Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day when the trans community and its allies pause to mourn those lost to anti-trans violence. Between October 1, 2018, and September 30, 2019, at least 30 trans or gender non-conforming individuals have been killed in the United States, the majority of whom are trans women of color. Internationally, that number rises to 331. We also gather to mourn the uncounted — those who were misgendered and misnamed by their families, the police and the press. Those who died by suicide, those who died by “accident.” Today, we say their names.
But it is not enough to remember.
There are drastic disparities between transgender people and the general population on every metric, including employment, medical care and suicide. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that transgender people experience unemployment at three times the national average and are twice as likely to be living in poverty than the general population. These numbers are even more grim when examined by demographic: While trans people are twice as likely to be living in poverty than the national average, trans people of color are three times as likely to be living in poverty when compared to the U.S. population. Nearly half of undocumented trans individuals reported experiencing homelessness, and 68 percent had encountered intimate partner violence. Transgender people with disabilities, meanwhile, were more likely than other trans individuals to have attempted suicide, to have encountered mistreatment within the health care system and to be living in poverty.
These statistics are chilling. And though the numbers would make it easy for me to try and speak on behalf of my community, that is not what I am here to do. Rather, I am writing to share a bit of my own story.
I am tired.
I can’t say exactly how many of my loved ones have experienced sexual violence, homelessness, hunger or been refused care. Not because we don’t discuss our struggles, but because these experiences are the norm. When someone in my community goes missing, it is a cause for immediate concern — the difference between life and death is a matter of seconds. Last week, another name was added to my list; he is survived by a wife and a child. For me, there is no need for a special day to remember those lost to anti-trans violence: Their names, their lives, their struggles and hopes are a constant presence.
Like many other advocates, my life is not my own. I carry the names and stories of those we have lost so their struggle is not in vain. I work for those who are trying to envision and build a future so they are never alone despite the darkness. I live for those who come behind us, who are looking for role models and hope. Each course I have taken at Williams has been in service of becoming more effective, and in service of a need greater than my own wants. Leaving the front lines of community work for the safety and respite of college may have been one of the most selfish things I have ever done, but as a mentor, coworker and leading LGBTQ activist told me, “We can’t afford for you not to go.”
And I am tired.
I am tired of seeing obituaries shared on Facebook, when many of the same people who repost articles about anti-trans violence default into binary language when discussing reproductive healthcare, sexual violence or bodily autonomy. I am tired of hearing my allies dismiss the First Amendment, which has been integral for expanding and protecting LGBTQ free expression. And I am tired of engaging with people who should, by all metrics, be allies — liberal, highly educated and well-read — only to find them paralyzed and defensive, or retreating into heady theoretical debates. Theory has a place and time, but it is not all there is. Abstract theoretical discussions do not save lives — saving lives requires pairing, informing and modifying theoretical understanding in accordance with action.
What can be done? It is important to acknowledge that people of all different gender identities need health care, but it is not enough. We must de-gender our language and work to dismantle systems of oppression — including those we perpetuate, even by accident. It is important to see that the First Amendment is being weaponized against LGBTQ protections, but it is not enough. We must recognize the way free speech and free association have been used to protect the ability of queer people to express their identities and create community. We must step outside a binary in order to interrogate our assumptions. Human rights are not a zero-sum game; there is not a limited amount of human dignity or justice available to distribute. De-gendering our assumptions does not restrict access or minimize the very real challenges faced by binary-identifying people; it simply expands the range of possibilities for action, reinvention and healing — for everyone.
I recognize that this is not without risk. Taking action means inviting the possibility of being wrong or inadvertently causing hurt. But we must allow ourselves, and others, to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn and change. It is not enough to be sympathetic; we must also recognize our responsibility. No one community can carry the burden of revolution on their own; we need each other.
I am so very tired.
I write this not to garner sympathy or pity, but rather, to encourage action: In order to meaningfully honor our dead, we must transform the world of the living. Our future depends on it.
Landon Marchant ’20 is a philosophy and sociology major and STS concentrator from Greenleaf, Wis.