Rev. Miller Hoffman
Open Door MCC
November 23, 2014
Trans Day of Remembrance 2014
Today is November 20, the international Trans Day of Remembrance. It is a day to remember, recognize, and grieve the lives we have lost to anti-trans violence. What follows is an excerpt from Rev. Miller’s essay “Remember Our Dead.”
I think that remembering, when we remember our dead today, is an active verb. I think that remembering, in the way we do it today, goes beyond a reverie or nostalgia, like, Remember the day we met? or, Do you remember that trip down the Delaware River in the rain? Our remembering today is a vocal and a vigorous act of naming a people and describing a hate that is not pretty, or comfortable, or nostalgic.
Remembering Marsha P. (for Pay It No Mind) Johnson – a Stonewall veteran and subject of Andy Warhol photography – means knowing that she was drowned on July 6, 1992, shortly after the New York City Pride March. She had been harassed earlier that day near where her body was found, and the people close to her said she had been in good spirits. But remembering Marsha means knowing that the police ruled her death a suicide, after an investigation that reportedly consisted of two phone calls.
Remembering Brandon means knowing that he was raped on December 24th, that he went to the police and cooperated in their investigation. Remembering him means knowing that the sheriff was more interested in asking why Brandon dressed “like a boy” when he was “really a girl” than he was in making an arrest, despite the evidence corroborating Brandon’s account. It means knowing that on December 31, 1993, he was murdered by his rapists so that he could not testify against them, and that they also killed Lisa Lambert, a young single mother, and Philip De Vine, a black man and amputee. Remembering Brandon means knowing that he had spent time in jail for passing bad checks. And remembering Brandon means knowing that Norm MacDonald of Saturday Night Live said in his news skit, “Sorry if this sounds harsh, but in my opinion, everybody in this story deserved to die.”
Remembering Tyra Hunter means knowing that on August 8, 1995, she was in a car accident. Fire Department emergency workers arrived and began to provide her with life-preserving treatment until one cut open her slacks. Remembering Tyra means knowing that when the paramedics found a penis, they stopped treating her and instead laughed and backed away. Tyra Hunter died at DC General Hospital.
Remembering Rita Hester means knowing that she was stabbed repeatedly on November 28, 1998, in her apartment. It means knowing that her friends saw her as vivacious and outgoing. It means knowing that she may have invited her killers back to her home from a bar. Remembering Rita means knowing that after her death, Boston papers from the straight and queer communities referred to her with male pronouns and by her given name, and placed quotation marks around her chosen name.
Remembering Amanda Milan means knowing that her throat was cut on June 18, 2000, late at night by a man who had been verbally harassing her earlier about her gender. He cut her from behind as she turned to hail a cab. Remembering Amanda means knowing that she died because another man handed her killer a knife. Remembering Amanda means knowing that she argued back with her harasser and that she had a sharp tongue. And it means knowing that several New York City taxi drivers clapped and cheered as she bled to death.
The Remembering Our Dead website is filled with dozens of stories of our fallen saints. The Transgender Europe lists 226 names. And we can’t possibly know them all, we can’t possibly have a list of everyone who has been murdered for living and expressing a trans, genderqueer, or CD life. And they are not pretty stories with manicured lawns and gingham curtains at the window. We’re messy, just like everybody else, and we’re mouthy and sharp-tongued and really, righteously, angry sometimes.
We are to remember our dead today, and that means really seeing them for who they were. Incredible lives, rich with love and friendship and loyalty. And complex, complicated lives that were messy and lovely in their imperfection. Saints don’t have to be perfect, just wonderful and valuable and gifted. Every person, named and unnamed, every person with a story, even if we know them only as “Anonymous,” only as “Unnamed Transgender Woman,” these are people who knew themselves and lived that knowledge. These are people who did not deserve to die.
It’s not just Norm MacDonald who said Brandon got what was coming to him. The Nebraska sheriff said it when he didn’t arrest Brandon’s rapists. And the trail court judge said it when he found that Brandon was responsible in part for his own death, and that Brandon’s mother experienced no loss of love and companionship when he died.
Our dead are not something to talk about respectfully in civilized society, in polite company. The media and law enforcement and courts keep letting us know that our lives, and our deaths, are not matters that warrant much reflection by well-mannered circles. But in remembering our dead, we refuse to let them slide into gentle, polite obscurity. In remembering our dead we assert that there is no shame in our lives, and that our people are good people, and that our murders are untenable acts. And we speak the names of our dead and we tell their stories and we grieve their loss.
Remembering our dead today starts with knowing names and stories, it starts with really seeing our people in all of our richness and complexity, not prettying it up and not determining that lives that are not “pretty” are not worth living. Remembering our dead means reminding ourselves and our neighborhoods and cities and governments that we will not sit quietly while our lives are devalued and erased. Remembering our dead starts there.
But remembering at a service or event today is just the beginning. Because our remembering is a vocal and vigorous act, one of re-creating community and celebrating life.
When we remember the lives of those people who are gone, we remember too and celebrate those who are here, today, among us. We explore and discover ways that we can become more understanding, more supportive, more active in valuing and defending trans and genderqueer and CD experience. We remember our saints by honoring one another…
For more reading about trans lives and remembering our dead, visit Rev. Miller’s page on Huffington Post, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-miller-jen-hoffman/