Transgender Day of Remembrance

TDOR is here again, but it is far from a day of celebration.

Rather, it is a day to mourn.

The first widely recognized event acknowledging trans and gender diverse individuals – the 22nd annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) – happens this Saturday. The mere fact that the day honors the memory of those lost to violence instead of rejoicing in their inclusion in society is a strong statement against the treatment of the gender diverse today.

Since TDOR’s inception in 1999 to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester the day has undergone a huge evolution and gained international recognition. With each passing year, the day becomes both more critical than ever and difficult to endure. With each event, the same sentiment appears: we look forward to a time when we no longer need to have these events. But how do we get to a world where we no longer spend an evening in silence or crying softly while listening to an ever-growing list of names. Names of friends, of loved ones, of those we’ve never met but whose stories mirror our own. Those whose violent deaths resulted from nothing more than intolerance of their identity?

In the beginning, there were about 100 victims to remember at my local TDOR memorial. A simple list of only those who had died within the past year. The number got a little bit smaller every year and I would tell myself things were getting better, and – to me – they were. But then I began organizing TDOR observances in Honolulu and saw the number of victims triple from 2015 to 2016, before increasing again from 2016 to 2017. 

In only two short years, it was no longer possible – let alone practical – to honor the dead as I had originally established. The sheer number of victims couldn’t be packed into a single evening, not while also showing their photographs and the details surrounding their deaths. Moreover, I could no longer subject myself to the trauma of reading, verifying, summarizing, and reciting the records of hate, cruelty, and destruction that were heaped upon these people before – and often after – their deaths. These people who were just like me. When faced with such a daunting task, I could do little but turn away when all I wanted was to open my eyes. To see these people and remember them.

How do we change something that we become more numb to each passing year out of necessity? 

First, we can look at the reason behind the recent dramatic increase in the number of victims. While the increase may seem attributable to spiking gender-based violence, the growing numbers are more likely a result of better reporting. Better reporting is a consequence of the progress the community has made in having these heinous crimes classified as hate crimes. Better visibility and reporting, combined with the proliferation of smartphones and social media exposure, have revealed what may only be the tip of the iceberg, but it is a sign of progress – of hope – nonetheless. Visibility matters. Visibility is how we move people from fear and hate toward empathy and compassion. 

There are many more lessons we can glean, but for this TDOR I wish for people to contemplate the words of my wife. For as long as I've known her my wife has said that the DSM changing the diagnosis from gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria is a nice step, but really "I don't have dysphoria; society does." It is a brilliant statement about the root cause of the problems gender diverse people face. Society has a gender dysphoria problem which can only be alleviated by continuing to humanize ourselves and be visible as proud, gender diverse people. 

So this TDOR, let us remember those lost as the unique, stunning individuals they were. Let us remember the suffering they endured and vow to make it stop for the sake of future generations. Let us mourn, but also let us hope.

The many we have lost are our family. Our friends. Our neighbors and co-workers. They are us. And one day – if we keep working toward it, if we insist on visibility – we will be celebrated for our inimitable lives rather than being memorialized for our violent deaths.