by Princess Harmony
The Transgender Day of Remembrance falls on Sunday, November 20th and I couldn’t be less interested in observing it if I tried. Sure, it’s a day to memorialize and remember trans women who’ve been murdered, so that statement might come off as cold. There’s never a time where I don’t think of murdered trans women, out of sadness for them or out of fear for those of us who still live. But I can’t take the overbearing whiteness of Trans Day of Remembrance events. I can’t stand that white trans women use it as their day to decontextualize, co-opt, and practically consume the deaths of trans women of color in order to put themselves at the center of trans oppression.
The general consensus is that white women don’t particularly care about women of color, and this remains true in a transgender context. White trans women don’t care about trans women of color as people and in life. They are usually privileged above us, not just in terms of race but also in terms of class, the type of work available to us, and in terms of social access to spaces. And instead of acknowledging this privilege and working toward positive ends for all trans women, they look down on us.
I’ve entered white trans spaces only to be met with racism, classism, and exclusion. My very first attempt to enter trans spaces was met with older white trans women rejecting me and how I transitioned. Because I couldn’t afford to meet all the gatekeeping hoops—the therapist, the letters, that whole deal—I was seen as a lesser form of trans woman. I wasn’t nearly as much of a true transsexual as they were.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that these people, these people who judged you based on your ability to jump through hoops (hoops that only white people, and only people with money, tend to be able to jump through), were the people organizing my area’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event. I was shocked. I was unhappy. Yet, I didn’t have the words or the eloquence to formulate my feelings yet. These people who judged trans women based on their ability to transition correctly were the ones memorializing trans women who weren’t financially secure enough to achieve “proper”, WPATH-approved transition yet.
This was the first step towards complete disillusionment with both white trans women and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Knowing that the people largely responsible for organizing the events also held beliefs that placed them above the dead completely knocked me back. But that really wasn’t the last time that would happen. Trans spaces that aren’t explicitly for trans women of color are bent toward whiteness.
My overall experience with white trans women is that they either erase that we exist in life or they make efforts to exclude us. In spaces for trans women who love other trans women, many white trans women—ones who go on and on about trans women dying, no less—end up being the “no Blacks, no Latinas, no Asians” type that you could see on OKCupid or Grindr. While this doesn’t directly have anything to do with Transgender Day of Remembrance, it’s important to take note of because it shows our position in transgender life. The spaces that aren’t directly ours are hostile to us, yet it’s these same people who make these spaces hostile who also run and organize (often to the exclusion of trans women of color) Transgender Day of Remembrance events. The entire tone that these events have is only a reflection of what white trans women think of us.
I always wondered why, at Transgender Day of Remembrance events and beyond, white trans women relied on a facile understanding of trans oppression that ignored race and class. The conclusion that I came to was that in order for them to be able to keep themselves in the center, to make trans oppression about them and only them, they needed to rely on something not fully grounded in material reality. A large part of what causes me to reject Transgender Day of Remembrance as an ahistorical and racist undertaking is the white trans desire of claiming that “it could have been them,” when everything in context says otherwise. Of course, that’s not to say that white trans people don’t get killed, but the fact remains that out of all the trans women who get killed every year, an overwhelming majority of them are not white.
There’s a far more complex narrative to trans women of color’s deaths than simply that they were killed because they were trans. The actual narratives surrounding each particular death reflects different parts of trans oppression. For example, many of the trans women of color killed in any given year are sex workers. Why? Because, in many cases, racialized transmisogyny keeps trans women from finding other work. Acknowledging these nuances of trans deaths is important to me because it gives us a goal to work for as a community, rather than the alternative of us getting together, decontextualizing the lives of the dead, and dispersing after a day. The Transgender Day of Remembrance, because it’s so wrapped up in white trans ideas of oppression, doesn’t allow us room within it to mobilize and strategize for a better future for trans women of color. Despite us being shut out of white-led organizing spaces, we still mobilize and do the work necessary for trans liberation, by creating our own organizing spaces and doing what we have always done, carving out a space to claim as our own.
White trans women who wish to be anti-racist shouldn’t just come together once a year to remember that we die, they should be desegregating (white) trans spaces and welcoming trans women of color into them. Although I don’t engage with the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I recommend anyone who does to remember the contexts of trans women of color in life and in death. And if anyone wants to #NotAllWhiteTransWomen at me, I suggest you don’t. Challenge the racism, the classism, the internalized transmisogyny of your peers. Build spaces where trans women of color like me can actually enter. Challenge your sisters to do better.
Princess Harmony is a nerd, writer, and happy little loser. She enjoys anime, video games, fashion, and cute things. Also, if you feed her snacks, she gets real happy. She’s also available as a consultant on matters of race, transgender identity, and all things anime.
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