20 November 2010

Transgender Day of Rememberance

On November 28, 1998, Rita Hester was murdered in her home just outside of Boston. She was stabbed multiple times, likely by someone she knew. Her murder was horrible and affected an entire community of people who knew and loved her.

Murders happen all the time and, all the time, they affect friends and family members. The thing that sets Rita's murder apart from some is that she was a transsexual woman, someone whose identity, life, and mental health were all called into question after she was murdered. Rita's life was made invisible so that a tabloid-style news story could take its place.

This happens every day. People whose gender or sex presentation doesn't fall within acceptable social boundaries and those who are perceived as non-normative are regularly in danger. They may experience interpersonal violence, verbal violence, stalking, threats, snide comments, questions of the validity of their identity, and a range of treatment from strangers from confusion to rage.

This doesn't mean that it's a horrible life to be a transgender person - many life happy lives with friends, partners, gainful employment, and families. It does, however, mean that every person whose life dares to cross boundaries may be in danger.

If they are hurt in some way, their legal challenges generally go unanswered, their murders go unsolved, and their voices go unheard.

Today is the 12th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside to remember those that were killed as a result of anti-transgender hatred and is held in November to remember Rita Hester.

This year, we remember Brenda of Rome, Italy; Wanchai Tongwijit of Phuket City, Thailand; Mariah Malina Qualls of San Francisco, California; Estrella (Jose Angel) Venegas of Mexicali, Mexico; Wong of Bernama, Malaysia; Myra Chanel Ical and Gypsy of Houston, Texas; Derya Y. of Antalya, Turkey; Fevzi Yener of Şehremin, Istanbul; Dino Curi Huansi of Parma, Italy; Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar of Queens, New York; Toni Alston of Charlotte, North Carolina; Ashley Santiago Ocasio of Corozal, Puerto Rico; Azra of Izmir, Turkey; Chanel (Dana A. Larkin) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Angie González Oquendo of Caguas, Puerto Rico; Sandy Woulard of Chicago, Illinois; Imperia Gamaniel Parson of San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Victoria Carmen White of Maplewood, New Jersey; Justo Luis González García of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico; Irem of Bursa, Turkey; Stacey Lee of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Emanuelly Colaço Taborda of Parana, Brazi;, an unidentified trans woman in Jakarta, Indonesia; an unidentified trans woman in Chihuahua, Mexico; an unidentified trans woman in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic; an unidentified victim in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico; two unidentified victims in Sheikhupura, Pakistan; and all the other trans women and men around the world who lost their lives to transphobia this year, whose faces we never saw, names we never knew, and voices we never heard because they were living in societies that did not value them as people.

Fear and hatred of trans people is not limited to violent action - often, in many ways, it is characterized by inaction. Because there are no federal employment protections for trans people and precious few state protections, they are more likely to be under- or un-employed and have a lack of access to health insurance. They have trouble finding doctors that will treat them with respect for their identity and presentation. They are at a higher risk, because of these factors, for later discovery of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Robert Eads is one of the transsexual men who payed the price for our social and medical apathy - he died as a result of ovarian cancer after being refused treatment by two dozen doctors who refused out of fear that treating a transsexual man for ovarian cancer would damage their reputations.

Take a minute and think about that. Think about how many people find out they have ovarian cancer in a year. Now imagine any of those who are cisgendered or cissexual (1) women being refused treatment by two dozen doctors. Can't imagine it? It's because it doesn't happen, not to those of us whose gender or sexual identities match those expected by society. It doesn't happen to me because my ovaries are matched with a beardless face, a higher-octave voice, and presentation "appropriate" for females in my society.

And yet, Robert Eads died because he didn't have the privileges afforded to me.

Apathy, inaction, "jokes," hateful statements, and fists all can kill. Today is the day that we remember, but every day should be the day that we act to address and stop the fear and hatred of transgender people.

(1) Cisgender or cissexual refers to a class of gender or sex identities formed by a match between an individual's gender identity and the behavior or role considered appropriate for one's sex. Cisgender is a neologism that means "someone who is comfortable in the gender they were assigned at birth", according to Calpernia Addams.

19 November 2010

It Gets Better ... IF

In the wake of the It Gets Better Project, a project that I participated in, there has been a groundswell of people telling LGBTQ kids that It Gets Better. Politicians such as Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Barak Obama have made videos. Public figures such as Cindy McCain and Laura Bush have weighed in. The NoH8 campaign, employees at Facebook and Google, celebrities, and everyday normal people like me have made videos. And over and over again, we tell kids that it gets better - that bullying ends, that many birth families will love you, that you will find a chosen family, that you can be happy.

And I think that matters. But I also think that it matters to acknowledge that those things don't happen automatically.

Conservative estimates suggest that between 20 and 40% of homeless teenagers are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. In my time at the Local Youth Homeless Shelter, I saw a higher percentage than that. Queer kids' families are not always going to accept them. It's a shitty truth, but it's a truth. Queer kids' classmates and teachers will not always protect them. They will not always be able to attend dances with their partner of choice or have their photos in yearbooks wearing their clothing of choice.

They won't all graduate college and fall in love.

We can't promise them any of that. We want it for them. I got all of that and I am incredibly grateful and lucky and I KNOW that.

But I think that it's disingenuous for us to be promising a better world to queer youth without doing something to help make that world better. Whether that means that we participate in mentoring programs, become foster parents, volunteer at queer youth centers (or any youth centers - queer kids are everywhere), donate food or money, give time or money to suicide prevention hotlines like The Trevor Project, or give time to the agencies that serve homeless youth - we should all be doing something. I should be doing more and I damn well know it.

We don't have to stop telling queer kids that it gets better - I sincerely hope that it does for every one of them. But I do think that we need to do whatever we can to make it more likely that "better" actually happens for any of them.