As a matter of sheer statistical odds, I should not be alive to write this piece. My name is Cecilia, and I am a 44-year-old transgender woman of color. I am also a survivor of rape and incarceration. These elements have put me at severe risk of life-threatening diseases, mental health illnesses, and deadly assaults. I would call it a blessing, or perhaps the product of incredible luck, that I am alive today to write these words. Today I am a survivor, but tomorrow I may very well be the next trans women of color to suffer a fate unfurled by those who insist that we are not welcome to share their right to live, and to live freely. This year, Amos Beede, Brandi Bledsoe, Crystal Edmonds, Dee Whigham, Deeniquia Dodds, Demarkis Stansberry, Erykah Tijerina, Goddess Diamond, Jasmine Sierra, Jazz Alford, Kayden Clarke, Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson, Keyonna Blakeney, Lexxi Sironen, M. Jones*, Maya Young, Mercedes Successful, Monica Loera, Noony Norwood, Quartney Davia Dawson-Yochum, Rae'Lynn Thomas, Reecey Walker, Shante Isaac, Skye Mockabee, T.T. Saffore, and Veronica Banks Cano were murdered. Trans Day of Remembrance is a day for the community to mourn and celebrate these lives, which were cut short by violence. In observance, we have an opportunity to turn inward, and empower and cherish one another. It is also a moment to note the many allies that do support us, and to remember that we are resilient and not alone in our mourning.
Once Trans Day of Remembrance passes, we must determine how to turn outward and produce real change. Understanding the dynamics of violence in the transgender community will take much more than reading names once a year. Living as a trans person is very difficult, both in the world and in this country. Social and systemic barriers make life extraordinarily tough, particularly for trans women of color, as we stand at greater risk of sexual assault and murder. As a Latina trans woman, it took me years with a whole community by my side to reach where I am today.
We must determine how to turn outward and produce real change.
Six years ago, I had just been released from prison — an ankle bracelet my only companion — and I was struggling to overcome my heroin addiction and potential deportation from the United States. I felt like I was in a world where I didn’t belong, that recognized me as less than a person. Eventually, I found a community of people with similar stories and experiences, willing to see me as more than the sum of my faults. Like roots nestled in the soil of my soul, my connection to them grew and gave my life purpose, nurturing me back to health. My community would come to include not only those who could directly relate to my life, but also those who were simply willing to listen, to empathize, and to show solidarity. It is through community, marked by open relationships and discourse, that we can work towards giving trans people the place in the world we deserve. I could use terms like "patriarchy" and "bigotry" in this piece, and pretend that I am not a Latina translating from Spanish to English. But I don't want to have a political debate; I simply wish for other people to step outside of their bubble so that they, too, can understand our lives, and understand our anxiety and anger over the murders of innocent trans people each year. Only with empathy and a recognition of our shared humanity can we work together to save the lives of trans people. Although some states have passed progressive laws to protect transgender people, we continue to face significant risks of familial alienation, housing and employment discrimination, disparities in health care, police harassment, poor conditions in detention centers, substance abuse, HIV, and poverty. Collectively, these challenges create a cycle that is very hard to break, resembling an institutional machine designed to break us down. On November 20, we will mourn, but let us also commit to the resistance of hate and fear, to the celebration of life, and the pursuit of justice. Being trans, or a woman, or a person of color, should not determine the course your life takes. Today, we are here, but our future hinges largely on whether or not people are willing to listen to stories like mine. If you are a trans person thinking about suicide or experiencing a crisis, please call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860 for confidential support from other trans individuals.