TDoR For, By, and About Trans Women Of Color Now

Like many, if not most, trans women of color, I have a lot of serious anger about the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). It’s flawed not just in concept, “owned” by a white trans woman who shuns even the most polite constructive criticism or to discuss race on the official TDoR site, but also in execution, where the names of a group that is almost all trans women of color are used almost as objects in many venues throughout the Global West where TDoR events are held.

It’s been mentioned over and over that TDoR is broken, exploitative, problematic, or whatever word you want to use. I’m really not planning on rehashing this, because it’s all been said before. Similarly, I think we’re all on the same page by now that any organized group of trans women controlled by HBSers or New Trans Separatists is going to essay to exclude trans women of color or include us solely on a token basis where our behavior will be so micromanaged you’ll wish for that pointy-haired gentleman from Dilbert. It is neither new nor groundbreaking criticism to point out that trans women of color’s deaths are tabulated but the community shuts us out at every turn to preserve its white suburban concept of “safety.”

But that’s all talking about what’s wrong, and that’s all known. We need to talk as a community about that has to change. The solution is not  bringing in a token trans woman of color at TDoR, bringing in gospel singers (they seriously did this in 2011) to bring some “color” in, or putting your event on social networking to tell people to be there in the audience. The solution is not to have a white person talk about race for 30 seconds as part of the proceedings, and it’s definitely not to have a goddamn dance party afterwards.  So I hope you’ll forgive me for using 2Pac to make a point here, but “It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes. (…) let’s change the way we live and let’s change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do, to survive.”

I don’t think the “trans community” is magically going to change overnight to include trans women of color. I have been through having that hope dashed over and over again, and like a lot of other trans women of color, I feel very much alone and disconnected from any “trans community” and thus am a little unhappy with it.. But part of the way the community can change to become more inclusive is to at least consider that TDoR is a seriously alienating day for trans people of color, especially trans women of color. The format is always the same: names of trans women of color are read out, usually by white folks, and then white people talk about how oppressed trans people are. It’s kind of like in a sci-fi show when the protagonist lands in Bizarro World and everything is vaguely familiar but completely different…you know, when the cars look the same as they do on Earth, but every part has a different name.

So here’s what I, Martin Luther nailing my grievances to the Internet-style, have to say:

It’s time for white trans people to stand aside from all positions of leadership of local TDoR events.

I’m not saying don’t be involved, but it’s time to stop claiming a right to run things, to organize events (thank you very much to the local TDoR in Seattle for once again this year ignoring emails from me asking how to get involved, btw), or to have any place that isn’t at the direction of a trans person of color. It needs to be organized by and for trans people of color, with a focus on trans women of color.

It’s time for Gwen Smith to stand aside from “owning” TDoR.

Yes, Gwen Smith claims ownership rights to TDoR. TDoR shouldn’t be owned by anyone, and she must certainly be recognized for past service as the founder.  But when one person “owns” something, there is an ability to steer what the message is, like that race isn’t mentioned on the TDoR site, which is then used as an excuse for local TDoR events to ignore race. I don’t think Ms. Smith is a bad person, but it strangles TDoR for one person to “own” it. It’s also deeply improper for a white woman who can’t seem to let race into the official discussion to “own” an official site that’s full of names of dead trans women of color…this disconnect has everything to do with why it’s time for a change. Ms. Smith, you’ve had your chance to reform TDoR, and you haven’t taken it. You’ve been aware of criticism for years, and you haven’t made any changes. It’s time to let trans women of color lead, and for this day to have no owner at all.

It’s time to turn over leadership and management of official TDoR matters to trans women of color.

This would be a huge part of making TDoR TWoC-driven rather than TWoC-exploiting. TDoR should be run and led by a coalition of trans people of color that is predominantly trans women of color…say, 85%? The goal should be inclusiveness and providing a consistent focus on discussing, examining, and preventing violence against trans people, and to foster real solutions, not theory-laden twaddle. TDoR has to see trans women of color as valuable as living people first and foremost, not just once we’re dead when we’re available to pad various bullshit statistics about the life expectancy of a “trans person” or the likelihood we’ll be killed. We’re more than just numbers, we need to be central to the discussion when we’re alive. It’s time to let those of us who are trans women of color lead.

It’s time to listen to trans women of color…(I can wish for every day, but) at least one day a year.

The dead are us. They’re trans women of color trying to live their damn lives. They’re killed by partners, by clients, by random encounters on the street. I mean, seriously, the silence of white trans people when Islan Nettles was beaten to death walking down the damn street, and even worse the attempts at victim-blaming, were truly horrific…including some invective hurdled about how walking around in the hood comes with such risks. There is such a severe disconnect that part of what would help is that if white trans people in general listened to us this one day a year it could be a catalyst, or so I try to believe. Our realities include much more than how we’re seen in the TDoR list-of-names format: dead people. We are so much more than that, and our realities might be uncomfortable to the “trans community” or maybe, just maybe, the “trans community” will see us as something more than just a list of names of dead people and a bunch of inconvenient bodies and realities to dismiss in life.

Reforming TDoR is a huge part of beginning to include trans women of color as part of the trans community. It’s all about addressing the violence against us as trans women of color. And, well, it’s part of healing, a matter on which I must defer once again to the  Prophet Pac: “It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other.”  Let’s get started.


25 thoughts on “TDoR For, By, and About Trans Women Of Color Now

  1. Thank you for sharing this post. I would love more than anything for there to be TWOC organizing the TDOR in my city. If they had one that I could find, you can bet I would be there in solidarity with it, rather than helping organize one myself. I’ve been doing my best to make race central to the discussion this year, I’ve tried to form a coalition between the QPOC student group (which has no trans women) and the trans* student group (which has no TWOC either), I’ve been doing outreach on social media and putting posters up around town, I’ve emailed every queer/trans org in a 100 mile radius asking if anyone wants to attend or speak and specifying our desire to hear the voices of trans women of color. Nothing. I’m sure I have some serious blind spots as a white woman but I can’t figure out how to make it more clear that we want to be inclusive. I think maybe since you live in a bigger city, Seattle, by the sound of it, there’s probably a more organized, identifiable community of TWOC that people could contact if they wanted to make the effort to be inclusive. But here in the Lansing area, that community is invisible if it can even exist, and it’s hard to do outreach if you can’t find anyone to reach out to.

    But that’s all the stuff that you describe as not really being the solution. The next step that you suggest is for us to step down from leadership positions, and have TWOC take over. I would gladly do this, but the second clause of that sentence doesn’t seem to be an option here. The options seem to be,
    1. Have TDoR, and ignore race entirely (shitty shitty option)
    2. Have TDoR, do as much outreach as you can, and centralize the subject of race, even if no TWOC come (slightly less shitty option), and
    3. Step down from leadership, and don’t have TDoR at all.*
    So how would you rank those three options in terms of desirability? Or am I missing an option?

    *We’re the only TDoR event within an hour’s drive from here. For people in my city, this is all there is.

    Anyway, seriously, thank you for this post. It’s a much needed perspective. I hope my response doesn’t come across as too defensive. I know the problem you’re describing is a real problem and I want to do what I can to fix it. I just don’t feel smart enough to do it sometimes.



    • Hi, Zoe!

      Well, the central issue is the consistent need of the “trans community” to exclude trans women based on characteristics having nothing to do with gender (appearance, class, body size, etc.) is really the root of the problem. This would probably repair at least some of the issue at hand to address this, but here’s hoping that’s not how it plays out where you are.

      And by the by, there’s no organized group of trans women of color here in Seattle, because the ever-shitty Ingersoll Gender Center controls the one space in which trans women are “allowed” to interact and lordy lordy do they ever keep the people of color out. You know, with passive-aggressive “passing tips” which nobody asked for, savage criticism of our features, etc. I mean, like, insert some hockey goalie allegory here. By keeping us from access to common space, it assures we can’t organize, and it’s impossible to organize as an outsider. I don’t think people are gonna show up at a coffee shop for a meeting run by some chick they don’t know, which perpetuates that Ingersoll exercises control. Probably a topic for another blog post, though…

      In your case, though, it sounds like there’s no active discrimination going on. Yay, that’s a good start. It might be useful to try to get the QPOC and trans student group to interact, but that’s not necessarily something you can influence. Think about the passive barriers that might be goin’ on.

      Now here’s the tricky part: PoC community groups. I don’t know how much your local Black community center (or even if there is one in Lansing, my interactions have been limited and MSU-centric) would be willing to work with the queer community, but as someone on Reddit pointed out, it’s worth at least trying to reach out to such community groups and see if they want a place at the table. You might get nothing, you might get something…who knows?

      I think in that list, #2 is really the obvious choice from where I sit, but there is this reality that you’re working with a situation which might not be optimal. And in that situation, do your best. Don’t shy away from newcomers if they want to be involved, as that might help. Plan it in public and let people know how to be involved, don’t, you know, hide behind an email address that goes unanswered.

      It’s not gonna be perfect, and there are structural problems with TDoR that are so very not your fault. Is it better to try to push forward with something flawed and try to change it? I think so, but I’m an optimist. Many trans women of color want TDoR gone because of its past problems, but I think it’s savable. Let’s work on saving it and making it less of a mess, but for now, do your best.

      • Thank you for your reply. Yeah, I’m glad that you think it’s worth saving. I’d rather do what I can to change it on whatever level I’m able than give up on it. It’s… slightly less soul-crushing that way. The problem is that we’re a university organization and the community is almost all white and mostly middle-class. Most people have to come from a certain level of affluence to get to higher education. So even though there’s not any active discrimination (that I can see) there are a lot of people who have never really had to think about race before. We have been trying to change that by promoting campus events that deal with race and creating environments for discussing different intersections. It’s just that TWoC are so far in the margins of society that it doesn’t seem to be enough. I think I’m going to try and get people to support a queer community center in Lansing (there has been some talk that we might get one soon), because I think that would be more accessible to low-income people who aren’t MSU students. Maybe having that space would make a difference. I want part of the vigil on Wednesday to be focused on what we can actually do, to end on a hopeful note rather than just mourning and moving on until next year.

  2. Let me get this straight.

    There’s an organization. They handle certain trans issues. That’s their only job.

    The founder and leader of the organization is trans.

    You have taken issue with this because she’s white. You want her to “step down” for a TWoC (or a coalition that is largely composed of TWoC), so you can further your agenda of promoting TWoC OVER trans women as a whole. Not only that, you claim that making TWoR primarily about TWoC would simply remove any exploitation of trans women, rather then shifting the “token” status onto white trans women, the minority of your ideal group.

    TWoR is for trans women, by trans women. Bringing race into it is complete bias on your part. TWoC are currently mentioned on a minimal basis, because TWoC are only a small part of the entire trans group (see: every other minority group that is also trans).

    You want a TWoC Day, fine, create one. But don’t aspire to usurp a general remembrance for your excluding agenda.

    • “You want her to “step down” for a TWoC (or a coalition that is largely composed of TWoC), so you can further your agenda of promoting TWoC OVER trans women as a whole.”

      Which isn’t the case at all, but that’s a wonderful job you’ve done twisting my words. Almost all of the names that you find on the Remembering Our Dead list are trans women of color. When violence against trans men comes in, it’s usually trans men of color. You can’t escape the realities of the violence falling mostly against trans women of color, because that’s just how it is.

      “Bringing race into it is complete bias on your part. TWoC are currently mentioned on a minimal basis, because TWoC are only a small part of the entire trans group”

      …except almost every name is a trans woman of color. Ignoring race is where there’s complete bias, and gosh, that’s an awful disingenuous tack you’re taking in pointing out that we’re a small part (of course, that’s because we’re kept out of the trans community at every turn) because we’re ALMOST ALL OF THE DEAD.

      The “excluding agenda” you cite is perpetuated by Ms. Smith and her blanket refusal to let race into the discussion, which is then parroted by TDoR vigils/events/what-have-you when they’re presented in individual communities. The “excluding agenda” is co-opting violence against trans women of color whenever it’s needed for statistics, and shitting on trans women of color when we try to get involved in the community.

      In short, we’re worth more dead than alive. If that’s the message you want to send, received loud and clear and that’s a nice “excluding agenda” you got there. If that’s not the message you want to send, time to start changing things.

    • //TWoR [sic] is for trans women, by trans women. Bringing race into it is complete bias on your part. TWoC are currently mentioned on a minimal basis, because TWoC are only a small part of the entire trans group (see: every other minority group that is also trans).

      Stop it. You say that TDoR is “for trans women, by trans women,” which means that you acknowledge that transphobic murders impact the women in our community far, far more than the men. So you’ve already taken that first step in acknowledging that even though it’s called the “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” some transgender people are affected more than others. At least when it comes to gender.

      Now why can’t you take that same principle and apply it to race? It only takes a cursory glance over the faces on the list to see that almost every single person killed was a person of color. When it comes to TDoR, you can’t separate racism from transphobia any more than you can separate misogyny or classism from transphobia. And this sort of denial is exactly what’s making our trans sisters of color feel unwelcome in our communities, while their deaths inflate our statistics and garner sympathy for our own agendas. It needs to stop.

    • Anonymous, TDoR is *NOT* for white trans women. I’ve never heard of it being to talk about the death of white people, because white trans women do not come close to receiving the amount of violence that trans women of color get. Yes, all trans women experience cissexism and transmisogyny. Yes we all experience emotional violence. Physical violence that results in death? It almost always is a trans woman of color.

      Do your research before you start mouthing off about something that isn’t true. The racism is unnecessary.

    • What’s it like having missing-the-point as a super power? Is it exciting? Do you get called into action with an askew interrobang projected onto the clouds?

    • I chose in writing this to focus strictly on the issue of race, as I’ve discussed class and disability plenty. I’m visibly disabled and chose that it would be best to stay on message because the issue here is race, no more no less.

      That said, if you’d like to read what I’ve had to say from an inclusion perspective as a disabled trans woman, take a look at my first post on the New Trans Separatist types:

      I didn’t center disability or class here because there’s no conclusive link to disability being linked to anti-trans violence. I’m not going to grasp at straws to make a point when I have something very clear to say about the matter at hand.

  3. It’s my understanding Gwen Smith hasn’t been involved with it for years. The site was run by Ethan St. Pierre since 2008 and is now run by Marty Abernathy. Were you told differently by someone connected to it? The TDOR really doesn’t have any kind of ‘central authority’ and the site is really very bare bones.

    • Ah, but that’s the excuse persistently used: there’s no “central authority” but Gwen Smith still represents herself as “owner”, there’s no discussion of race whatsoever, but the list of names is what is used by local TDoR events. The list of names could, oh idk, include a discussion of race. Local observances get their information from the official site, no?

      If Ms. Smith has nothing to do with it, surely she’ll be happy to renounce “ownership”. Also, if she has nothing to do with it, why is she doing media appearances about this every year? She can’t be superpositioned here, as I’m fairly certain Ms. Smith is not Schroedinger’s Cat.

  4. The thing I feel I might add was that as an older, disabled, working class, white trans woman, TDOR was where I really started to understand the privilege I still had. I thought I’d lost it all, and it didn’t really come home to me until I was in a room of mostly white, middle class, able bodied, trans* women reading out the names, that even though we ALL felt the fear, the truth was that POCs were the trans* people dying by violence. It would be a sad to lose that point of education.

    I (and many other trans* folk) struggle with something that kills a lot more of us than people using physical damage, suicide. So many trans* people have hope stolen from them to the point where they can’t hold on anymore. If POC’s feel that TDOR has lost it’s authenticity, I can hear that, but I hope that some kind of group mourning/education process will be able to continue/grow out of it, as I feel that it can serve to educate/build the community. Locally we’ve had two murders over the past ten years (and both were TWOC), and maybe thirty suicides (from practically every race/culture). Those deaths are problems for me.

  5. This is a well written article. It’s long past time for TWOC to be running TDOR events. I also had no idea that Gwen claimed ownership for TDOR. But in a way ,I’m not surprised. Could be something learned from the larger LGBT community. Turns out some cities (like Seattle) TRADEMARK their pride event so no one else can use the words (insert city here) Pride. I can’t imagine a house of worship being able to trademark a holiday like Easter or Passover and telling other places they couldn’t call their events the same thing. No one would stand for it.

    I’m in Seattle too. Holler at me over Google Plus if you’d want to meet up and talk about stuff more.

  6. This is a really interesting topic. I can speak to how the TDOR was handled at an organization here in Toronto.
    TWOC spoke the most, and made many references to what you are saying here, that TWOC are those who are effected the most by violence and hate crimes. There were only a few white presenters, and they did not attempt to make the event about themselves, but rather to point out the injustices. It was a very good event, with a very high attendance. It was very clear throughout the entire evening that TWOC are effected the most. Some presenters were even inclusive towards genderqueer people as well, because they also face discrimination.

    I don’t really think my say is very important in this being a genderqueer, white male/female, but I do think this day is important, and I also think that it could be handled differently, making sure to point out that TWOC face the most violence, and that violence happens to all trans people. Perhaps we can all remember all the violence and disgusting hatred that happens to all people who are not accepted for the gender they choose. Emphasizing race, disability, age, gender, class , and all of that.

    Very interesting topic! Thanks

  7. fakecisgirl, thanks for sharing your concerns. As a white trans activist, I always try to be inclusive, but there is always room for improvement, and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. It’s my hope that our transgender movement can hold to a high standard for inclusivity across difference and respect for all. Thank you for speaking up and, hopefully, goading us all towards a higher standard. I hope that your raised voice will encourage other TWOC to also speak up – and step up.

  8. Hi y’all, I help organize and run the Louisiana Trans Advocacy and I do have to say I agree with many of the points made in this discussion but I don’t know if I agree with the spirit of the article. Last night at our New Orleans TDOR we had our guests speak, most whom are leaders in the various advocacy groups here. We ran up and down the spectrum from LGBT all the way to T exclusive groups. One speaker nailed it, a transman who happens to head a very successful LGBT group, He said TDOR memorializes a tragedy that is caused by social injustice, a type that is based on transphobia. BUT it is also based on the disregard for women and particularly disregard for women of color. The solution for solving the the root causes of this horrible slaughter of our trans community people lies in those directions, Women’s Rights and Civil Rights.. I would add this, in the majority of TDOR murders it is not the African American transperson that is being targeted , it is ALL people of color, as most on the list ARE NOT African Americans, and have never lived in the United States. We must understand the problem before we decide how to attack it’s cause,

    • Well, first things first: thanks for doing it right, as maybe this is proof positive a TDoR can be handled well and shows that the concept isn’t fundamentally broken. (What I was saying about community outreach elsewhere clearly happened in this case…so clearly some TDoR groups get it right.) I just wish that it could be that well-done everywhere, so thank you!

      Second, I think you’re right that the speaker you mentioned did nail it: violence against people of color, much less women of color generally is too often excused by society. I can speak for being a pale halfrican in the States, and that’s what I know, so that’s the bias I have. I’ve lived up and down the East Coast, as well as in Alabama, North Dakota, and Washington and there were unpleasant constants about how violence was discussed and reported and the belief about when violence was “acceptable” almost always had a constant: people of color.

  9. Thank you for this post, and all of your posts, really. You write so succinctly and evenhandedly about what I’ve been trying to say for years. I was saying on my FB page earlier that I stopped memorializing TDOR about five years ago, as soon as I realized that all of the people who I transitioned under when I was growing up in the 90’s , best friends and mentors, are *long dead.* And if they aren’t dead, they live in relative hiding from other trans people, “woodworked” as they used to say, mostly for the sake of their own employability. Everyone else? Dead. Disease. Suicide. Murdered. Unless you know what that feels like, to live in a reality where all of your peers are dead, the feeling that its just a matter of time before you’re murdered, succumb to disease or are driven to suicide too, you just don’t really get the reality of the TDOR list. So if you live a life that either by active choice or default excludes the very people who are most likely to end up on that list, how DARE you pretend that their absence is suddenly so profound for you on that one damn day a yea!.

    A trans man friend of my husband (also trans) went off yesterday, because he (my husband) dared suggest you, fakecisgirl, had a point in your post about race, TDOR and IGC. I’ve attended exactly one IGC event in my entire life since I moved to Seattle (It was a’ight, I guessssss). so I don’t have an opinion on them either way, but what was telling was how this guy also accused you of cowardice for using a pseudonym. If you can’t fathom any other reason than cowardice as to why a trans woman of color would write an anti-cissexist blog under a pseudonym, then you really have no business memorializing TDOR, period. I am a black trans woman, and I write under a pseudonym as well (if you can call it writing). If I didn’t, I could easily be fired, stalked, murdered or all three in rapid succession. So I do use a pseudonym. Meanwhile white trans guys and white middle class late transitioning trans women in positions of authority in trans support circles seemingly have no problem advertising their whereabouts on Four Square, their full legal info on Facebook, every other social media outlet they can lay hands on.

    See I’m rambling, and this is why I prefer you to do the writing and not me. Keep on spitting that truth. It matters,


    • I confess I don’t get Foursquare. I’m still trying to figure out tumblr, where apparently the secret is to sandwich your political posts between pictures of cats and/or animated .gifs.

      I have heard, secondhand, of this gentleman having an issue with the fact I write under a pseudonym. See, I’m a nanny, or as I prefer, a child growth and learning engineer. I don’t make 75k a year working on the Eastside, I don’t live in a part of town the white queers will get near or in a house in Kirkland on a nice side street. My life’s pretty okay, so don’t feel bad for me, I can pay the rent and eat, so I’m doing better than 40% of the country seems to be, but at the same time I have to protect my top asset: me. Protecting me means a pseudonym. I’ll tell you what, though: when I’m making 75k a year and not living in the hood (well, let’s be honest, the hood in Seattle ain’t too rough), sure, I’ll write under my real name.

      I find it similarly telling that the game is you have to play by Ingersoll’s rules to seek community and when you do go seek community, you get told all kinds of awful things about you. It’s a form of hazing, and I think the gentleman in question has deep issues with the idea that there may come a point in the not-too-distant future where we decide to get away from that. Folks like him are terrified of that happening, as they derive all their meaning from being at the top of the pile somewhere, even if it’s just a support group. It gives them a moment of feeling important.

      And, really, screw important, let’s get free.

  10. So first off, I appreciate the fuck out of this post and what you’re saying. As another piece, though, of how TDoRs list of names is racialized in really fucked up ways I wanted to point out that it has been my understanding that the list, by policy, will not include the names of people who die through prison violence. Now that’s a bit fucked on the face of it, but given the very very racist nature of our justice system this is going to disproportionately impact the tabulation of deaths of women of color. So this means that the disparity between violence against white trans women and trans women of color is actually even worse than it looks, reinforcing your point.

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