This Friday marks the 12th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance. On this day, people from across the world gather and remember all those transgender people who have been killed this year due to hate and prejudice. According to the official International Transgender Day of Remembrance website, the official count during the year of 2009 was 98 murders—however, the actual number is much higher than that, simply because many murders are not reported.
This time of the year is always difficult for me. The first TDoR vigil I attended was during my sophomore year, in 2008. I remember it clearly—we were still reeling from the passing of Prop 8. It was well past sunset, and we gathered in the sculpture garden by Roble. We stood in a circle and passed around a list of the transgender people who had been killed that year. One by one, we read each name, their date of death and how they were murdered.
I was on the verge of coming out to myself then. And I was terrified. I remember how scared I was then, listening to name after name, murder after murder. These were not just names. These were people who were just trying to live their lives, people who deserved to be happy, who deserved to be loved, who deserved a good job, a decent education, a family—people like me. But they were dead, because someone thought they didn’t deserve to live.
I admit I am lucky. I have lived within an hour of San Francisco all my life. I go to a school that accepts me, who knows me by my preferred name. I am able to write this column. I have family and friends who love me. Who knows, if the circumstances weren’t right, if I had lived someplace else, met the wrong people, found myself in one bad night, one slip-up, one encounter with someone a bit too ignorant or a bit too drunk—I could have easily become one of those names read out loud by candlelight. But I’m not. I’m still here. I’m still alive. And I know it’s weird to say this, but at times, I’m surprised that I’ve lasted this long. Why was I left here, when so many other people were taken away? It seemed so random.
This is a society that assumes a gender binary, that assumes this strict divide between male and female, that men must act this way, and women must act this way, and anything that mixes the two is weird, unnatural, shouldn’t exist. It is a mindset that pervades the subconscious of our culture, and it is this mindset that kills gender-variant people and those who do not so neatly fit into those little checkboxes marked “male” and “female.” I remember back as a sophomore, at that vigil, I felt helpless, that there was nothing I could do to stop these murders. In retrospect, I suppose it was this moment in my life, as this scared little 19-year-old, that motivated me to write this column. As I grew older, I realized that if some cosmic force is keeping me alive, then I’m not going to waste a moment. People like Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, Rita Hester and countless others who have been forgotten can no longer speak for themselves, because they are no longer here. But I’m still here. And I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to keep talking. The only way anyone’s going to shut me up is if I’m dead. (And I’m not planning that anytime soon, trust me.)
In 38 states, it is still legal to fire or not hire an individual due to gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act still does not include transgender rights. And every year, more and more trans people are getting killed for simply being who they are. It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s still so much that needs to be done. As much as I would like to, I can’t do all this alone. So I ask you to use gender-neutral pronouns. Think about the forms you have to fill out on a daily basis. If you are presented with those stress-inducing M/F checkboxes, don’t check either, or if you see there is a third box that states “decline to state” or “other,” check that instead. Bring up this column in a conversation today or this week. And when you talk about LGBT rights, don’t forget the last letter in the acronym. I remember a friend of mine telling me that the “T” in “LGBT” stands for “terrific” —because hell, we are terrific people, and terrific people deserve to be happy.
I know this week is Big Game week, and I’m excited as you about Stanford shanking Cal this Saturday. However, I ask that you take one moment and remember. It will mean a lot.
E-mail Cristopher Bautista at [email protected].