Tl;dr: What I’m not saying: don’t engage with TDOR if you are white and/or if you are cis or that your care/engagement/effort is wrong. What I am saying: let today be an invitation to be mindful. reflect. think critically about how this day has been shaped in recent years by large gay organizations and media. listen to what this day’s roots might have to teach you about real solidarity, about centering those most affected, and whether or not you are in relationship with the ones you grieve. I am still un-learning a lot. But, I’m so grateful for those who invited me to begin.
This day holds so much.
Grief. Disappointment. Betrayal. Apathy. Community. Remembrance and resilience. Layers of complication facilitated by the influence of Big Gay orgs and compounded by great and terrible intentions of cis people and white trans people. The day is, in effect, more broadly impactful on trans people than is even related to TDOR specifically. And on days like these, social media can be the best or the worst – or a mix of both.
To my trans-kin, take care of you and each other, in all the good, and bad, loud and silent that swirls.
Over the years, I have cycled through a wave of different feelings about my own relationship to the roots and practices of TDOR and its relationship to church. Before I was out to myself as trans, I helped host a TDOR service at my church in TX at the encouragement of a trans woman in our congregation. A few trans people from the community came. It felt right at the time. Like an offering of space that was needed and recognition of lives society neglects…
And then when I later came out as trans, the day brought new grief. Especially in the past, there were so few days where trans people were acknowledged to exist at all. I remember when trans liberationist Leslie Feinberg died five days before TDOR and so few in my cis/queer circles at the time even seemed to know of Leslie. Or could fathom the great loss. Experiences like that make the always-there differences so apparent. It was lonely. A recognition of how little people know or care about trans people, trans history, trans rights. I brought all my trans-grief, not for the first time, to TDOR.
It seemed the only place to welcome it.
But over the years, my own relationship to TDOR as a white, nonbinary trans person who is largely perceived as a cis queer woman, has changed and continues to change.
I have been a part of so many well-meaning church services and programs like the one(s) I have helped lead, and no longer do I do so. With few exceptions, no longer am I willing to write liturgies for such services for others to lead and host. Not for majority cis and majority-white and affluent communities. Neither do I turn to TDOR to center my own trans-grief.
Trans Day of Remembrance – wherein the overwhelming majority – almost every single one of this year’s 331 – are trans women and femme people of color with a 61% majority sex worker and a lot of structural poverty – is not my grief ritual to appropriate, even as I authentically mourn.
And it certainly is not for churches who are overwhelmingly white and cis who – maybe – know one or two trans people, likely white, but do not do the work of trans liberation the rest of the year. I believe well-meaning cis people have been largely led to believe this is the best action to take, but I invite reconsideration.
TDOR began as a day for people who lost their real-life friend(s) to grieve the loss of that person’s life. And then when more life was taken, more community gathered.
But here we are, in this strange time where trans people continue to face significant hazards to safety and well-being (with significantly disproportionate barriers for trans women – especially trans women of color – most especially trans women of color who are facing poverty) but also experiencing an incredible rise of mainstream acceptance over the last few years. And it’s a beautiful intention, I think, that so many people desire to get on-board with engaging/hosting TDOR. I trust it comes from all the right places.
But hosting TDOR services with little to no actual relationship to the people nor the communities that represent the ones we keep losing to this particular kind of violence…can feel a bit objectifying. Can be a bit performative. Can end up functioning as a day to check off responsibility before life goes on the same the next day. Even when heart and feeling and humility are there, I wonder more and more about what it means to host the grief of a community if there is no relationship to it.
If trans lives were actually to be centered in churches and other faith communities, in local and national communities, and in the LGBTQIA movements at large the rest of the year, perhaps TDOR would look different in these ways:
1. If trans life got more than two days of organized cis/queer attention each year, perhaps all of us who bear trans-pain, who lose our friends and loved ones to suicide all too regularly, who are isolated, discriminated against, afraid or forgotten, harassed, policed, etc would tend to our pain in more regular ways and appropriately invite allies into genuine solidarity with us to create meaningful structural change – without appropriating TDOR.
2. We could (we should choose to do this anyway) focus on actually hearing the needs and desires of those most affected by TDOR and respond appropriately. And – reflect on whether or not it’s an appropriate time or context to be the host on this particular day.
3. We could turn our attention toward the structures of violence that need our tending in ways that are authentic to each of our lives and relationships. All who care about the lives of trans women of color, our work is before us: we can work on addressing white supremacy wherever we are already living and relating and practicing our faith, we can unlearn patriarchy, we can fight for the decriminalization of sex work and learn about how FOSTA/SESTA is doing great harm. We can give monetary support to groups like the Trans Woman of Color Collective. We can tell the truth about whose lives are most at risk and preach in solidarity with BlackLivesMatters and work to Abolish ICE who detain and abuse trans women seeking asylum at the border.
But especially that part about addressing white supremacy and misogyny and transphobia in our own communities. Our own churches. Our own schools or kids’ schools. Our own laws. Our own minds and hearts. Even if the violence doesn’t manifest in the forms reflected by TDOR, trust me – it is still manifesting. See the log in your own eye and all that. There are additional suggestions here. Do these first, then consider if hosting a TDOR is right for your community.
4. We could focus less on the sensationalist media and more on the structures that enable violence against trans people. We could search out and listen to more multi-dimensional stories and narratives of what it means to be black trans women, to be sex workers, to be trans in any way. We could focus more on structural and relational impact than the pressures to express care and commitment through the narrow lens of social media alone. As Janet Mock wrote in 2013 of the flat narratives about trans women of color,
“An example of this pervasive correlation between trans womanhood and violence is embodied in the fullness of my email inbox throughout the month of November. My inbox was inundated with requests from organizations and organizers soliciting me to write an essay, give an interview, attend a vigil or speak at a college for Trans Day of Remembrance. I am never as popular in February (Black History Month) or March (Women’s History Month, and Trans Day of Visibility), as I am in November.
Often times, cis folks only think of and speak trans women of color’s names around November, when our collective consciousness is occupied by the names of sisters and siblings many of us did not know, and a handful of living trans women of color are finally invited to give remarks about our fallen sisters and siblings.”
If you are not at least actively in relationship with anyone who is living among the intersections of poverty, anti-blackness, misogyny, and transphobia, then that’s something to be aware of in relation to TDOR.
Yes – it’s important and valuable and meaningful to remember those killed. To grieve the loss of their lives and the violence inflicted around the world. To speak up in support of trans people and of how you’re committing to confronting misogyny, white supremacy, poverty, and anti-trans hatred. It’s important to pray. To confess. To hold. Please don’t stop doing those things. But part of learning how to enflesh radical solidarity is learning to reflect also on where and how to best do these things based on who we are – each of us. The answers are never universal.
If I am asked/invited to join in solidarity of grief, to gather at a TDOR organized by those whose lives are most affected, I try to show up like I would for any other memorial of a beloved’s beloved – not making it about me, not inappropriately taking up space, not hosting the memorial without asking if that’s needed, but showing up, communicating care, support, offering assistance, and enfleshing the love of relationship and of in-it-together-all-year-long.
There’s an article I return to every year. Understanding it more deeply and wrestling in different ways each time. Much of what I have shared above, I first began to learn from Maryam here. I offer an invitation to linger in, wrestle with, argue back, talk over it with someone else, and in this rare case – actually do read the comments as the disagreement is important too – as a simple contribution to showing up genuinely to the ache that is held on this day.
– Rev. M Barclay