Trans resistance and resilience

Being vocal and visible despite the violence

Mikaela Kendrick sings at the 2017 Transgender Day of Remembrance event in San Francisco. Photos by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

On Monday I attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance event in San Francisco. On this annual occasion, the community gathers with our allies to honor those killed in trans-antagonistic attacks, and celebrate our resilience in the face of violence. This year, there have been 25 known murders of trans people in the U.S. to date. As in previous years, the vast majority of those killed have been trans women of color.

As with most trans-focused events I’ve attended in San Francisco, trans people of color were featured prominently in the program, though the hostess for this evening was a white cisgender ally, Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The keynote speaker was Raquel Willis of the Transgender Law Center, who I wrote about previously in my article discussing women’s biographies on Wikipedia.

Raquel Willis speaks at the 2017 Transgender Day of Remembrance event in San Francisco.

I had the opportunity to speak with Raquel after the program; it was good to connect with an inspirational activist. Local TV station KTVU ran a segment on the event where you can hear Raquel and others speak; I’m visible briefly in the audience.

San Francisco City Hall lit in transgender pride flag colors for the 2017 Transgender Day of Remembrance.

While San Francisco is a safer place for trans folks than much of the U.S., being visibly trans anywhere carries a risk of violence, especially for people of color. Trans-antagonism runs across party lines. Though the Trump administration has been openly hostile to trans people, over 20 trans people were murdered in each of the previous two years as well, under the Obama administration— again, overwhelmingly trans women of color.

It’s great news that a number of openly trans folks were elected to office nationwide this month, but it would be premature to celebrate those elections as a victory against trans-antagonism, just as it was premature to celebrate Obama’s election as a victory against racism. Our community is resilient, but we must be ever-vigilant.

The so-called “Transgender Tipping Point” has brought increased visibility to trans folks, but the stories are often framed by cisgender people who do not understand our needs or identities, especially when it comes to non-binary people. The backlash against trans visibility is fueled by ignorance, hatred, and fear, stoked by lies and fake news that paint us as dangerous deviants or sexual predators. We need to tell our own stories and allies need to share them, allowing trans folks — especially people of color—to define our own terms and lead the conversations about how to bring about true justice and equality for all.