Sunday, October 30, 2016
On Friday we learned the US Supreme Court will review an appeals court ruling concerning a Virginia school district’s policy that discriminates against transgender students, in this case, high school student Gavin Grimm. The policy prevents him from using the boy’s restroom. Many of us doing trans justice work have been following this case and many others across the country where governors, legislators, and even members of our own community, have been sending anything but mixed messages to transgender people, especially transgender youth, about our human rights and dignity.
As a middle-aged transgender woman I’ve been relatively fortunate in my journey, and even though I’ve been discriminated against, felt terribly alone, and made to feel like a freak, I’m still here. While the path as been challenging, I have a job, a roof over my head, friends, family, and a partner who gives me love, despite the fact that I’m a demanding princess. There are times I feel guilty that my life is good, especially when I hear so many stories of heartbreak, hate, abandonment, violence, ignorance, and shame. I think what gets to me most is people’s indifference, their silence. But I understand, talking about transgender issues can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what to say or if you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. But trust me, saying nothing is worse.
In 22 days, many around the world will gather for Transgender Day of Remembrance. November 20th is TDOR, the annual day to recognize, remember, and celebrate the lives of Transgender individuals murdered the previous year. I vividly recall attending my first TDOR, standing on the cold bricks and cobblestones of Monument Square in Portland, Maine. I felt relatively safe in the dark, illuminated only slightly by the flicker of the small Passover-like candles lit in memory of people I never met, but felt intimately connect to. In less than two months, I would embrace my identity as a trans person and begin a very public transition as a high school teacher and coach. Attending TDOR was a wake up call for me. As a privileged white girl preoccupied with the fear of loosing my job, spouse, friends, and family, I hadn’t given all that much thought to the idea I could be killed for being myself. But I knew I couldn’t go any further if I didn’t step out of the shadows and begin living.
Last year we read the names of more than 250 transgender individuals, killed for just being themselves, and that’s only the reported cases. In the US alone, there were 21 reported murders, 19 of whom were brave and beautiful trans woman of color. The intersections of race, poverty, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, colliding and cutting short lives and dreams at a moments notice. The number of murders in the US this year has already surpassed 2015.
So with the impending Supreme Court case looming on the horizon, I’m afraid this Halloween weekend, not because of what they will or wont do, but because I know regardless of their decision, it’s going to take more than a court order to change the hearts and minds of many people, including elected officials, school board members, and yes, LGBT advocates as well, some of which don’t see us completely as human beings, but as monsters, or worse, bargaining chips, a threat to people’s safety, privacy, or funding. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from other civil rights battles, it may take years (and in some cases centuries) to see the promise of progress and feel free from the stubborn and thorny grasp of bigotry and greed. In the meantime, I’m going to keep stepping into the light, even on the darkest of days.