Transgender Day of Remembrance

Wimminwise is draped in black today in observance of the 9th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Since 1998, people and organizations concerned with the welfare of transgender people have observed November 20 as a day to remember and honor individuals who have died in acts of anti-transgender violence. 

For more on the day, visit the sites of the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Remembering Our Dead.  For a collection of resources and opinion regarding the relationship of the Transgender Day of Remembrance to communities of faith and their concerns, visit TransFaith On-line.

We also share here the text of the recent Call for a Transgender Unemployment Day of Remembrance:

Please consider, this Transgender Day of Unemployment Remembrance, making space not only to honor not only the dead, but also to pause and remember the names and sacred concerns of so much of the Transgender community that is cut off from good, decent jobs.

So much of the Transgender community is unemployed, has experienced job discrimination, has been exploited by working without job security, or has lost hope and turned to high-risk methods for finding survival income.

As we regroup after the divisive debates around the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and whether or not the United States if ready for Transgender and Gender Variant people to receive protection under the law, let us pause remember the lives that are at stake.

Let us pause to remember that the inability to find a safe employment situation is a life and death problem. It is a contributing (if not causal) factor in our community’s suicide rate, struggle with addictions, and risk for sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

It’s not just violent hate crimes that lead Transgender death. In turning our backs on employment discrimination, we are contributing to the already dismal Transgender mortality rates.

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More on Why Transgender Issues are Women’s Issues

Transgender TaoThe question of why the Women’s Center at LPTS observes the Transgender Day of Remembrance is still on my mind.  It has been making me think this:  When people suggest that the Transgender Day of Remembrance doesn’t have that much to do with women, and women’s issues, they seem to be suggesting that “women” is a clear, unambiguous term, and that it doesn’t include transgender people. 

These questioners may be thinking that “women” denotes a group of people who have a particular cluster of bodily characteristics, desires, accepted roles, outward appearance and behavior, all of which match one another in a particular way.  That way, any one of those things works as a sign or signal for everything else.  To that way of thinking, it is a simple matter to know who and what counts as a woman, and by extension, what counts as a woman’s issue.  A woman’s issue is something that affects those people who fit the label of woman.

To that way of thinking, then, when bodily characteristics, desires, assigned and accepted roles, outward appearance and behavior don’t all match, something is wrong.  That seems pretty simple.

It is simple – and that’s the problem.  Because the realities of our humanity are not as simple as that. 

The Women’s Center itself was born in protest against other versions of that simple world, with its limited and limiting models of gender.  It was born protesting the idea that Real Women would not, and would not even want to, study in seminaries, preach in pulpits, administer sacraments, and pastor churches.  It was born protesting the old saw that “anatomy is destiny,” out of recognition that the problem was never as much with anatomy as with what patriarchy pronounced that anatomy to mean and to be entitled to.  It was born protesting the idea that there is one right way to do “being a woman,” and its corollary that we know what that way is from the plain sense of Scripture. 

Insisting that real life women think, feel, want, look, and are many different ways, are real people in all of those ways, and deserve to be recognized and valued as created and affirmed by God in all of that difference, has always been the Women’s Center’s program.  So insisting that gender is a much more complicated reality than our rigid binaries lead us to believe seems like a women’s issue to us.

Someone might be thinking I am being coy to talk about roles and behaviors, as if they were [these days] constitutive of womanhood.  Surely I know that being a real woman has something to do with bodily architecture; people are born with bodies, so they are born women or men.  Well, not women or men, exactly, but girls or boys.  Being a woman or a man comes down to having a particular kind of body. 

But which kind of body is that?  Can it differ from the ideal-typical or the paradigmatic female body?  How much?  Enough to authorize people who know themselves as women but whose bodies do not include breasts, or wombs, or are too big, or too old, or too hard, or too whatever?  What permits who to over-rule the canonicity of those women’s claim to womanhood at any point?  What permits who to say where that point lies?  And what, in particular, does it allow us to say to the people who are born with bodies that are not obviously either a girl’s or a boy’s?  Because the facts are that even at birth, this matter of gender assignment is more complex than simple male/female binary thinking makes it out to be. 

My point here, which is not the only point that could be made on this topic, is that the issues at the heart of the Transgender Day of Remembrance are the ones that have always been at the heart of the Women’s Center.  Transgender folk remind us, again, and vividly, that what it means to “be a woman” or to “be a man” is far less simple than people often think.  Transgender folk challenge us to live with the complexity of gender in the real world.  The reality of anti-transgender violence challenges us to live with that complexity more justly.  Seconding that challenge couldn’t be simpler.

Why Transgender Issues Matter to Members of Faith Communities

transgender flagAbout 15 people, not counting panelists and others, gathered in the Women’s Center Tuesday to talk with 3 panelists from the local area about the relevance of transgender issues to people in general and to members of faith communities in particular.  The Women’s Center is deeply grateful to Beth Harrison-Prado and colleagues who took time from their schedules to make the panel discussion a reality. 

One point that came through particularly clearly in the discussion was that transgender people are not the only people who chafe under a rigid binary gender regime, in which there are two and only two genders, masculine and feminine, which are supposed to be determined by a clear and unambiguous physical or anatomical profile, and which in turn are supposed to determine lots of other things in turn – behaviors, attitudes, interests, sexual attractions, skills and aptitudes, . . .

Transgender people demonstrate the inadequacy of that gender regime pretty dramatically, but many many other people and phenomena demonstrate it in smaller ways.  Little girls who want to be boys because “boys get to play sports.”  Well-wishers who want to know immediately whether the child on the way is a girl or a boy “because we want to know what to buy” – since there are girl gifts and boy gifts, and it would be wrong to give a girl gift to a boy and vice versa.  Little boys who want to wear pretty, colorful clothes, which for some inexplicable reason always turn out to be girls’ clothes.  Women who are in various ways unfeminine, men who are in various ways unmasculine.  . . .

The witness of trans-folk shines a bright light on all the variance masked by the culturally approved gender standard.  Which difference is permitted, which prohibited varies from place to place and time to time, but the differences  that challenge the simplicity and ruliness of gendered humanity surface over and over. 

Transgender people don’t create the inadequacy of the rigid gender binary, but transgender people do bring that inadequacy into sharp focus.  And the Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds us, among other things, that we all live in a world in which some people would rather commit murder than permit the inadequacy of the notion of the clear, natural male-female structure of reality to be seen clearly as such.  Trans people die because they call attention, in a particularly vivid way, to something that most people could observe in their own lives:  the limited, restricted models of gender that we work with do not describe most people.  Instead, they seem to operate to keep people within bounds, to keep things simple (easier to understand; easier to administer; easier to ignore).

Another theme that surfaced in the discussion was honesty.  Transgender awareness and openness to transgender information, learning, and acceptance, has to do with building communities in which people can live safely and at the same time openly and honestly, rather than having to sacrifice safety for honesty, or honesty for safety.  The reality of domination – who makes what rules, for what reasons, about what is allowed and not, what will be acceptable and what not, to what end – lies not-always-so-clearly behind and below the question of who may live their particular path in life out loud, and who must remain silent, or else risk much, perhaps even life itself. 

Faith communities have, at times, participated in setting some stringent and rejecting rules around gender.  Faith communities have also, at times, participated in breaking down rigid barriers and transforming the world so that more lives can be embraced and lived humanly and fully, in relationship with others.  Faith communities always have to make a choice.

So we learned again that there is a deep connection between the values people affirm at the heart of their faith, and the practice of accepting transgender people, learning about the particular struggles and choices faced by transgender people, and having the conversations necessary to meet one another as human beings with reciprocal demands, responsibilities, gifts, and qualities. 

Ten Reasons the Women’s Center Observes the Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender symbolOne friend of mine in particular has been challenging me to say why the Women’s Center spends any of its clearly finite time and energy on organizing an observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  That question no doubt deserves some extended reflection and comment.  Here, however, are some preliminary thoughts: 

Because this year some people died too soon, because someone hated them to death because of their gender, or how they lived it.

Because transgender people are real people, created in the image of God, and because every person’s life is unique and precious to God, and because anti-transgender murder denies both those things.

Because the killers of transgender people often go to great lengths to obliterate the memory of these people, so preserving that memory is an act of solidarity and resistance.

Because we affirm that no one’s life is disposable or not worth mourning and honoring.

Because whether or not we are transgender ourselves, transgender people are our neighbors, relatives, friends, colleagues, students, teachers, parishioners, pastors – that is, valued and valuable members of our world.

Because the “gender” in transgender concerns everyone; gender issues are women’s issues. 

Because we are working for a world in which no one becomes the victim of deadly violence for refusing to conform to someone’s expectation of what is proper for a man or a woman.

Because difference is not defect; because the idea that there is a right and a wrong way to have or live gender, and that the current norm is that right way, is a mistake.

Because it is not yet totally obvious enough to everyone why the Women’s Center supports the Transgender Day of Remembrance. 

Because we are working for a time when the reasons the Women’s Center would support the Transgender Day of Remembrance are obvious, but the observance itself is no longer necessary – because people no longer die from anti-transgender violence.

Coming Events

Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Various events throughout the day, Tuesday, November 20, including:

  • Worship, 8:00-8:20 a.m., “Valley”
  • Moments of prayer throughout the day
  • Transgender 101 workshop, McAtee A & B, 12:30-1:20 p.m., led by Beth Harrison-Prado
  • Candlelight Vigil, 7:00-8:00 p.m., Caldwell Chapel
  • Reception following worship, Fellowship Hall (ground floor of Caldwell Chapel)

 The observation of the Transgender Day of Remembrance honors the lives of transgender individuals who have died during the past year as the targets of anti-transgender violence.

Fall Arts and Crafts Sale — December 7, Winn Center

Please donate your crafts and arts to the Women’s Center!  All proceeds help us continue our programs throughout the year!!