By Dylan Orr
November 20th, 2013 marks the commemoration of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) around the world. In its 15th year, TDOR is a day dedicated to remembering the many lives of transgender, gender non-conforming, and genderqueer people who have been needlessly taken from us, and the many more who endure violence, hatred, and prejudice, due solely to misunderstanding and fear.
On this day, I will be thinking about the virtue of humanity – a set of strengths focused on tending and befriending others – and encouraging leadership, courage, and community-building in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities. By our very existence, transgender, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming people transcend and challenge the societal comfort zone that is the gender binary, and occupy an unfamiliar space for many that can either create fear and distance or serve as an opportunity for an evolving understanding of gender. I vote for the latter. TDOR should serve as a reminder to us to move toward, rather than away; to be open, rather than closed; to include, rather than reject.
On November 4th, 2013, just over two weeks ago, 18-year-old Sasha fell asleep on the bus, heading home in Los Angeles. Sasha, who does not identify as either male or female, and uses gender-neutral pronouns, was wearing a skirt. Sasha likes wearing skirts. That is how Sasha feels comfortable dressing. A young person, a stranger to Sasha, set Sasha’s skirt on fire while Sasha sat sleeping. Sasha’s long recovery from this incident has just begun, and I imagine the scars will not only be on the surface.
On September 24th, 2013, less than two months ago, 26-year-old Eyricka, a transgender woman living in New Jersey, was stabbed to death by a neighbor living in her boarding house.
On August 23rd, 2013, 21-year-old Islan was out in New York with a group of trans women friends when she was brutally attacked by a man on the street, allegedly once he realized she was transgender, and later died from the injuries she sustained.
The stories of Sasha, Eyricka, and Islan are three illustrations of violence against transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming individuals that have occurred just over the last few months. Many others are known, and far too many more remain untold. Sasha experienced an act of violence; Eryicka and Islan lost their lives. Sasha’s experience highlights the particular vulnerability of transgender, genderqueer, and gender-non-conforming youth to bullying and violence, while Eyricka and Islan’s murders highlight the particular vulnerability of trans women and specifically trans women of color. Of the hundreds of murders of trans people in the United States every year, a highly disproportionate number of them are people who are also marginalized in other aspects of their identities.
Issues of racism, classism, homophobia, and ableism intersect with the violence against the trans community. The fear of “otherness” and “difference” that is at the root of violence against the trans community is the same fear that historically and still today results in violence against and exclusion of people with disabilities, people of color, and sexual minorities. This presents yet another opportunity for our communities to come together.
I am openly transgender, and I consider it a gift. I care less that people fully understand how or why I came to identify that way – that part is complex and personal, as all identity is, though I am more than happy to share it. It is more important to me that people simply reach an understanding that being transgender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming in either identity or expression is as valid and real a human experience as any other. And it is absolutely not a threat to anyone. Perhaps even the opposite. No one, absolutely no one, should have to live in fear to be the human being that they are.
I hope that one day we can all share in a world where we not only respect, but truly celebrate the beauty that is the wide variation of the human form, condition, and experience. On Transgender Day of Remembrance we should recommit ourselves, in each our own way, to help us get there.
Dylan Orr from Seattle, is the sone of devoted PSARA member Minnie Caruso. Dylan now lives in Washington D.C., where he serves as Chief of Staff to Assistant Secretary Kathy Martinez in the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor. He contributes to the development of national disability employment related regulations and policy. Dylan is a member of the steering committee of Trans Legal Advocates of Washington. Dylan was awarded the Julie Johnson Founders Award by the National Center for Transgender Equality for his continued leadership and visibility. Dylan has the honor of being the first openly transgender person appointed to a U.S. presidential administration.