Why Trans Day of Remembrance Matters

Picture of the Trans Remembrance Memorial in Manchester’s Sackville Gardens. The memorial was irreparably damaged earlier this year.

by Seb Cousins

This is an article about Trans Day of Remembrance. As such, I write here a content warning, covering mentions of murder, suicide, abuse, inequality, poverty, racism, ableism, and transphobia. Like with other remembrances, I hope that one day the number of those being remembered stops increasing.

When writing about endings, beginnings are the hardest part to write. The solution is often to take the core issues’ emotional core and write something, anything. And when it’s about a community you are part of being killed, it hurts harder. It not so much puts things into perspective, rather it gives you a perspective that you had but try not to think about all the time. The Trans and Non-Binary life is full of euphoria: globally a move in the right direction for human rights, the direct and close intersectionality with queerness; a culture in renaissance. Never should that be forgotten. But nor should, ever, those we have lost. You can find the names of those known to be lost here. The number this year was 327 individuals globally. Certain pendants and statisticians who hide their transphobia behind ‘objectivity’ but one number is never the full story. Nor is this article, nor could it ever be.

The true number of everyone our community has lost will not be known. There are unreported murders- the dehumanised sex worker whose name is forgotten; the trans teen in some far off area killed by family (in the UK alone 43% of trans people have been in abusive families). But also how we count the number of those lost matters. On paper, the UK saw one non-binary person killed (they’ve been dead named and misgendered posthumously by most press outlets). Yet this fact neglects other facts if read alone, such as attempted killings and hate crimes that were that violent. Nor does it (without a full confirmation) count the number of trans people in our country driven to suicide by the media establishment that casts them as monsters, by a medical system that leads is plagued by waiting lists for appointments let alone much needed healthcare, and by a government that will allow conversion therapy to continue, while aiding abetting the former two. Nor will the count ever truly count those who have died in poverty, struggling for both heating and eating, like many others in our Cost of Living Crisis. We know that LGBTIQA+ people as a whole are more likely to be those in poverty and homelessness, a situation that has ever so increased since 2010. Factor in other indicators that are oppressed, like race and disability, you can see why that global count will be so much higher.

These facts alone won’t matter to anyone who is completely convinced of ‘Gender Identity’ creeping into schools as part of a ‘Marxist Globalist plot’. It won’t matter to the army of, statistically speaking, cis men who are suddenly concerned about the safety of women as long as it is an imagined, fetishised trans femme body as the peril. This won’t matter to those who ideologically want less trans people to exist, and call us ‘the trans question’.

But it does matter. It matters to us, as a community (both Trans/NB and the wider LGBTIQA+ community). It matters to those reading those names, or reading about abuse and homelessness and death, and feeling something. It matters to everyone who is committed to liberation, liberation not just from being killed or harmed but also the liberation to be alive and breath. It’s not just allies who react to the reality of these horrific stories, it’s the people ‘in the middle’ of the ‘debate’. When you sit down and talk and listen, and help them understand that there is a narrative against trans people that has dehumanised every single name on that list. They get it and they become more concerned. They feel an ounce of fear. They fear for Trans and NB people. They fear for you. And that fear, that someone other than you, who isn’t a 1-1 reflection, and the determination to help in some way, and vice versa, is the raw building block for solidarity, an intersectional solidarity.

The above is depressing. The fact it has to take real lives lost to drive home reality. I acknowledge too my own privileges: I’m more fortunate than most in this community: I’m white, from the Global North and not a sex worker (among other things). I’m less likely, statistically, to be murdered for being NB than a black trans woman who’s a sex worker in Brazil. While I can talk of some positives in remembering and continuing the cause for justice, the fundamental fact that people are dying must never, ever be forgotten. They must always be remembered. At the end of the day, the intersections are clear and we forget too often that transness is often coded (and often by those leading the anti trans effort) as ‘white’, contributing to the invisibility of Black trans people. As communities, we must and do better than this.

We must also remember that they did not just die for being trans. They died for a variety of reasons, where transness contributed by being socially unacceptable, and therefore making trans people more socially acceptable targets to kill. The point is we need to remember that we can not get to no trans murders without working to end all violence, such as violence towards those perceived as not a cis man: cis women, trans women, trans men and non-binary people alike. That must of course include violence against all marginalised groups, otherwise there will not be an end to violence.

Violence to those we call trans and gender nonconforming (for that terminology is not time immemorial) has existed for centuries and more, as the patriarchy has existed for centuries and more and, crucially the people we call trans and gender nonconforming have existed, do exist and will exist. From Joan D’Arc (even if there has been overcorrection by some novice trans historians, the scholarly limitations are understandable when you consider the need to identify a historical past for belonging) to those sent to death camps by Nazi Germany to the present. Our history is that of victims of violence yet it is so much more. We are too agents of change and liberation- we were there at Stonewall, we were there opposing Section 28, and we are here opposing this government.

An easy emotion to feel here is anger, or even despair. They are emotions I feel when looking at the list of names and hearing stories of friends of friends ending their lives. They can be useful emotions, empowering, as motivation. But they can also be self fulfilling; ‘if the world can only be despair, then what is the point’ becomes the world view of an individual who only feels anger and despair. With that anger must also be a bit of hope: that we can win and build a future where trans people aren’t killed or harmed.

To finish, let us remember those we have lost and fight with hope for a better tomorrow.