Trans People Are More Than the Violence Done to Us

by Carl Charles

I’m not a big fan of Trans Day of Remembrance.

It’s a hard day for me and many other trans people. Marking a day to “remember those we’ve lost” feels like a misnomer. Most of us never forget the violence and abuse that our community members have experienced—largely because it is happening, right now. How can we “remember” something that is currently happening to us? How can we “remember” something that isn’t in the past?

We don’t need to “remember” anything; it’s sitting with us every day.

I don’t need to “remember” the violence connected to our community when for myself and many others, that was the first image of trans people we saw. I learned about the existence of trans people at age 18, when I watched Boys Don’t Cry, a film based on the brief life and violent murder of Brandon Teena. What does it mean for me, and for so many trans people, that the first reflection we see of ourselves is one of violence and torture having the audacity to exist?

I don’t need to “remember” that the world seems to only take notice of trans women of color when they’ve been taken from us, when they’re gone. Though this is slowly starting to change with more visible trans women of color in popular culture like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Angelica Ross, Peppermint, Munroe Bergdof, the reality is that most trans women of color are not famous. Most trans women lack the economic privilege to access services and support free from discrimination on the basis of their race and gender identity.

For some trans women of color, Trans Day of Remembrance will be the only day that they are acknowledged by the larger LGB community, by the world.

Trans Day of Remembrance is important, but it is simply not enough when the average life expectancy for trans women is 35. 

I don’t need to “remember” Angie Zapata (content warning for the linked article for pervasive misgendering, graphic descriptions of violence), a beloved young latinx woman from Ft. Lupton, Colorado. I don’t need to remember her because I am always thinking about her, about the promise of her life and how she brought joy to her family and friends.

Angie, like some of us trans folks, knew who she was early on in life and felt safe to share it with her friends and family. Two of Angie’s sisters, Stephanie and Ashely, let her express her authentic identity when her parents weren’t home. Stephanie was gay and had compassion for Angie’s experiences being bullied and was always standing up for her. Angie was gentle with her family and a great listener, but knew how to make people laugh, especially her best friend Rochelle Camacho.

When Angie came out to Rochelle at Fort Lupton Middle School, Rochelle said “I loved her so much it didn’t matter to me.” Rochelle’s house was another safe space where Angie could be herself and practice doing make-up and hair—something that she dreamed of doing professionally. Rochelle’s response the first time Angie brought over mascara and girl’s clothes was “[h[ell, yeah. If that’s what you want to wear, let’s wear it.”

Later, Angie and Rochelle applied together to a cosmetology program at Artistic Beauty College in Thornton, Colorado.

Rochelle remembers that the beauty school officials told Angie she would have to go by her birth name and present more masculine. Rochelle was livid, and neither young woman enrolled in the program.

Angie grew up in a traditional Mexican family, and at first her mother Maria found it difficult to accept her daughter for the woman she was. But over time, Maria saw Angie’s suffering and learned to love and accept her, wanting to protect her from the harshness of a world that did not understand or care about transgender people.

Angie was vibrant, loving, funny and talented young woman. I wonder often what the world would look like with her in it.

When I say that I don’t like TDOR, I do not mean that we shouldn’t mourn, lift up, and honor those who are gone. We absolutely should, but faith without works is useless. We know that love is a verb, that it always protects, always hopes, always trusts. In the words of ACT UP, “we must remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Mourning our losses without fighting like hell to end the epidemic of violence against trans women of color is shame to the memory of those lives, like Angie’s, that were ended before they really began.

Please take time to reach out to the transgender people in your life to acknowledge that today is not the only day that we are cognizant of the pernicious violence done to our community.

Take time to acknowledge that we are more than the violence done to us.

Take time to express your support and solidarity to your trans friends, family members and community. If you don’t have transgender people in your circle of friends, family, or community (that you know of), please consider what that means for you, and for us. We cannot support and love those who we don’t know. Please, today, seek out ways to support transgender people, and particularly trans women of color in your neck of the woods. Find your local LGBT center. I guarantee they have a support group for transgender youth and/or adults. Ask to support that group, bring food or provide transportation. Find ways to support the trans community more broadly by offering your talents and skills and yes, your money.

Transgender people experience discrimination at every turn, and we need the community of caring Christian cisgender allies to stand with us.

Let Us Live
By Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

I’m tired of abstraction.
No one says what they mean
and people die from it.
Where did this world come from?
Not nowhere.
Not nothing.
The dead trans women
you glance over
for a few seconds on facebook
while deciding if the story is worth sharing
all came from somewhere.
Their bodies are not flowers
for you to whisper
to people you’ll never know.
There were words that did this.
There were hands
and guns
and teeth
and flesh
and hair
and blood
and men
and women
and laws
and policies
and police
and witnesses
that did this.
How long can I keep tricking you
into thinking what I’m doing
is poetry
and not me begging you
to let us live?

Pictured above: Trans Chorus of Los Angeles by WehoCity