A couple of years ago, I was part of a Transgender Day of Remembrance service. Two of us were to read the list of names of people who had died that year as a result of anti-trans hate or prejudice. A few minutes before the service, I am handed the list of names. Expecting one or two pages, I am stunned to be handed a thick wad of paper.
Each person is identified by their name, the city where they were living, their age, and how they died. Reading name after name, initially I feel awkward and self-conscious. Am I reading too slow? Am I pronouncing names correctly? Gradually I notice details, and I begin to feel emotion vibrating in my throat. Many of them were young: 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Many of the deaths were violent. Strangulation, gunshot. Some were tortured.
Quite a few were memorialized with a small thumbnail photo beside their name. I want to stop and look at each picture, really look, but there isn’t time.
What would it be like to grow up, knowing with every fibre of my being that my gender identity is not the one assigned to me by society? I can only think of those times when I was 7 or 8 and I wanted an adult to believe me, and they wouldn’t–the sense of frustration at having no power to change unfolding events.
Luckily for me, this was a relatively rare occurrence in my childhood. I try to imagine what it would be like if this happened everyday, and everyplace–at home, at school, on the playground, with adults and with other children.
Then we add the layer of hatred and prejudice, the very real fear of violence.
I keep reading the names, trying to take a moment to glance at each face. Some look out of the photo with confidence, others less so. There is a wide range of expressions and moods–as there would be in any group of young adults. Creativity, love, delight, shyness, pride, desire, resentment, joy … each expression, each person, is unique.
As I read the names and look at the photos, I want to celebrate each of these people for what they were able to make of their lives, even though I will probably never know anything else about them. Their lives were way too short, yes. But they were theirs, and they were worth living. This loss is our collective loss. This is the crime.
I finish reading, and there is silence.