Jasper’s speech for Transgender Day of Remembrance

[content note: transphobia; violence; suicide]

I want to talk about remembrance.

I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t have such a day as today, that we should focus on celebrating how far we’ve come instead of remembering how much we’ve lost. And perhaps we should have a day of celebration as well, but we have lost so much. For the majority of trans* people, there is not much to celebrate and there is very much to mourn.

It is our lot to remember because others will not, because authorities will not, because we are still estranged from dominant culture. Social power structures dictate what kind of lives are to be considered worth grieving, and Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded to mourn some of those lives which do not fit into that framework.

And I want to talk about loss.

When people are killed because they are like you, you carry them with you. We have built universes under our skin. Our lives and losses are not reflected elsewhere in this culture. Our history is, for the most part, a silent one. We are the only ones who will preserve it. Storytelling is integral to activism and we need these stories to be told and heard.

But this is not really about us. This is about the dead. This is our day of the dead. This is for their stories.

Not all those who have died because of transphobia identified as transgender: some of them had other words; some of them had no words; some of them were not transgender at all but were killed for not conforming to social gender norms.

This is a list of the dead. We do not have all their names. And there are many names that are not on this list.

There is no list that includes the names of all those whose deaths were not reported; of those who went missing; of those who were not reported missing; of those who died because of transphobic doctors; of those who died because they could not access shelters; of those who were imprisoned for being trans*; of those who were imprisoned because they were HIV positive; of those who died of AIDS; of those who committed suicide because of transphobia; of those who survived suicide attempts; of those who survived assault.

This is to remember not only those who are invisible to the rest of society but also those who have been made invisible to us.

[This is the list of the reported murdered trans* people who died between 15 November 2011 — 14 November 2012 (pdf), which was read immediately after this speech.]

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Transphobia as a feminist issue

[content note: transphobia; homophobia; prostitution; violence; rape]

This Tuesday 20th November, Hampshire Feminist Collective are holding a candlelight vigil for Transgender Day of Rembrance.

It’s so important for us as feminists to stand up against trans* hate crimes and discrimination, particularly as feminism has a bad history of transphobia. I am proud of my part in organising this event and to be part of a feminist group that stands publically against transphobia.

Some people may wonder what a feminist group is doing organising a trans* event. They might suggest that we should be concentrating on ‘women’s issues’.

I would remind them that the majority of those trans* people murdered are women. I would also point out that these murders generally fall into the category of male violence against women. That many of those trans women who are murdered are first subject to rape and sexual assault. Male violence against women is not confined to cis women but is an issue for trans and cis women alike.

By extension male violence as a reinforcement of power and privilege exists beyond male violence against women. It manifests itself in the form of a heteropatriarchy where anyone who falls outside of the heteronormative sphere of masculinity or gender norms is subject to violence and intimidation. The ultimate display of power and masculinity often being through rape, with women, queer cis men, trans men and nonbinary people being subject to attacks as a way of ‘de-masculinising’ them and reinforcing power structures.

I would also point out to those who wonder if trans* issues are feminist ones that sadly a large proportion of trans* people who are murdered are sex workers forced into prostitution because of poverty, discrimination and lack of options. We know as feminists that those in prostitution often experience hideous and dehumanising violence. That the johns often don’t see prostitutes as human at all, but rather as vessels for their own pleasure. Prostitution is one of the most dangerous ‘jobs’ in the world, with high levels of murder, violence and rape, and the people forced into it are usually the most vulnerable people in society. It is also a gendered issue, the majority of johns being cis men; it is a sad truth of society that power, money and the sex industry are horribly interlinked. So the fact is that so many trans* people around the world are in prostitution and that so many of those trans* people who were murdered were sex workers. That is definitely a feminist issue.

It’s also worth noting that a huge part of what causes transphobia is fear when ideas around fixed binary gender and sex roles are challenged: the binary gender roles that we as feminists spend so much time fighting against. We are brought up in a society and culture that places everyone in two neat boxes from birth. When we challenge that binary, either through ideas or our lived existence, we are challenging the foundations that a lot of people base their lives around. When a trans* person is murdered or attacked for being trans* they are being attacked because their very existence challenges the idea of fixed binary gender roles.

There are other complex intersectional feminist layers involved in trans* hate crime as well, however, that I should mention. There are layers of class that I have already alluded to; the fact that so many of those murdered live in poverty or are forced into dangerous situations and work like prostitution; the fact that many of those murdered are people of colour (something that is noted in many of the details of US victims), and their deaths are often tied into issues of racism and economic status.

There is also the interlinking of transphobia and homophobia to be accounted for. Many transphobic attacks being part of homophobic violence with trans* people being singled out as more visibly ‘queer’ and ‘other’. There is the constant fear of being ‘tricked’ into homosexuality: for example, that if a straight cis male discovers a woman he was attracted to is trans then this is a devious trick to ‘make’ him gay. The stereotyping of trans women as ‘predatory’ is linked to the stereotyping of gay cis men as ‘predatory’ via the ignorant belief that trans women are ‘really’ gay men.

Finally, our group isn’t a ‘women’s group’. It is a feminist group made up of women and men, trans* and cis people, binary- and nonbinary-identified people. Hampshire Feminist Collective, was in part formed because of the need for a supportive and safe trans* inclusive feminist space. Part of being a supportive and inclusive space is not dismissing trans* issues as ‘not feminist enough’.

Part of intersectional feminist thought is recognising that all oppressions are interlinked, and to quote Audre Lorde: ‘There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.’

So yes, violence against trans* people is most definitely an important feminist issue and one you should care about.

If you can attend our event this Tuesday, please do.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, candlelight vigil

poster by rose burns

Text in image: Commercial Road, Southampton, SO14 7LW
Transgender Day of Remembrance: candlelight vigil
20 November, 7.30pm, outside Southampton Central Library

Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual international event founded in the wake of the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman of colour, which was the impetus for the Remember Our Dead project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999.

On this day we honour the dead and the survivors and express support and respect for trans* people everywhere.

Hampshire Feminist Collective have organised a candlelight vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Please spread the word, invite your friends. Be there to remember with us.

Q. Why is a feminist group organising this event?
A. We see hate crime against trans people as no different than any violence against any minority. As such it is important to make a stand against it as trans* feminists and allies. As feminists, we believe any kind of violence or discrimination against someone because of their gender or gender presentation is unacceptable.

Q. Why do you put a * after trans*?
A. The * in trans* is to signify its status as an umbrella term; it includes all binary- and non-binary identified people

Being ‘out’: the personal is political

[content note: mental health, homophobia, reproductive rights, rape culture]

I’ve recently been struggling with my mental health. This has led me to consider how open I should be about my mental health with others — if I should admit it to other people, if I should post publically on facebook about it. I guess the worry is always that people will judge me and think less of me. It feeds into my own shame and feelings of failure because I am struggling.

Recently, though, I’ve started to take a new approach. To be ‘out’ about my mental health issues, to talk openly and honestly about them. This doesn’t necessarily mean to go into great detail, simply to try not to be ashamed of it. To answer questions honestly, to tell friends if it’s a bad day. To recognise that having poor mental health isn’t something I should brush under the carpet and pretend doesn’t exist for other people’s comfort.

This has got me thinking about how I live my life in general. I am gay so I am ‘out’ in the traditional sense as well. I don’t play the ‘pronouns game’ (where you avoid using gendered pronouns and words when talking about your partner). I talk very openly about being gay and I hold hands with and kiss partners in public as long as it feels safe to do so. Being open about such things prevents a lot of the stress and anxiety that comes from being closeted and allows me to be myself. However, it is more than simply personal: I see being out as a political act. Being visibly gay normalises homosexuality; if people see gay people and know gay people then we are more than simply an invisible minority. Being open provides positive role models and helps young people accept their own sexuality and other people to accept them. I am thankful for those pioneers who came out before me, who said publically that being gay is okay and I’m not ashamed.

I’ve decided, then, to be ‘out’ about my own poor mental health. To talk openly about it and go some small way to erase the stigma. To say, ‘I’m not ashamed of this and you shouldn’t be either,’ to advocate for better mental health services and angrily defend benefits. Being ‘out’ is a political and, I think, deeply feminist act and one that can be transferred to all manner of other issues. I am thinking of the survivors who raise their voice and say, ‘I was raped,’ of the women who say, ‘I had an abortion.’ It challenges taboos and raises consciousness. It opens discussions and allows us to talk and campaign for rights, services and change. Without those who raise their voices and come ‘out’ then we would see no change.

This is not to say that staying closeted is a shameful thing or that people should at all times be out. I recognise that my being out is a personal decision that comes from a position of privilege. I am lucky and privileged to live in a time and a place that I can be out both as gay and as suffering from mental health problems, which in other countries and cultures could cause me to be to be disowned or killed. Speaking about rape is an incredibly brave thing to do and can often be traumatic and triggering for survivors. Not everyone wants to talk about their experiences or should feel they have to. People can lose their jobs when they admit to mental health issues; I know this. We have the right to privacy and to remain silent, to protect ourselves and those we love.

However, I would urge people where possible to come ‘out’. To recognise the political and transformative power of being open and honest about our own experiences.  To say I will not remain silent and I will not be ashamed.