Reflections on Trans Day Of Remembrance, Intersectionality, and Religion

This one is dedicated to my chosen-family and my trans sisters: y’all know who you are!

We just observed another Trans Day of Remembrance. Leading up to TDOR, I led five workshops for primarily cis audiences. I will never cease to be amazed at how many cis people are obsessed with what trans people do in the toilet. And I swear, the way cis folks are interested in what’s in my pants, you’d think they all work for the TSA.

I’m almost as tired of Trans 101 as I am of TDOR itself. Don’t get me wrong: like “It Gets Better”, TDOR has both room for criticism as well as the potential for good. The statistics won’t stop going up on their own. We should be having vigils.

It’s just that… On a personal level, it’s hard to spend every day, literally every day, for over a week dwelling on death in my community. Especially in D.C., where many of our own are on the list of the murdered. It feels like only yesterday that we lost NaNa Boo.

More generally, while I support TDOR on the whole, there are two ways I think it could be better:

(1) Acknowledging the Intersections of Oppression

Too often we portray the deaths of trans people (primarily women of color) as disconnected instances of hateful prejudice. As though trans people only die when transphobia motivates one evil person to kill us, randomly.

This does happen. But the narrow focus can obscure the link between sexism, racism, mental illness, poverty, and all the other social systems that place trans people at an increased risk of violence, and put certain trans people at more of a risk than others.

At TDOR, for example, a lot (maybe even most) of the names we read off are names of sex workers. But we never mention that gentrification leads wealthy business owners and condo-dwellers to call for more anti-sex work laws because the presence of sex workers hurts their property values, and that these policies directly put more trans women in positions where they are likely to be arrested, injured, or killed.

At TDOR, why do we oppose abstract ideas like “transphobia”, but not concrete actions like police raids on sex workers or broader systems like capitalism and colonialism? They both have the same outcome: Putting trans women in harm’s way.

Me and part of my fam’ at D.C. TDOR 2010

(2) De-emphasize Christianity

I don’t know about other cities, but here in D.C., TDOR is essentially a christian church service. There are prayers, hymns, and pastors.

I was raised as a born-again fundamentalist christian. I respect many individual christians, but I also hold christianity (as an institution) responsible for most of the suffering I’ve faced, and much of the oppression in our world.

As a teenager, my sexuality and gender forced me to lose my religion and thus my belief structure, my family, my home, and my safety. My biological family believed 9/11 signaled the Apocalypse and Obama is the Antichrist. I was taught that Satan planted dinosaur fossils to deceive the Faithful into questioning God’s Word. Doubt meant eternal torment and damnation. (Today I am a moon-worshiping pagan. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I believe in the relevance of recognizing the power and sacredness of the regular-natural, and showing due respect to the forces that sustain life.)

Given my history, the christian elements of the service make me very uncomfortable. I resent that the service is not accessible to people of other faiths (or atheists).

One performer sang, “When I’m lost, I reach out to Jesus.” A friend leaned over and said to me, “Jesus is the reason I can’t go home.” I know a lot of us there, myself included, were thinking the same thing.

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