Monday, 24 November 2014
Doing something about it
So I attended my fifth Transgender Day of Remembrance service in Brighton yesterday. The usual place, Dorset Gardens Methodist Church. Even more people were there than before. It was not a dreadful year for reported victim numbers, but quite enough to jolt anybody out of complacency. The violence still goes on.
There were several impassioned or thoughtful addresses and readings.
I was moved by a memoir written by a young author whose life had been touched by a Canadian trans woman who eventually disappeared south to the USA, in search of the hormones her doctor could 'no longer ethically prescribe'. This transwoman had cancer, and a very poor prognosis, and her doctor had decided unilaterally that this life-threatening disease needed the prior attention. He did not understand that, for a trans person, becoming who they should rightly be overrides everything, cancer included, and that a person's free will on matters affecting their life - to the point of preferring an early death if need be - is paramount. Well, this Canadian trans woman was at least able to drag herself somewhere else in search of what was important to her. So many have no such ability to up sticks and look for better conditions.
There was also music - moving vocals from the local Rainbow Choir, who sang several uplifting hymns and songs. Interestingly, at least two hymns sounded African, and I thought this might be a way of reminding those present that the huge number of trans people on that continent were as isolated and oppressed as any in the world, and that their individual troubles were largely unreported. A singing voice for the silent, then.
Mrs Waddell - mother of local 2009 trans murder victim Andrea Waddell - came over to me and we hugged. I was glad to see her.
I stuck a memorial card up on the wall:
I deliberately chose someone who had died anonymously, unloved because unclaimed, someone hardly more than a murder statistic in a country notorious for its murders. But I found myself putting another twenty-odd other cards on the wall. Someone had to. I could do it without being overcome with emotion.
I noticed one trans woman trying to stick up three cards. She was sniffing as she did so, almost crying. She fumbled. She wasn't quick and nimble with her fingers. Her brain wasn't working. It took her five minutes to stick up just three cards. Nobody noticed her. She wasn't young and pretty. She was one of those trans women who do not pass well, probably not at all. I could imagine she took verbal abuse on a day-to-day basis, because she looked too masculine. I wondered if she'd had a special friend just like her, a friend who had taken so much abuse that she killed herself from depression. And that was why this simple act of sticking up memorial cards on a wall was so hard. Perhaps everything in her life was now hard, being without her friend.
Someone did at last come over to hug her. But that person wasn't me.
I was too detached and uninvolved - not unmoved, and not unthoughtful nor unheedful, but I hadn't experienced the horrible side of being trans, only the wonderful bits, and I lacked the direct experience of personal grief to make me impulsively empathetic. I felt unqualified to be emotional. And truth to tell, I hope I stay like this. I hope I will never know what it is to lose a close friend to transphobia, nor the depression that comes when a longed-for transition fails to deliver. But surely I won't be so lucky. Some of my friends are brittle. A few of them certainly won't make it.
So very many cards on that wall...
...each one a life snuffed out, a person gone. Murder and suicide. I really think those who still mock or denigrate trans people ought to stand in front of those cards and read every one. It's a pity the mode of death isn't mentioned any more. It was found to be too harrowing. But it would be salutory for those sneering holier-than-thou folk to read how heartlessly cruel many of these deaths were, and ponder their own lives.
Coming together to remember 'the fallen' (was the repeated mention of this phrase a nod towards the slaughter of the First World War?) is a privilege easy to exercise in the UK. You simply turn up on time, openly and in perfect safety. And afterwards there is no mob waiting outside to tear you apart. You can saunter down to the pub, enjoy the cheer, and then go home. This year's victims did not live or die in such congenial circumstances. Nor did those that died before them.
How many next year? The minister at the church asked us, when it was his turn to speak, not just to attend these memorial services. He begged us to do something in the intervening months to change the pattern, to bring about change, and prove that those who stoutly deny the possibility of change are lying. He was quite right to challenge the inertia of the majority. Who will respond?