They’re Still Killing Us.

Last week was the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. It happens all over the world, every November 20. I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeated mention, if anything about the transgender experience does.

At a TDOR (as it’s usually called; “T-door”), event, a list is read aloud of the names of every transgender person who was murdered in the previous year, if they were murdered because they were transgender. The reading is preceded by speeches or prayers, and sometimes there’s a potluck. It’s often social, but never cheerful. It’s a grim task, but the dead deserve no less, especially from those, like me, who have had the luck or privilege (so far) to avoid the sort of violence that ended the lives of these victims.

Discrimination beyond transphobia is a factor in the murders of transgender people, just as it is with most violence. Women become victims more often than men. Poor people and minorities become victims more often than middle-class whites. Transgender people whose appearance is less “cisnormative” definitely become victims more often than those who “pass.” That’s a tautology, in fact, because transphobic violence only happens in the first place because the victim has been identified as a person who transgresses gender norms.

This year the official death toll is 226 lives. That’s as of early last week; there are new names nearly every day of the year, so the list is always out of date by the time it’s read.

Furthermore, it’s notoriously difficult to compile an accurate list. This is the case for several reasons:

  • It’s not always obvious that transphobia was the motive for any given homicide. Transgender people also get murdered for the same reasons as everyone else, so the authorities and reporters may assume other motives were operative when they assess the crimes.
  • Transgender people are often misgendered postmortem, either because their corpse or their identity documents don’t match their gender.
  • Often the cause of death is so savage and brutal that even identifying the victim and learning his or her gender is impossible. This year, for example, five individuals on the list were burned to death, or their bodies were burned afterward.

Gays and lesbians suffer physical violence disproportionately, too, and often it’s for the same reason: a gay man’s appearance isn’t masculine enough, or a lesbian’s is insufficiently feminine. This drives some people nuts; they find gender nonconformity repulsive on a deep, visceral level. My friend Brynn Tannehill examined this phenomenon earlier this year. It’s about transgressing gender norms. It’s the most important reason why we’re the LGBT community, not the LGB community and the T community, and any LGB person who believes we aren’t all fighting the same fight hasn’t thought about the matter deeply enough. Their struggle is ours, and vice versa.

It is a basic instinct for humans (most species, for that matter) to dislike anyone we find strange. We hate “The Other.” That’s a necessary survival trait for small tribal groups on the antediluvian savanna, but in the modern world, with billions of people, it becomes racism, ethnic cleansing, sectarian clashes, and jingoism. It’s natural to have such feelings, but we’re better than our nature, on the whole. The attackers are the ones who fail the nurture over nature test.

There’s probably something else also going on than simple “you’re different from me” Othering in the case of transphobic homicides. If I were feeling contemplative today, I’d probably email one of evolutionary psychology friends and try to figure it out. Maybe I’ll still do that, and turn it into another post.

For now I’ll just leave this where it lies. I am transgender. It’s not a condition I asked for or wanted, but it’s an amazing experience that teaches me more things about myself and the world every day, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

I pay a price for this experience in many different ways. Every year, across the world, some pay a much heavier price. Never forget them.

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