Today, the 20th of November, is the Trans day of remembrance (TDoR). According to the TDoR website, it is intended at memorializing those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The term ‘remembrance’, in the case of the global Trans community and Trans rights, takes an added level of importance. Despite many recent developments on the positive side, Trans rights are a sphere that faces systematic condemnation, discrimination and contempt from many quarters, including, on occasion, cisgender feminists (who adumbrate a narrow brand of white cis feminism).
Violence against Trans people
The most appalling issue, when it comes to remembrance, is the unfathomable level of violence inflicted upon Trans people across the world. Anti-Trans violence is an area in which the usual clichés of ‘certain countries being more accommodating/welcoming/accepting than others’ difficultly apply. Atrocious acts of violence targeting Trans people take place across the world, including countries that attempt at projecting an LGBTQ-I friendly image. For Trans people of color, the reception experienced in generally LGBTQI-friendly spaces could often cause concern and marginalization.
In the USA alone, 21 Trans women, the large majority of them Trans women of color, have been brutally murdered so far in 2015. In many countries, acts of violence against Trans people do not get reported. Online campaigns such as #sayhername, #saytheirnames, and #translivesmatter seek to highlight the extent of this tragedy, with so many young and energetic lives lost in vain.
Public Sector lacunae
Some public services, including judicial and correctional services, continue to summarily ignore the case of Trans people. The most recent case in the United Kingdom – the death of Vicky Thompson, a Trans woman incarcerated in an all-male prison – and many identical cases across the world, point at an area of public policy that those responsible are very reluctant to take action. Thompson’s incarceration in an all-male prison was raised in the British House of Commons soon after her death, but is unlikely to garner sufficient policymaker interest, especially in the context of the Cameron government’s inclination to privatize public services, from the prisons to the NHS. Thompson’s demise a case in point of how such cuts to public services negatively affect people, especially Trans people who are forced to grapple with gender identity issues, social stigma and discrimination. An email that circulated on a Trans messaging board on her death says it all:
British sexworker, transwoman Vicky Thompson, 21, was being held at Armley [prison], Leeds, [England] where she was pronounced dead on Friday [13 November 2016].
This was her first week in an all-male prison.
She had previously been referred to the NHS gender clinic at Leeds and was told she was number 346 on the waiting list for a first appointment (equivalent to a projected wait time of three years to first psychiatrist visit) and had decided to take up sex work to pay for surgery in Thailand. Two years of psychiatry are required for either legal recognition or State paid GRS in England.
It is unclear whether her death was suicide or murder. There will be an inquest (some would say whitewashing).
This issue especially concerns Trans women of color in immigration-related detention. The #notonemore movement in the USA has been carrying out commendable advocacy work on this issue. Despite advancements such as equal marriage (the euphemistic nature and class politics of which ought to form the topic of a separate post), the US authorities have so far demonstrated no tangible interest in providing a decent level of treatment to immigration detainees. Even at the influential supra-national levels, no concrete steps have been taken to address the treatment of gender plurality and diversity in law enforcement and correctional facilities.
The Global Trans Community/ies and their struggles
The TDoR, despite its primary focus on Trans people murdered in the USA, also provides an opportunity to reflect upon the challenges faced by Trans people who live in countries with strict Abrahamic religious traditions as well as places (especially in the African continent) that provide a fertile ground for religious fundamentalism to thrive, where non-cisgender gender identities and non-heterosexual sexual orientations are deemed blasphemous and are met with atrocious levels of violence. Providing assistance to and working in partnership with progressive lobbies in such places, and thereby strengthening the hands of moderate, tolerant and welcoming spaces is a vital global responsibility.
Hope of a better tomorrow?
In sum, one thing needs to be made clear, and reiterated, repeatedly: TDoR is marked by a profound sense of loss, loss of life, loss of hope, and horrific violence inflicted upon innocent people trying to get on with their lives. This is complemented by the widespread discrimination Transpeople suffer across the world. Yet, and despite all that negativity, TDoR also needs to be, and fully deserves to be, taken up as a day that also carries a vital sense of hope, of the possibility of a different and more accepting, tolerant and inclusive future. The path to such a future may indeed be ambitious, but it is one that should and can be achieved. This is where perseverance becomes the mot d’ordre, and robust activism, writing that documents Trans experiences, as well as broader dialogues on gender pluralities and inclusion form key strategies on the way ahead.
I could not think of a better way to conclude this note other than citing British journalist and political analyst/activist Owen Jones, who, writing a piece to The Guardian on the TDoR earlier today, observes that:
It is a prejudice that is internalised, with all-too destructive consequences. It is notable that trans activists are often accused of being too aggressive, too strident when facing their detractors. But the same was said about women who fought for the right to vote, or black people who fought for their civil liberties, or gay people who fought for their freedoms.
We are not yet living in a society where trans people can get on with their lives without the hindrance of prejudice and discrimination. But when avoidable tragedies, such as that of Vicky Thompson, occur, the best memorial is surely to renew our efforts to get there.
Yes, Jones is correct when he says that we are not in a society in which Transpeople can go about their lives in peace without the constant challenge of discrimination and prejudices looming large. A decently Trans-friendly society is yet to come, and may take a long time, in a West-centred world in which Abrahamic religions dominate in both West and East. As Trans activist and artist Alok Vaid-Menon says, the issue is not one of being born in the wrong body, but being born in the wrong world. Hence the crucial importance of a continued collective struggle for Trans justice and equality, which, despite white cis-feminists and other reactionaries, is among the foremost of non-negligible global civil rights struggles of our time.