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.