by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Amongst the many hats I wear, the heaviest is that which I don while chronicling those killed at the hand of anti-transgender violence. It is a responsibility that becomes harder and harder, as I strive to hold onto an ever-increasing number of names and places, dates and deaths. It never fully fades into the background, it is always with me to one extent or another. I would not wish the duty on anyone.
If I sound like I’m kvetching a bit, well, maybe I am. But not over having taken on this duty, nor over some “inconvenience” that might be conceived. I do the job willingly, and any anger or frustration I might have over it all is not about me, it is that people seem to still think that killing people simply because you perceive them as transgender is somehow acceptable behavior.
Even now, after going through hundreds of cases — each a death that should not have happened — I find myself appalled yet again at the barbarism that some people face at the hand of anti-transgnder violence. People who were not just killed, but were savaged, their faces disfigured, parts of their bodies cut off of them and their possessions burned beyond recognition. All some misguided attempt to erase their being.
Sometimes these killers aren’t the only ones seeking erasure. Police forces sometimes opt to ignore these cases, finding them too messy to deal with. They simply do not want to have to champion those of us pushed to the margins of society, who they deem as somehow deserving of the actions taken against us.
The media, too, can often work against us, labeling us by names forgotten, genders unwanted, and in ways designed to create in us the most shocking and salacious image they can paint in some attempt to gain viewers and potential ad revenue.
All the while, we fight for healthcare, employment rights — I’m looking at you, non-inclusive ENDA — anti-discrimination protections, and even the very right to live. We deal with our transness every time we face the eyes of those we come across in public, never knowing if the woman who hissed an “oh good lord” in the supermarket might one day be the emergency medical technician who will refuse to treat you, or if your otherwise charming date will become a murderer if he ever suspects you were not physically born into the gender you live within.
This is why none of us can ever really grow complacent. Why those we’ve lost remains important even today, when the deaths of U.S. solders in a country half-way around the world far eclipse the number of anti-transgender violent murders I’ve chronicled.
The thing is, these are not anonymous names. Each person had a family, whether it be one of blood, one of the heart, or perhaps a bit of both. I’ve known people who I have had to later include in the project, and I never, ever want to know that again. I don’t want to put my friends and family into the project, and I hope that no-one else ever find themselves having to put my name up on the project’s web site.
It simply remains that we need to continue to fight. We need to attend those protests and vigils, we need to stir the pot, and we need to tell our stores, and educate — even when we’ve done it all a thousand times before.
It’s hard for me to look at the lists of names, and know those stories, and tell them again and again. It is hard to think of those lost, and know that these losses are never ending: names will always be added to the roster, and with each, a story of often barbaric death in a world that should be well equipped to avoid such things. Not even the “golden rule” seems to apply when a transgender man or woman is facing the killer: they’ll do unto others regardless, because they don’t see you as an equal.
yet we are, and it is up to us to remind people. We belong. We have rights. We deserve to live. Don’t let anyone take that away.