On Transgender Day of Remembrance, We Mourn Those Killed. What About the Living?

Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is celebrated each year on November 20, all over the world, sees transgender and nonbinary people come together with their families and friends to light candles. the names of trans people killed by anti-trans violence over the past year.

Although the list is getting longer each year the demographics of the people who die tend to stay the exact same: women,/or females; people who struggled with next-to-no income; Black, Latinx, or Indigenous people; and immigrants. There’s no Census or large study to track the life expectancy of queer, transAnd gender-nonconforming people; but considering the disproportionate rates of violence, depression, suicide, employment discrimination and incarceration, common wisdom among community members holds that if you’re a trans person of color, living past the age of 35 is a feat.

There are many groups. starting with BreakOUT! in New Orleans, have decided to observe “Transgender Day of Resilience” instead of “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” to honor the people who survive against the odds instead of the norm: acknowledging their struggles only when they’re gone.

For those who make it to the next TDOR, resilience is a vital quality. They face right-wing efforts to eliminate health care for transgender persons in states like Arkansas and Alabama. Meanwhile, getting a living wage job is harder than it already is for non-trans people, even if they’re fortunate enough to be in one of the few places with LGBT employment nondiscrimination laws. Harassment by police for “Walking While Trans” is an everyday worry. Anti-trans hate-posting by trans-exclusionary radical feminists, such as JK Rowling (the billionaire author behind Harry Potter), is a common online encounter.

Jemma DeCristo, a housing activist, is one of a few trans professors in the University of California system. She works in the African American Studies department at UC Davis. She spoke with TruthoutAbout moving beyond grief and toward material change for transgender and queer people

Toshio Meronek: What have the past few years of more positive mainstream representation of trans/queer people — in media, government and the nonprofit world — brought most trans/queer people?

Jemma DeCristo:To answer your question, I believe representation has brought a certain type of mass delusion. My view is that representation is never for the people it represents.

Wriply Bennet, “Mama’s Bed” (2021).
Wriply Bennet, “Mama’s Bed” (2021). Wriply Bennet is the founder of the self-defense project trans/gender nonconforming persons THORN.

For people that are old enough to remember, it’s like when they introduced Black sitcoms on television. There were some interesting episodes of shows that were snuck in. But the idea to have them on was to show white people, after the Civil Rights Movement, “Hey, Black people are civilized, and they’re just like us,” you know, “They have mothers and fathers, and they go to work and all those things.”

Those shows in the ‘70s have many important representations of Black people; people will go, “Oh, that show was really amazing, it was really funny.” But I think the joy that we get from representation as Black trans women, as Black people, is almost kind of incidental, but it is sometimes hard for us to avoid thinking that because we’re on screen, our lives are getting better, we’re “moving on up,” to use another ‘70s reference.

The show Pose, you know, whatever people feel about the quality of the show or whatever — I don’t really think that that show has an impact on, you know, ending or doing anything to stop the scale or scope of the violence against us.

And this is also often the case — right? — is that there’s this PrurientQuality over representation. Most people who watch these shows don’t belong to the minority that they represent. The majority then become curious about the people on the show. And I don’t really think it necessarily benefits the people of — a show like Pose — I don’t think it necessarily benefits Black trans women, but it definitely piques people’s curiosity about us in a way that I don’t think is synonymous with or attached to real material change or political solidarity. It’s a curiosity, or like a prurience, or a passing interest. And yeah, so I think that’s where we’re at.

I think there’s this other thing that’s lost in representation is, — I want to call it a “countercultural” aspect — that makes people genuinely seek each other out to find the mix of people who genuinely need each other, because they don’t have the mainstream representation. They must look at each other instead of looking at an iPhone or TV screen for connection.

Representation, and perhaps more so celebrity, such as actors or political celebrities, is something we often look at, wrongly, as this kind of apparatus for care. It’s supposed to make us feel good. It’s supposed to represent, “Hey, that person’s famous, so we are being taken care of in the world,” even though that’s not often the case. And it’s funny, too… it often is the case that that individual person [the few trans influencers, politicians, actors]It is not being taken good care of.

PoseIndya Moore, an actor, was vilified for online support for Palestine.

These kinds of actions are too rare. I think we could talk about it in the same way that we discuss the nonprofit-industrial complicated: I think Public figures are meant to be respected. Represent the interests of a minority group but also silence radical views within those groupsYou will be amazed at what you can achieve.

And yet, there’s a belief that suddenly trans people are in a position of power over the majority, that’s caused a backlash, in the case of the anti-trans health care laws, or the rise in murders. Many people are not seeing improvements. What is your vision for TDOR as an event and as a holiday?

I think there’s a place for sorrow, but it’s very, you know, it’s very, like ACT UP [The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power]It’s cool to think that our grief could be tied to direct action, just as I do. I think that is something that’s a bit missing in a general way and is less present right at this moment. We saw some revival of that last year. [during the uprisings of summer 2020]But then, all Particularly the most marginalized are suffering from the worsening of their lives.. You’re familiar with things like unemployment, income inequalities, and evictions. Housing insecurity is a major problem that affects Black and Brown transwomen, and it not only decreases your quality life but also increases your risk of being exposed to violence. It is not all bad. However, it is a generalized trend of things getting worse. This is especially true for Black trans women.

Puerto Rico has the highest reported death rate per capita of transgender women and nonbinary persons of all the U.S. territories. And I would suspect not a lot of people in the U.S. think of Puerto Rico and it’s certainly not paid as much attention as the continental U.S. And beyond that, wherever the U.S. is intervening, we don’t know the number of deaths, but as you mentioned, trans people disproportionately feel the fallout of more generalized problems, like the wealth hoarding that creates houselessness.

The military-industrial system is a large part of violence against trans people. [military]Base culture. In the Philippines and in Saipan, Okinawa, there’s an incredible precarity if you’re a trans person.

I often think about the Pakistani trans women-led organizing against U.S. drone strikes killing and injuring people back during the Obama administration. And wherever we are [in the U.S.]Defense department technology or contractors. There are many people who will die if they don’t make the TDOR List.

Wriply Bennet, “Portrait of Dominique Jackson”
Wriply Bennet, “Portrait of Dominique Jackson” (2021). More of Wriply’s illustrations of people who’ve passed over the last year will appear at Trans Lash MediaTDOR.

Another thing that representation does is it deludes us into thinking there’s greater and greater progress, which actually hides the greater and greater violence. There’s this really excellent book that’s just come out called Atmospheres of Violence that speaks to specific cases, and that the progress narrative we’re fed is a sort of facade. I think that’s a really important function of our political reality in a broader way that has to be understood, and is particularly salient if you look at the case of Black trans and gender nonconforming people.

Who are you celebrating on this Transgender Day of Remembrance/Resilience?

The one person I think of, and I’ve always wanted to interview her, was Jackie Shanea Black trans singer from Nashville who spent most of her life in Canada. I had planned to interview her a few years back, but she died suddenly. (I would like to add that it was just prior to COVID [in 2019].) She was such a fascinating figure with an interesting life. I don’t think she was as apolitical, but she was a little like Little Richard, and she’d just have these little flourishes in her music and interviews that hinted at her transness. And she’s such a fashion inspiration.

And then someone who’s still with us is Tracy Africa, formerly Tracy Norman, who was the first Black, trans model. She was stealth [not out] — and I think that’s an interesting time for me, that moment before there were representational moments and people that existed outside of, as important as it is, the common reservoir for us [as Black trans/queer people in living in cities]This is ball culture. You know, that’s kind of the one cultural reference people tend to have. Maybe despite or because of my politics, I have a penchant to the FashionableI have. I’m holding the political, but also these trans style icons who were political in their own ways in my thoughts.