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.
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