With November 20 marking Transgender Day of Remembrance, Lucy reflects...
Trigger warning: Mentions of hate crime and suicide.
Today (November 20) marks Transgender Day of Remembrance, and Solent Mind's lead bid writer Lucy reflects on the day and vigils she has attended...
The way in which we mark the measures of the LGBTQ+ community changes throughout the year. Pride is first and foremost a statement of defiance and independence, and other such days are there to raise awareness and visibility of the discrimination we face. Over time, these have become celebrations of our existence, of our uniqueness, and how that has made our lives worth fighting for. But one day stands out on the calendar as something different.
On November 20th, we mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A sombre occasion, it tells of the cost our mere presence entails. It tracks the lives lost in the previous year due to hate crimes, discrimination, and suicide. This is the toll that reminds us that we are not yet safe and that our resistance is warranted.
I’ve only been to a few vigils but each will stay with me. A few hundred of us gather in some public space, be it a park or town square, and pass in a line by some tables to collect our candles. Ringed in paper to protect our hands from molten wax, we huddle over these meagre flames to guard them from the wind, and gather in a group before a small, improvised dais. A rudimentary speaker-system, a microphone held in a shivering pair of hands, and a list of paper covered in the names of the dead.
Once the crowd is settled, a compere takes their place and introduces themselves, welcomes everyone, and makes ready to begin the reading. While we tremble in the cold winter air, guarding our flames as best we can, sharing them when one goes out, the speaker says a few words in recognition of the occasion. There is silence but for their voice and the wind.
This quiet only deepens when they come to the list itself. Depending on the year, its size may vary, but I’ve never seen it limited to a single side of A4. More often than not, it’s written in columns over several pages, organised this time by country or that time by age. And that’s when it hits. This list is the dark underbelly of this conflict, and while in some places we might feel like we’re making progress, in others we’re barely clinging on.
There are at least a dozen countries where being a member of the community is, in some form, an act punishable by death. In many others, social and legal acceptance is so low that those who come out face an almost pariah status. Conversion therapy – still present in the UK – remains an option to try and force people back in line with ‘social norms’. Whereas abuse, assault, murder, and even genital mutilation are not unheard of when it comes to young transgender individuals as a more forceful method of retribution.
Sometimes, a name is accompanied by an age or a cause of death, while at other times it is left unspoken and to the imagination. And the list goes on. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Half an hour. An hour. A slow reading of a solemn nature that does little to capture the true extent of the loss. Because it’s hard to accept that each name is a life that’s been lost, through murder or suicide, and one that could have been prevented.
Each one is a person’s potential that will now go unfulfilled. And it did not need to be this way. The reasons behind each tragedy is varied and nuanced, a long history of cultural and societal teachings that nonetheless all reach the same result. A person is dead because they wanted to be their true, authentic selves.
When the reading ends, we are cold inside and out. Without great ceremony, we disperse, hand back our candles, and do our best to go on with our lives. But the weight is there. It’s heavy now even as I write this, because I know that it’s in part due to their sacrifice that I get to live a life of meaning and happiness. I hold them in my heart every day, thousands of names unspoken and unremembered, but which nonetheless total the debt we accrue.
And it’s for them, in part, that I endure. I am in this fight and my existence is defiance. My life is victory. And we stand together, soldiers in solidarity, burdened by the same grief but buoyed by the same duty. Because as hard as it can sometimes be, we are there for each other, to celebrate the goods times and to console the bad. We are a community and, year by year, the tide is slowly changing.
We gather more allies with each telling, welcome more members with each new generation, and gather again on the same day every year to remind ourselves why we fight. We remind ourselves why we live. And we wish that this time the list will be a little shorter, and pray for the day when there won’t be a list at all.
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