It was 1998 when Rita Hester, a young Black trans woman, was found dead in Alston, Massachusetts. Her death led me to begin to chronicle our deaths, feeling that if we aren’t aware of those we’ve lost, we can only keep repeating our losses. As a result, for the last quarter century, the middle of November has been consumed with the Remembering Our Dead project and the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
I had hoped that, by drawing attention to the vast number of people who are murdered each year, simply because people hate and fear transgender people, that perhaps we could move the needle. The hope was that we would see fewer deaths, not more.
Yet, I find we live in difficult times.
Transgender people have been cast as the villains, painted as rapists and predators seeking to corrupt the youth. Our rights are routinely under threat, as statehouses across the US — not to mention the governments in the UK and elsewhere — seek to remove transgender people from our lives and livelihoods, and do their best to outlaw even the slightest care for transgender people.
All the while, we have seen trans community events and drag storytimes attacked by violent bigots, seeking to shut down any public presentation of trans and gender non-conforming behavior. Even large corporations have been affected, as Target was forced to remove materials from their stores after facing violence against their employees, and Anheuser-Busch faced bomb threats and boycotts all for the crime of making a single can featuring the face of trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney.
When I saw the first Transgender Day of Remembrance events take shape, I applauded our courage, our stand to create visibility of who we are and what we faced. Now, I draw seeing our courage used as a way to further attack us, and worry that a TDOR event could be the next target of a mass shooter seeking to purge transgender people from the world.
This year has seen more than two dozen people murdered due to anti-transgender violence and hatred, with over half being Black trans women, and nearly 90% being people of color. They join the hundreds killed worldwide in 2023, and the thousands that we know of over the last 25 years.
My community is no stranger to death, particularly in these difficult times.
The thing is, if given a chance to thrive, you would be amazed by the people I’ve known who are trans, who are nonbinary, gender queer, or gender fluid, who are drag performers of all sorts, and who are delightfully, wonderfully, unapologetically themselves.
We have incredible gifts to offer, those of us who are wise enough to understand our gender identity in ways that many choose to never see, and who are able to express this in fashions few would dare to try. Our ability to see ourselves, and present ourselves, and be ourselves informed every aspect of ourselves, and makes us better people as a result.
I think that, for those who hate transgender people — even though they always rankle at the term “transphobia” — it truly is a fear they feel. They see people who are not bound in ways they cannot even envision, and that strength terrifies them in ways they also cannot express.
Yet to me, in these difficult times, that inner strength present in our community is the one thing that fuels my hope. This is a time that we, as a community, need to be there for each other, to hold each other through the pain and sorrow, to champion ourselves, to honor those we lost, and to join in a harmony of voices in recognizing that even as so many will seek to hold us down, we will still rise.
This November, I also want to note one more thing we’ve seen over the last few years. As bigots and Internet edgelords have sought to demonize transgender people, and as politicians have sought to use us as both a scapegoat for society’s ills and a distraction from their own malfeasance, we are seeing a change.
Last week saw yet another November tradition play out, with an off-year vote. Yes, we did see transgender people win elections, such as Senator Danica Roem of Virginia, and Andrea Jenkins’ re-election to the Minneapolis City Council, but there’s much more.
The right — after months of anti-transgender bills becoming laws — then worked their way through the courts after the media continually helped push an anti-trans narrative through opinion pieces, and after so much intense hatred focused on transgender people and other examples of gender nonconformity. In many election battles, anti-trans sentiment was a part of the worst political adverts. We saw, however, that none of this aided the right at the ballot box.
Now, I am not so naive to expect this to change anything in the short term. We are moving into a presidential election year, and I can only expect that being anti-transgender is simply too dear to the right-wing to see them jettison it now. Yet, I don’t think it will serve them well, as voters are beginning to see through it all.
So, that is what I wish to leave you with. We are bruised and battered. We are living with trauma and pain. We hurt, both for ourselves, and for those in our community taken too soon.
Yet, even now, in these difficult times, we can see possibility — and, yes, we can hope.
Gwen Smith hopes you will find a local TDOR event to be a part of. You can find her at www.gwensmith.com.