Today is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). In cities across the world, people will gather to recite the names of all (known) transgender people who were murdered (for being transgender) since last November 20. In Atlanta, we’re doing it at the steps of the Capitol at 6 p.m. local time.
Something about the existence of transgender people really pushes the buttons of the ignorant and intolerant, and transphobia is the cause of a shocking number of murders each year across the world. The stories of at least two of these murders have been told on film, in A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story and Boys Don’t Cry. They’re true stories, about the brutal murders of teenager Gwen Araujo, a trans girl in California, and Brandon Teena, a transman in Nebraska. The South often gets spotlighted when the subject turns to bigoted violence, but these crimes happen all over the United States.
Folks have been remembering the victims at TDOR each year since 1999. The numbers fluctuate, but mostly go up. It’s not easy to get an accurate count, because many news outlets misgender the victims because of non-gender-conforming legal names or surgical status (or just because they’re jerks). Also, some nations get better at recording data and keeping statistics. I recall one year it looked like there was a big spike in transgender murders in Brazil, but I think it just seemed that way because record-keeping had improved since the previous year.
Nevertheless, Brazil and the rest of Latin America has been a perennial pacesetter in the field of physical violence against transgender people. I’m going to be looking at the reasons for this in the coming months.
When I say these murders are “brutal,” here’s what I mean: in spring of this year, Cemia Acoff, a 20-year-old transwoman, was stabbed to death, then her body was tied to a cement block and thrown into a pond.
In July, a teenager in Jamaica was beaten, stabbed, shot, and run over by a car. This kid had been living on her own after her father threw her out of her home.
Early in the new year, transman rapper Evon Young was chained up, suffocated, beaten with tools, then shot three times by a gang of five boys.
It’s usually a gang, which is why so few of us are able to fight back. Also, when we fight back, we open ourselves up to a different kind of persecution. In 2011 CeCe McDonald, a black transwoman, was attacked by a transphobic racist. She fought back, killed her attacker in self-defense and was convicted of manslaughter for her trouble. She’s serving her time in a men’s prison.
All four of these people I’ve described, incidentally, are nonwhite minorities. They’re not the only victims of transphobic violence, but as in most areas of life, they get the worst of it.
We’re making progress. I try to stay optimistic. But as long as transpeople are seen as punchlines to jokes or plot devices instead of people, we’re not going to be treated with the basic level of respect every person deserves.
Let’s evolve, already. We can do it.