Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009

Before I begin today’s post in earnest, the activist in me wants to draw your attention to a new map documenting anti-trans violence globally:

The social science methodologist in me however has to caution people passing it along.

The map above represents the level of reported incidences of murder of a transgender person around the world compiled by Transgender Europe. Because of the number of murders that are not classified as transphobic these numbers do not reflect the actual incidences of violence against transgendered people. Many transgender advocates in the U.S. have pointed to the fact that not classifying transphobia as a hate crime, or including transgender identity as a protected identity in the law, has led to the re-classification of anti-trans violence or the misidentification of transphobic murder in police records & court documents. So while this map may give some people comfort in thinking that they live in a country free of transphobia or at least transphobic murder, the reality is they may live in a country with the most abuse because they have no laws or language, or will, to track abuse against transgender communities. Documenting that abuse is one of the first steps in stopping it, so the white spaces on this map should cause as much, if not more, concern as the red ones; particularly since the red spaces are places that have some kind of language or recognized, though degraded, population of trans or genderqueer people in them or internationally known transgender communities or districts which make them both more recognizable by authorities documenting their deaths and easier to locate for people wanting to torture or kill them.

That being said, that map, like the list of names of lives lost has left me once again wondering how to move from documentation and sorrow to action. According to the Gender Education and Advocacy Group, 1+ transgendered people lose their lives every month in the United States and these are only the ones reported in the media. They die not because we don’t know people are being brutally killed but because we have not made it a priority to ensure these murders stop and the cissupremacy that allows them ends. Many in the feminist community don’t consider transgender issues part of our work, in the same way that many in the queer community include transgender as a letter in our ever growing alphabet but continue to center cis rights.

Every year on this blog I scour the internet for all of the names of transgender people who have not yet been added to the official list of lost lives and add them to the list here. And every year, there is always at least one well known (at least in the queer community) transgender person who has died so close to this day that their name rings out as a particularly tragic reminder that after 11 years of honoring transgendered lives lost, we are still no closer to ending transphobia.

This year that person is Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado who was beaten, burned, dismembered and decapitated by a man who “thought he was a woman.” Despite the obvious indication of transphobia, the reporting on Lopez Mercado’s death have often failed to identify this as a factor illustrating the problem with long term official documentation of transbashing and anti-trans murder. According to friends in PR, Lopez Mercado identified as an out gay man (hence why I am using male pronouns) but was also exploring his gender identity and many believe he was struggling with coming out as a woman; despite the fact he was wearing a dress @ the time of his murder, this part of the story is only emerging as a result of transgender advocates claiming Lopez Mercado as their own. Their voices have been instrumental in forcing people to look at Martinez Matos transpanic defense:

According to Telemundo and other local reports, Martinez Matos confessed to authorities that he picked Lopez Mercado up from the street, thinking that he was a woman.

When he realized that Lopez Mercado was a man, Martinez Matos said he regressed to an incident when he was sexually assaulted during a prison term (CNN)

Like other transphobic murder suspects, Juan A. Martinez Matos believes he is not only innocent of a hate crime but that Lopez Mercado is to blame, not only for presenting as a woman but also daring to fight back when Martinez Matos began to beat him. The story is both incredible in its level of violence and cissupremacist entitlement and all too familiar. It is that familiarity, brutality and claims of innocence based on the spectre of trans bodies, that again gives me pause about the efficacy of local and global efforts to confront transphobia in the face of Transgender Day of Rememberance. (IE, what are people doing the other 364 days of the year to prevent the list of those we mourn from getting longer each year?)

The local is on my mind as I prepare my invited statement honoring the transgender students who have lost their lives in my tenure at pov u to open our annual gathering.  As one of the only faculty willing to attend, I am again struck by the number of people afraid to speak or even to attend because of the profound transphobia and homophobia (b/c yes, some trans people are also same sex attracted for those who don’t know) of our campus. The amount of secrecy involved in putting this event together each year is its own testament to how far we have to go especially here. And the fact that I am invited to speak each year speaks less and less to me about the work I do with transgender people for equality and more and more to the relative privilege I have to be visible in these activities vis-a-vis transgender youth, students, and/or faculty here.

We have lost three transgendered people on our campus in the last 5 years, some missing and presumed dead and some clearly murdered. None of their names are amongst the documented deaths because their families re-closeted them in death or they cannot be counted because there is “no concrete evidence” that they were abducted &/or killed. We honor their truths tonight along with those taken nationally this year:

Documenting these thefts of precious life and honoring those who have passed is critical in its own right. Taking today to mourn the loss of so many is both an act of revolution ( refusing to allow anyone to forget or erase what has been done in the name of trans hatred) and needed public sorrow. Yet part of honoring the dead is speaking truth to the lives of those who live on and truth to the violence they endure to do so. Thus my words are insufficient as an opening to our local event, invited or not, insufficient in documenting the layers of pain and discrimination that lead to the ever growing list of lives lost.

In the interest of taking a backseat where I can, ie here in the space where people can talk openly and freely, unlike our campus, I invite my out transgendered readers to share their stories and I warn transphobic trolls that there is no space for them here.

The video above is actually a collaboration project between a youtube video maker and the people who responded to the call to discuss their experiences of anti-trans discrimination. You can share your story as part of new video collaborations by contacting the director directly here.

Regardless of your identity, please consider today not only a call to remember but to act WITH transgendered communities to end transphobia. Mourn today, act tomorrow and every day afterward. (You can start with the links in my posts which try to privilege links by Transgender activists and organizations or the links provided by TransgenderDOR and Remembering Our Dead)

(events in honor of Lopez Mercado will be taking place across the U.S. on Sunday, vigils for TDOR take place today)

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One thought on “Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009

  1. Pingback: Like a Whisper on Transgender Day of Remembrance « What Sorts of People

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