I plan to share this piece at the Center on Halsted’s TDOR event on Sunday. I hope you can make it.
I have a confession to make: This isn’t the piece I planned to perform when Precious asked me to participate in the Transgender Day of Remembrance at the Center on Halsted. I planned to perform something I had written months ago, titled “I’m Sorry.’ I shared it on this stage at Queer is Community a few months ago, and I’ve been sharing it as part of my one-woman show, Storms Beneath Her Skin, at theatre festivals and colleges around the country.
“I’m Sorry,” the piece I planned to perform, is a list of apologies. At first, it seems sincere: “I’m sorry for making you confused, and causing you to question what male and female means.” As it progresses, the piece becomes less and less apologetic and more and more angry: “I am sorry for refusing to stand silent, for being a voice of frustration and anger and depression.” The piece is cathartic to perform, and seemed appropriate for this event. As recently as Friday, that was my planned performance.
For better or for worse, I won’t be sharing it with you tonight.
On Friday afternoon, someone posted a link on Facebook to a Chicago Phoenix article. In it, June LaTrobe, the Center’s former transgender programming coordinator, explained that she resigned from the Center, which had accepted a $250 donation from the Human Rights Campaign for this event. In June’s words, the Center is allowing the HRC – which backed a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which did not include protection for trans people – to “buy its way back into the trans community’s good graces.” I don’t know that I agree with June about whether or not the Center should be accepting money from HRC, but I respect her position and the integrity it took to resign over her disagreement with the Center.
Her resignation prompted quite a bit of discussion on Facebook, and got me thinking about my own participation in this event. How do I feel about the Center accepting money from HRC? How do I feel about the Center as a whole? How do I feel about the Trans Day of Remembrance and, more broadly, my place in the trans community?
Those are difficult questions, but ones worth examining.
I’d like to think the HRC can learn from its mistakes, and give it the benefit of the doubt. I can understand why others, like June, don’t feel the same way. But what about the Center as a whole? To my knowledge, the Trans Day of Remembrance is the largest yearly trans-specific event held by the Center. A day of remembrance. A day of togetherness. And, all too often, a day of white, privileged people like me talking about trans women of color and the dangers they face. I’m sorry, the dangers “we” face. A day where we read names like Popinha (killed in Brazil this past January) or Tyrell (killed in Florida this past April) or we talk about people like Paige Clay, a trans woman of color who was murdered in Garfield Park this past April.
Don’t misunderstand me: all trans people face discrimination. Face adversity. Face danger. I was fired in 2010 for being trans, and know all too well how it feels to be told you’re not good enough because of something you are rather than your skills or qualifications. As a community, we need to stand together: black, white, male, female, genderqueer, gay, straight, bi, monogamous, poly, and all the other identities and combinations of identities I’m not listing. I have trans friends who were kicked out of their homes by their parents, forced off hormones after losing their jobs, pushed into sex work or the drug trade because those were the only doors they felt were open to them.
But I couldn’t stand here and perform my original piece, which discusses how difficult “we” have it, without acknowledging that the “we” of the trans community is a big “we;” it would be unfair of me to pretend that every member of the trans community faces the exact same obstacles. An injustice to one is an injustice to all, but – quite frankly – I’m not likely to be harassed by the Chicago Police or end up murdered in an alleyway, simply because I was born with a lucky, lighter skin color than some of my trans brothers and sisters. We all face the same dangers, but it is irresponsible to pretend we all face them equally.
So where does that leave me? More importantly, where does that leave the Trans Day of Remembrance?
I’ll be honest, I’m ready to retire the Trans Day of Remembrance. Or, at the very least, see it transformed significantly. The TDOR website has pictures of white people like me talking about people with darker skin being killed, and I don’t like being one more privileged white woman pretending that, by lighting a candle, I’ve made a difference. Likewise, many of the cisgender people here are amazing allies of the trans community, acting up and speaking out every single day. But I suspect some of you are less frequent allies, who come to the Transgender Day of Remembrance and then don’t think about trans issues the other 364 days of the year.
Instead of the TDOR as it currently exists, I have a different idea. A call for November 2013, to contain a Transgender Day of Action. Lets use the next year to figure out where the HRC’s $250, the start of all this discussion, could be put to use. Would it be with GenderJust? The Night Ministry? The Broadway Youth Center? Soy Quien Soy? An organization that I haven’t heard of, or that doesn’t yet exist?
As trans people, we’re used to being pushed aside or forgotten about. The Stonewall Riots (and the Compton Cafeteria Riots which preceded them) were full of strong trans women of color. The gay rights movement forget or ignored them for 40 years. Occupy Wall Street was founded in part by fantastic trans women in New York City, and its website continues to be updated by them every day. The mainstream media hasn’t once made a note of this, and Occupy Wall Street actually had a “women born women” space for a while at its encampment in New York.
But we will keep fighting for our rights, in spite of and because of the fact that we’re pushed aside. More trans people will be killed this next year. Given how things have gone in the past, they’re most likely to be trans women of color. But rather than counting them at a day of remembrance, lets fight for them at a day of action.