Content warning: This article discusses transphobia, suicide, self-harm and sexual assault in a way that could be distressing to some readers.
International Trans Day of Remembrance is always hard for me. It’s a day when we come together to mourn and honour the memory of the trans people we’ve lost to violence. And it seems like every year the list of people I lose grows more and more. More friends. More lovers. More family. Remembered, but gone.
This year alone I’ve lost three members of my trans family, including the first woman I ever came out to. We were both 12 at the time. We whispered it in the dark, curled up next to each other, our sleeping bags side-by-side in our little tent. A hushed secret spoken so softly the rain nearly drowned it out. She said it first, and held my hand as I said it too. I’m not sure I ever would have come out without her.
This Trans Remembrance Day (which fell on November 20) was harder than most, and not just for me. Transphobic violence and transphobia are rampant all around the world. Various pieces of anti-trans legislation have been endorsed by some politicians in countries from every corner of the globe including in Australia and the US.
It was no surprise to any of us when the Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT) tracker of the murder rates of trans people globally declared 2021 the ‘deadliest year since records began’. And that’s even before you take into account those of us lost to suicide, inadequate healthcare, poverty, discrimination and the oppressive systems of society that seek to break us at every turn.
None of this is surprising. Every time I got 'the call' this year, telling me one of my trans friends was dead, I felt many things: sadness, weakness, hopelessness and brokenness. But the one thing I never was, was surprised. And every time, the little voice in my head would whisper you’re next. Just like them. Remembered, but gone.
This year I turned 27, entering my late twenties, with the big 30 firmly on the horizon. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I was filled with sadness. I struggled to get out of bed, to be with my friends, and sometimes even to laugh. When my cis friends would ask, I would play it off as a ‘quarter-life crisis’, saying I felt I was lacking direction and purpose. Most of my trans friends didn’t even have to ask, they knew. I was afraid I was going to die soon. The truth is I am still afraid. I have always been afraid that I’ll be remembered, but gone.
For as long as I can remember, the idea of turning 30 has seemed impossible. It’s hard to explain this deep sadness, a mixture of hopelessness and fear that I always carry around with me. Because being a trans woman of colour has meant that with every year my friends and I get older, the more of them I lose. One of the reasons you don’t see many old trans people who transitioned in their youth is that most of us never make it that far. We don’t get to grow old. We get remembered.
And here’s the thing. I don’t want to be remembered. I want to be alive.
That may seem like an obvious thing to say, but it’s worth saying because so much of the focus and care for trans lives only ever happens in death.
Cis people know how to respond to dead trans people. In fact, some feed off it. They will be outraged. They will pity us. They will lament that not more was done. They will post a social tile about pronouns. And they will donate to LGBQTI+ organisations. They will speak of our bravery, erase all our rough edges and say how full of life we always were.
So full of a life they were content to watch be smothered out.
Because trans deaths don’t come out of nowhere. They never have. The signs have always been there.
The statistics are stark. They play on a loop in my head and I bear the scars of their reality on my body. In a recent Australian survey of trans people, 63 per cent reported previous self-harm and 43 per cent had attempted suicide.
We are denied access to life-saving health care and are underemployed. We face discrimination in every area of public life from schools to hospitals, workplaces, retail stores and even bathrooms. We are victims and survivors of higher rates of intimate partner violence. The list goes on and none of it is new.
Yet all these signs and all of our experiences are erased, again and again, by those who are only really comfortable with trans people when we are dead. So they keep us silent and invisible until we are dead, forever silent.
It comes from all the places you’d expect, like the openly transphobic and the far right who erase our realities and replace them with caricatures of monsters and sexual deviants, or the social media giants whose algorithms promote transphobic content while silencing trans voices.
But it also comes from many places you may not expect it to. Like women's rights groups who erase the issues faced by trans women in their struggle for gender justice, or cis-led LGBQTI+ groups who prioritise the comfort of their cis community members over the safety needs of trans people, or journalists who fail to include trans perspectives time and time again on key issues that affect our lives.
When there was public outcry about gendered violence and sexual assault earlier this year, trans voices were repeatedly silenced or pushed to the back. Our unique experiences and needs were repeatedly erased despite trans people, particularly trans women, being the victims of some of the highest rates of sexual assault and intermate partner violence in the country.
These forms of erasure serve to confine us to limited and predefined roles in the national conversation, either the dead victim or the helpless community being attacked that needs saving – neither of which actually help to keep us alive.
We cannot stop trans deaths until we care more about trans lives. About our experiences and our voices. Our wants and our needs. Our hopes and our dreams.
Let me be clear, trans erasure is transphobia. Trans erasure is violence. And it is killing us.
Trans Day of Remembrance is preceded by Trans Awareness Week. The underlying messaging of both trans events on the calendar says it all: ‘please acknowledge us’ and ‘please stop killing us’.
So please, don’t remember me.
Care about me while I’m still alive. Stop erasing me. Centre my experiences. Listen to my voice. Fight alongside me while there is still something to fight for.
Because I don’t want to be another trans death, another preventable tragedy that will prompt your outrage and your pity.
I don’t want people to say my life will have meant something if you can make my death be the moment we decide to finally do something – to take action.
Because my life already means something.
In fact, it means everything.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact Lifeline (131 114) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) for help and support. For immediate assistance, please call 000.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.
Confidential support is also available via QLife, an Australia-wide anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.