By Pamela Benetti
I hope non-transgender people are reading my column. I hope trans-people are reading it too, of course, but the concern exists that since I am an out trans-woman and known as such that segments of the community might not bother reading my material. What could a transsexual woman have to say that might be of value to a gay man, a lesbian woman, or a bisexual person?
If you’ve ever been harassed, discriminated against, raped, assaulted or threatened with assault because of your sexuality or gender presentation, read on for the answer.
This November 20th will mark the 5th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside to honor and remember those who were murdered for being transgender or being perceived as transgender. It is worth noting the fact that not all of those slain identified as transgender. The brutal reality is that it isn’t just transsexual prostitutes who get murdered…it doesn’t just happen in Brazil, or Serbia, or “less civilized” countries…it happens here, in the United States, in Detroit. It happened to Nikki Nicholas, and Tamyra Micheals. It could happen to you if someone doesn’t like the way you express your gender and has the nerve to act on their issues.
The biggest motivator of gay bashing typically isn’t who one chooses to sleep with, which, public displays of affection aside, is rarely obvious, but visible gender variance. Who were the most ferociously bullied and ostracized kids from grade school onwards? Kids who exhibited any deviation from the rigid gender binary. Sexual orientation was typically assumed or inferred from gender-variant behavior. In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in many U.S. schools were subjected to unrelenting [abuse] . . . including brutal physical attacks, mock rapes, unwelcome sexual advances and other acts of sexual harassment, taunts, obscene notes or graffiti, and the destruction of personal property.”
HRW also noted:
“The abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth was frequently predicated on the belief that girls and boys must adhere strictly to rigid rules of conduct, dress, and appearances based on their sex. That is, homophobia was linked to stereotypical gender roles. Boys were expected to be athletic, strong, stoic, and dominant relative to girls. Girls were expected to be attentive to boys and to accept a subordinate status to them. Regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, youth who violated these rules ran the risk of punishment at the hands of their peers and at times by adults. Transgender youth were the most vulnerable to violence by peers and harassment by adults.”
What this means in terms of those of us who live life in the gender opposite our birth gender is frightening. 60% of transgender people will be victims of violence at some point in our lifetimes; In fact, homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for transgender people. Gender variant people are typically denied access to services from shelters, rape crisis centers, domestic violence agencies and other social service providers, which contributes to the popular notion that it’s ok to abuse and de-humanize anyone who dares to cross the gender line.
In many ways Transgender Day of Remembrance is an exercise in re-humanizing fallen victims of the gender binary. It is a way for us as a community to come together to make a powerful statement that it’s not acceptable to hate or kill people because of their gender expression, that transgender lives DO matter.
There will be several local Day of Remembrance memorial services on November 20th; In Ann Arbor, a vigil will be held in the University of Michigan Diag at 6:30 P.M., followed by a gathering in the Kuenzel Room, Michigan Union, at 7:45 p.m. Organized by the Transgender Advocacy Project, and co-sponsored by the UM Office of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Affairs. There will also be a DOR memorial in Ferndale at 7:00 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit.
For more information go to http://www.gender.org/remember/day/who.html