This blog entry uses an asterisk after the prefix trans- as a way to include all non-cisgender gender identities.
November 20th is the Trans* Day of Remembrance, a day that was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as trans*, each was a victim of violence based on bias against trans* people.
As a trans* identified person who works in social services, I am often asked to speak, write, or facilitate about trans* identities and the ways that trans* people can experience oppression. November is a time when many people ask if I am going to organize or attend a vigil on the 20th. Often, I am asked questions about my personal narrative and how I feel about my personal safety and the increased risk that I must experience not being cisgender.
I often choose to attend Trans* Day of Remembrance events but not because of my own gender identity. I recognize that I hold many privileges; privileges that were not granted to many of the people whose names are read each year at vigils around the world. Many of these victims experienced multiple forms of oppression including class, race, and gender. Many of these victims were women of colour. I am White and working class. My wife and I are both university students. Although, I am a survivor of poverty, homelessness, addiction, and survival sexual exploitation, I have many privileges that allow me to now live without fear of having my name read out at the annual vigils.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is often criticized for further privileging the voices of the already-privileged. These voices are often held by White, upper-class, binary-gendered men and women who reflect the “role models” that trans* youth have in the media. The annual vigils involve activities which include reading the names of victims and the narratives of their deaths in the first person; many of these stories being told about women of colour but being told by White men of privilege. These victims are reduced to their gender identity and their experiences with intersected oppression are erased. One activist described this act as deracializing the victims and privileging transphobia as the exclusive cause of violence.
It is important for me, as a White person with class privilege, to speak up about Trans* Day of Remembrance and to continue to act in solidarity with those who experience oppression because of my unearned structural power. This power is something that I need to keep in the front of my head with the work that I do, as my work is done as a settler on unceded Coast Salish Territory. To me, working in solidarity includes calling out others on their privileges, especially in environments when White people are acting as martyrs on the backs of the trans* people whose names are read every year. This may cause more “fracture” within the “trans* community”, but these vigils are not about me. My personal narrative is not one of a survivor, but one who aims to be an ally and support to those who are surviving.
Written by Tash Wolfe, WAVAW Volunteer