’m proud and [I tried like ten different words here and I don’t even know if there’s a name for what I feel] about their beauty and survival and fierceness in the face of that.


  6. Amanda in the South Bay
    November 20, 2010 at 8:30 pm


    Holy shit, I did not know KB said that. That is just…anger inducing.

    I think what CL Minou wrote above is appropriate here:

    so its possible for the lucky trans people of the world–the professors with tenure, the software engineers with rare abilities, the fortunate few who have managed to avoid most of the ways society turns people into others, to disclaim connection with the rest of the trans world.

    I think TDOR is necessary to remind *some* trans people that, there but for the grace of god, etc we’re all in the same boat. By *some* trans people obviously I mean those of us who aren’t so concerned with day to day survival, those of us who’ve attained a little bit of upward mobility, and dare I say class privilege.

  7. rapid_butterfly
    November 21, 2010 at 8:55 am

    this is a great article, and I thank you for it. Your “knife’s edge” comment is particularly apposite.

    Your article will bear re-reading for years to come.

    And Li – I liked your comment. I think I got what you were saying, and it is appreciated.

  8. Ostien
    November 21, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    In Chicago there were several events this weekend for TDoR; some events were upbeat and celebratory, and some were somber and mournful. I think having multiple events, with different demeanors is a good way to go about it.

    Also, having several events means that everyone is likely able to show up to something and participate in some way. For example, I didn’t go the “The Night of Fallen Stars,” which despite the name is a celebratory trans variety show, but I did go to the candle lit vigil.

  9. November 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you for this piece, C. L. I went with some friends to the TDOR in Oakland, and while it was very heavy to recognize the local and worldwide losses and ongoing traumas (at intervals in the ceremony, people would read the names of victims, where they were found, and how they were killed), I appreciated the balance that the hosts struck between the grieving and the celebrating. Like you say, Li, they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive. Because, I mean, I know that there are different cultural norms for contemplating the dead, but for me, it sometimes feels right to honor the dead — even those who have died in the most atrocious ways — with live music and laughter and reflection and bright colors. And by lifting up the legacies of strength that they leave behind, even if we never knew them.

    As the organizers pointed out, the very fact that more transgender murders are being reported as such means that there are caring, organized groups collecting and sharing the information. So describing the remembrance as “depressing,” while I understand where that’s coming from, doesn’t really capture the living picture of it for me.

    One of the tensions I struggled with personally, as someone in the room with one of the openly transgender judges you mention, is the classic question of integration into fundamentally harmful systems. As a superior court judge, part of her job is sending people to prison. I’m not saying all trans folks and allies have to be against prisons or working toward a fundamental (a.k.a. revolutionary) transformation of the state, but for me this was a difficult one to swallow.

    Anyway, that’s a larger conversation and I’m not trying to derail, just relating some of the fruitful contradictions that came up for me in considering what is “depressing” and what is “celebratory” around TDOR.

    Thanks again, everybody.

  10. txgrrrlx
    November 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    do we really need to shorten ‘trigger warning’ to TW? many people don’t even know what ‘trigger warning’ means, how are they supposed to know what TW stands for..?

  11. November 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Kloncke, while I appreciate your support of the trans community, I think your comment about Judge Kolakowski shows a typical non-trans viewpoint that if trans people don’t do what you want, their successes are somewhat tinged. It’s much the same how many people in Gender Studies programs basically rip on binary trans people (especially trans women) if we don’t ‘transcend the binary’ to their liking. We’re a widely varied people and a highly complex community… politically, economically and socially—not a simplistic symbol nor a signpost of revolution (even if some of us are also fighting for those changes). There are going to continue being judges who sentence people to prison for the foreseeable future… the least we can ask is that the trans community be represented in their number and not wholesale excluded.

  12. Donna L
    November 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Exactly, Gina. Whatever trans people do, it’s the wrong thing. And whatever a trans person’s concerns may be, they take a back seat to “more important” priorities. (As in, it was wrong for trans people to support the federal hate crimes law, because the immediate goals of such laws are far less important than the long-term ideal of ending prisons entirely.)

  13. November 24, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Hey ginasf and Donna L, thanks for the critique, and I think I appreciate where you’re coming from, if I understand you correctly. The point isn’t to shame or blame or “police” individuals for their personal choices.

    But isn’t running for judge more than a personal choice? I see a big difference between voicing discomfort with someone’s gender i.d. or presentation as ‘too binary/ insufficiently radical,’ and voicing discomfort with someone’s choice to become an arm of state repression, more directly complicit with state violence. (Full disclosure: my dad is also a superior court judge, just like Kolakowski will be, and I have had the same ambivalence about him, as a Black man and one of the first in his position, sending other Black people to prison.) Do you think there’s an important distinction there?

    It’s true that the prison-industrial complex is not going to crumble tomorrow. No one is saying that it is. Still, I have qualms about people voluntarily becoming powerful employees and executors of the “injustice system.” And as a community, even as we love and support individuals as people, I don’t think it’s good to unquestioningly laud these inclusions as advances. (The tone in the room I was in, where Kolakowski gave the keynote speech, was definitely on the unquestioning side. Tellingly, the crowd gave her a standing ovation when she was introduced, before she had said a word — but not after her keynote talk.)

    We might disagree about the representation and integration approach; like I said, I understand that my position is controversial. But is it fundamentally unfair?

    Donna L, I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with people disparaging trans folks as a group, and effectively saying that “Whatever trans people do, it’s the wrong thing.” That’s painful, and familiar to me, and it’s true that I sometimes come at things from a critique-y, rather than celebratory attitude first. In this case, though, I don’t really understand why my comment came off that way, when 2/3 of it focused on things that I appreciated. I have mixed feelings about superior court judges, but I have much more positive feelings and gratitude for, for instance, the hosts of the Oakland TDOR, TransVision, who do kick-ass community health resourcing focusing on trans women, particularly sex workers.

    Am I understanding you both right? Hope so. Much respect.

  14. hyperspacegrrl
    November 26, 2010 at 5:08 am

    I have to admit, I have mixed feeling about TDOR, but still find it is important. At least where I live it is the only single event that brings trans people together in solidarity. It is a vital way of reminding people of the oppression that we face in its most extreme form. On the other hand; I feel it can be quite problematic on several levels.

    One problem I find is that many of those on the list weren’t nescesarily victems of transphobic violence. Yes, they were trans, but the circumstances of their deaths make it clear that the motivation for their murder was likely something else. It could be argued that while it may not have been the motivation for the crime that trasphobia was still a contributing factor leading up to the circumstances of their murder, but this is perhaps reaching. Specifically I am speaking of the overwhelming number of women on the list who were sex workers and how their line of work, not their transness, is what placed them in the murderer’s crosshairs. And I am not saying that we should’t honor these people, but that (as you can read here the murders of sex workers are being appropriated by the trans movement.

    In my own involvement with TDOR I have attempted to be mindful of reminding people of the importance that intersectionality plays in these tragedies, but it would seem this is not always the case.

    And I will echo the sentement that TDOR is depressing. It’s true, and only appropriate given what it is. Without a counterbalance, however, I feel that TDOR actually has a damaging effect on some trans people and the way they see themselves. I have seen too many people in this community become agorophobic and depressed because of the constant fear (amplified to the point of paranoia) that the same fate is waiting for them as the people we memorialize. They learn to think of themselves as victims and become withdrawn and depressed as a result.

    While I don’t think we should “swap out” TDOR for something more affirming I do think that it needs a counterpoint. We, as trans people, need a celebration not because the clouds have lifted but because if we don’t make our own light then who will? Too often we are erased from history and made to feel worthless, but what if we came together to celebrate the great achievements of those who came before us and the talents of those among us?

    And don’t tell me we have nothing to celebrate because the fact is most of us fought hard just to be standing here as who we are. Life may not be perfect by a long shot, but we’re still alive and fighting, and that’s worth celebrating.

    I humbly submit that a day be set aside to dwell on our achievements; past, present, and future. This day should be set on Sylvia Rivera’s birthday, or perhaps the date of the Compton Cafeteria Riots. It is important to remember the dead, but we also need hope.

  15. November 27, 2010 at 10:26 am

    You know what, I feel where kloncke is coming from and I think some people reacted too defensively. Yes, it is awesome and inspiring when transgendered people (and other marginalized groups) are in positions of power, influence, and are visible and present on multiple levels of society. But I still get a pain inside when I see a person I admired become someone I want to punch.
    When I see someone who I considered a role model or an ally taking part in something that I feel is harmful to myself and/or others like me I feel a sense of great disappointment. Like Dana Kirkpatrick going from my childhood hero for being a big name female racer to being a figure that depresses me just as much as Paris Hilton or Katy Perry. Yes, she’s very popular and successful now, but she’s taking part in a system that is harmful.

    On that note, trans people are people, and have no more obligation or tendency to consider or stand against the prison system or any of the other harmful systems in this country. And even as someone who absolutely despises and gets screwed over regularly by the system, I still appreciate having people who I can relate to in positions of power because I feel more represented.

    So. I can see why someone would feel a sense of loss or betrayal, but I also see that there are plenty of reasons to get over that sense of betrayal and realize that people will always strive to work within the system, we are encouraged and trained to do so our entire lives. But having people from marginalized groups working within the system can help said marginalized groups, and even help bring down or at least change the system itself. In order to create any change there needs to be people from multiple walks of life striving to create it in different ways.

  16. Odin
    November 27, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    I know I’m commenting a week late, but I just wanted to thank you for this post.

  17. GallingGalla
    November 27, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    kloncke: But isn’t running for judge more than a personal choice? I see a big difference between voicing discomfort with someone’s gender i.d. or presentation as ‘too binary/ insufficiently radical,’ and voicing discomfort with someone’s choice to become an arm of state repression, more directly complicit with state violence.

    It’s a subtle thing, kloncke, and I think you need to step back and think about it. Anybody who becomes a criminal-court judge can send marginalized people to prison, hence are complicit in the prison-industrial complex. What I see you doing is singling out Judge Kolakowski for special condemnation, as if somehow her being trans makes her more complicit in the PIC than a cis person would be. I almost hear you saying, “You’re trans, you should know better!” … I think that’s what Donna L means by “Whatever trans people do, it’s the wrong thing”.

    The fact that Kolakowski has decided to actively participate in the PIC and the fact that she’s trans are orthogonal – what’s one got to do with the other?

    I’m all for critiquing Kolakowski for actively participating in the PIC because I’m all for critiquing all criminal-court judges for actively participating in the PIC.

  18. November 27, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    The fact that Kolakowski has decided to actively participate in the PIC and the fact that she’s trans are orthogonal – what’s one got to do with the other?

    They have to do with each other because the connection is lauded — both in the OP and at the TDOR event I attended — as an example of trans individuals “doing amazing things.” In a gentle way, I am trying to say that I question whether becoming a part of the PIC is in fact an unambiguous sign of “progress,” as it is represented both in the article and in the celebration I went to. And as it has very commonly been represented in other identity-based movements, i.e. cis women and POC becoming heads of state.

    I think I should have worded it better in my original comment as not feeling uncomfortable being in the same room as Kolakowski, (as though I can’t stand being around her or something), but rather feeling uncomfortable being in a room where her career/systemic choices are being unequivocally celebrated as a sign of progress of a trans community, and of “justice and equality” more broadly.

    Like I said about my dad, like you, I do question other judges. But this wasn’t a thread about all judges. And while I agree with you that marginalized individuals don’t have a greater burden to make anti-oppressive choices because ‘they should know better,’ I think that we as a community have a responsibility to think together about thematic questions that affect our organizing, such as: what are the advantages and *disadvantages* of trying to integrate into the PIC in positions of power?

  19. Amanda in the South Bay
    November 28, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Well, to be fair (and IANAL and don’t know a thing about how the Alameda County Superior Court works) she could end up in civil, traffic, family or probate court as well.

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