Recently, I’ve noticed transgender issues a lot in the news and on social media.
On the one hand, it’s a good thing! Over the past couple of years, trans girls have been in Rolling Stone, there have been trans actresses in hugely popular TV shows, Katie Couric has been downright educated and there’s been countless projects aimed at helping transgender people do everything from pee in safety to find a place to live.
The problem comes from one simple fact: a vast majority of these victories will happen, be shared on social media for a while, maybe they’ll be seen by people already savvy to transgender issues, and then they burn out. With the exception of Orange is The New Black and Laverne Cox’s involvement, most people I know don’t even remember the rest of the things I listed or, in some cases, haven’t even heard of them.
You know what everyone does remember for a long time? Trans death.
Off the top of my head, I can name 12 people who fall under the transgender umbrella who have died this year, 9 of whom were murdered. There have been countless more that have been murdered or who committed suicide that just didn’t come to my attention, I’m sure. And I’m not just talking about a 12 month period; I’m talking about in the calendar year 2015.
Each and every one of these deaths are tragic and deserve respect, though I’ve noticed a really disturbing pattern with these deaths.
Every time a trans individual is found dead, there’s an initial point of mourning in the transgender community. We feel the loss of our brother, our sister or our sibling. Some of us more than others. After it’s rippled through the transgender community it gets to the rest of the LGBTQIA community and then trickles into mainstream media if the story has already taken over tumblr and twitter already.
When the news trickles into the rest of the community you’ll see outpourings of love from community members and impassioned speeches from our cisgender allies talking about how trans lives matter, trans suicide is horrible and we need to break down a system that systematically works against our transgender population. These discussions will go for 1 or 2 weeks for a normal story, upwards of a month if it really caused an effect.
And then…nothing. Silence. Static on the radio. People just get back to their lives as if nothing had ever actually happened. Maybe someone will make a remark about how bad it is that there has been so much death this year, but after that it’s the big elephant in the room.
I understand why this is. After all, why would someone want to think about a corpse when they’re ordering a wedding cake?
After the silence, sometimes a trans celebrity will say something profound, or they’ll be especially sassy. Maybe they’ll even make a biting political commentary. People might remark on it, it might trend on facebook for a weekend. And then more of the same silence.
Meanwhile, average transgender people live their daily lives, still having to deal with everything from rude stares from coworkers to not being allowed to use a public restroom to being denied jobs or housing over your gender identity. Nonbinary identities are even mocked in supposedly liberal and intersectional circles. Ballot measures are proposed giving transgender people protections along with the rest of the LGBTQIA community, and then the bill is carefully reworded to remove all protections for gender identity. After all, we can’t have the weird ones make bills difficult to pass. And then the bill passes, and suddenly it’s a great boon for everyone in the queer community. Suddenly, we’ve all achieved equality. The work is done. It is well.
We need to remember our trans brothers, sisters and siblings. We need to remember all the Leelahs and Blakes and Tajas and Tys and Yazmins and countless other transgender people who have died. We need to look up to celebrities, to all the Lavernes and Janets and Carmens and Sylvias that make a change in the national dialogue.
And then we need to take that remembrance, and take that veneration, and use it to work in our own communities, help our own loved ones and build our own equality. We need to remember that all trans lives matter. Even the living ones. Even the ordinary ones.