The following speech was written for the 2021 Trans Day of Remembrance event put on by QueerKentucky in partnership with The Blend and Trouble Bar.
Featured Art: Kah Yangni Trans People Are Divine
My queerness and my transness are important parts of my identity, because the obstacles I have faced and overcome in order to be who I am have shaped every part of my life, personality, and perspective.
Of course, I’m more than just a queer transgender man. I’m also a poet, a blogger, an educator, an editor, a coffee shop manager, a friend, and a cat dad. These roles are just as central to my sense of self–and my sense of purpose–as my identity as a queer trans man. But I would not be fulfilling any of these roles if I had not come out and been able to transition.
I lost quite a few things when I transitioned. I lost my partner of three years, who I’d shared a home and a life with. I lost my job at the restaurant where I transitioned, when I could no longer tolerate the constant disrespect, misgendering, and harassment from my boss, the restaurant owner. I lost hope of reconnecting with much of my family, who I’d been estranged from since my first coming out. I lost my cis-passing privileges: my ability to use the restroom without fear, to visit the doctor without fear, to show my ID without fear, to get my haircut or go shopping for clothes without fear, to walk down the street without being gawked at, yelled at, or asked by a total stranger whether I was a boy or a girl, which as all trans people know is just code for “what’s in your pants?”
Today, at this point in my transition, you can’t tell just from looking at me that I’m trans. Sadly, not looking trans is a goal for many trans people, because with its achievement comes safety, comfort, and privilege. But accessing privilege by appearing to be cis, by appearing to be something you’re not, is its own kind of mind fuck, its own kind of trauma. It is the trauma of internalized transphobia: the sense that you’re hiding a dirty secret. Or the trauma of erasure: having valid fears that are invisible to the world, that don’t add up to the people around you, but which live inside of you, haunting your dreams and controlling your thoughts and feelings.
I still relive the fears from early transition. As do my loved ones. The person I dated throughout the first four years of my transition, and who is still one of my best friends and best allies, would often panic if I’d come home late from work, if she couldn’t get ahold of me, or when her phone would alert her to a shooting or robbery in our neighborhood while she was in class. Six years later, she will still sometimes text or message me in a panic, asking where I am and if I’m safe.
When people asked me if I was afraid to transition, with all of the hate crimes that are inflicted on the trans community, this is my reply. I knew full well going into my transition that the odds of me being assaulted or murdered would increase. But as I saw it, the chances of me killing myself, whether intentionally, by suicide, or accidentally, by overdosing, were exponentially greater. I know a lot of people who transition according to this same logic. Either way, it’s a gamble. This gamble is a defining, and a tragic part of the trans experience.
Many of us do not survive. It is why we have TDOR, a holiday dedicated to mourning our dead. But there is something about the gamble we take when we transition, consciously, knowingly, and courageously, that makes trans people so powerful, our existence so radical. It’s kind of like having a near death experience. Coming out and losing everything, or seeing the deaths of other trans people on the news, week after week, year after year, and continuing to live your truth, is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and realizing you have nothing left to lose. You begin to cherish your existence, and your loved ones, in a way that many people never do in their lifetime. And if you are white, masculine of center, or further along in your transition, you discover an imperative to fight for those who are less privileged: trans people of color, trans femmes, and those just beginning their transition. You become not just willing, but ready to show up, speak up, and risk your own safety and comfort for others, a transformative way of life that our society does not encourage, and which many never experience.
So this month, as we honor and mourn the trans lives that have been so violently taken, let us also remember to honor and protect the trans people who are still here, especially the most vulnerable, whose lives are a shining emblem of resilience and resistance.
In other words: mourn the dead, and fight like hell for the living.