By David T. Valentin
“Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual observance on November 20 that honors the memory of the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence,” GLAAD’s website writes.
Although the transgender community has made some strides in the past year in recognition, such as Joe Biden being the first acting president to honor Trans Day of Visibility, the first transgender four-star officer, Dr. Rachel Levine, sworn in, and a few transgender politicians sworn into office, 2021 officially marks the deadliest year on record for transgender people.
“With nearly two months left,” The 19th writes, “2021 has shattered the record for transgender homicides in a year with 45 to date – most of them Black or Latinx – according to Human Rights Campaign. Last year held the previous record with 44 trans murders.”
Not only has violence against our Trans citizens increased, but Anti-Transgender legislation is at an all time high. According to PBS, the United States has introduced “more than 100 bills to restrict trans rights.”
In a speech just an hour ago, president Biden wrote, “In spite of our progress strengthening civil rights for LGBTQI+ Americans, too many transgender people still live in fear and face systemic barriers to freedom and equality.”
In a world where information is at our fingertips and people’s stories and experiences are online for us to read and learn from, there should be no reason for ignorance and no reason for the ignorant to be speaking over Trans peoples stories, or anybody else’s story, to spread their hate.
I grew up in a pretty conservative neighborhood where at a young age kids would spout their bullshit to my friends and sometimes to myself. They’d talk about how girls were weak and boys were somehow inherently stronger; girls were emotional while boys were logical. Meanwhile, every girl I knew who I was friends with were ten times tougher than any boy in any of my classes and ended up growing up and pursuing careers in STEM where women were sometimes not welcomed. And not only are these girls, now women, more logical and smarter than the boys in my class, but they were also more emotionally mature.
Growing up I had a grandmother and a mother who always took charge and never took shit from anybody. They were the one’s who taught me how to be strong and how to stick up for myself and what I stand for.
It was my father who tended to be the more vulnerable one with his emotions at times, and even more so as he’s gotten older. He taught me the importance of the home, talking things out, and enjoying things regardless of whether they were considered “for boys” or “for girls.”
My sister and best friend, who has taught me both compassion and how to take no shit from nobody, was one of the most aggressive people I grew up with, and when anybody messed with her on the playground or the bus, she’d make sure they knew she was pissed, whether through her words or through taking physical action. She was never taught to be meek, to allow men to speak over her so as to take advantage of her. And although I’m not condoning violence, if when a boy might hit her, or said something inappropriate and he didn’t back down, she’d make it known she wasn’t having any of it. Today, she has grown into an ambitious, compassionate, and strong woman who makes her opinion known regardless of who she’s speaking to.
Growing up I surrounded myself with people who were labeled the outcast, mostly because my friends didn’t fit in neat little categories. Mostly because my friends stood up for themselves when they were being bullied or spoken down to, because they weren’t taking anybody’s shit just because they had to “respect” an authority or a tradition.
And as I moved from a child to adulthood, I kept with those friends. I’ve seen how those same friends have grown, like my sister, into compassionate, ambitious and strong people who have surrounded themselves with likeminded people—open minded people who break boundaries in small ways and in turn have changed people’s minds, helped people understand what’s considered “untraditional” or “unusual.”
As many of my friends go into their careers as teachers, they tell me about the open mindedness of some of their students—the ways my friends find themselves shocked at the acceptance and knowledge of some of their students, an acceptance that was shame and ignorance when I grew up (and even worse for the generations before).
I thought this slight shift, from generation to generation, year to year, was a positive one where I felt we were making good strides in progress breaking down gender binaries, homophobia, and sexism.
But as I entered into adulthood with hope for the future, I was shocked to see the adult world and its many institutions riddled with injustice—racism, ableism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and the list goes on and on and on. I thought that, because the younger generation was so knowledgeable, so understanding of people’s lives and their experiences, that from the bottom of society the top had to have changed.
And yet I was met with the same ignorance, the same fear of the unknown, that I experienced with my friends on the playground. I guess it was a bit naïve of me to believe that things would change. Of course, the people who refused to change, to stick to their ignorant beliefs and refused to learn, would grow into ignorant adults with the power to vote and affect the lives of people they saw as other, strange, unknown.
What I quickly realized was that it was a much bigger playground in the adult world, but the same playground. Only difference was that the ignorance was made out to be much more complicated than it really was, and the bullies of the playground defended and hid behind their words, “it’s much more complicated.”
But in a world where information is at our fingertips, where people share their lives and experiences so that we can learn and grow, ignorance has no excuse—no reason to thrive except for the simple reason that the ignorant are unwilling to learn, unwilling to grow and unwilling to exercise compassion towards people that are not like them.
As the late author Toni Morrison said, “Evil is not interesting. What is it, chopping off someone’s head? We used to do that as kids, you know, you tear up paper dolls and stuff. I know everyone’s done it in the history of the world, but maybe everybody was dumb and they were just looking for something interesting to do. What’s really interesting and hard is being good.”
To look into the face of someone different than you, hear their story and still refuse to change, still refuse to acknowledge their humanity, is stupid and simple and not at all as complicated as people like to make it seem. What’s complicated is the compassion and kindness it takes to understand a life that you could never experience because of your identity. To face the truth and accept that you do not know something and be willing to learn, to change your preconceptions of the world so as to understand your fellow neighbor, now that is hard.
But to shrug someone off who says they experience injustice because of who they are? That’s not complicated. To look at the vast amount of information, stories, and experiences detailed on the internet and still say, “nope, I don’t believe you,” is easy. But to choose to sit there and listen? To stand there and fight? To want to change the world? That’s hard and that takes courage and strength. And that’s what every marginalized community needs now.