Transgender Day of Remembrance: A letter from our Education Director

November 20, 2020

Five years ago today, I sat in a room at a local youth drop in centre with a collection of transgender youth and elders. At the time, I was a youth support worker, and as one of the few out trans people at work, I took the lead on organizing a small event for Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). In one of the multipurpose rooms, chairs were set up in a circle, and the invitation was set; a handful of Trans Elders gathered with myself and a number of queer, trans, Two-Spirit and non-binary youth. The room was quiet and filled with uncertainty. I felt my own nervous energy build, knowing I was responsible for creating this container but not being entirely sure what it would hold. We opened by asking anyone who was not trans to refrain from speaking and to hold space instead. It felt necessary to centre trans voices from the beginning as we worked to create safety with one another. 

TDoR is a day typically held for the naming of and remembering trans people who have been killed due to anti-trans violence and hate in the year leading up to November 20th. This year, 350 names will be read aloud, commemorating the lives of trans people who have been murdered between October 1st 2019 and September 30th, 2020. 98% of whom were transgender women or trans feminine, and many of whom were women of colour.

As I’ve been reflecting on this day, it is clear that this is not about me or people like me. That is to say, while I am a member of the trans community, as a white non-binary trans masculine person the risks I face on a daily basis are quite different from so many trans people, trans women and trans people of colour in particuar. I know the likelihood of someone who looks like me having their name read out on this list is low, and yet the reality of violence against trans people persists in ways which permeate all of our lives. On this day I feel grief for the ones we’ve lost; these are my friends, my community members, people I care about. I am often afraid that no action I take will be good enough, or that I won’t be able to find the right words to express my support for the trans people who are experiencing violence and oppression. I wonder how many of you may have felt that too? For so many of our trans community members, the stakes are just too high for us to not act. The number of names on the list of people we have lost this year is a stark reminder that visibility does not mean protection, in fact, it can sometimes be the opposite. As we grieve those we’ve lost, we also need to commit to act (even if it’s not perfect) so this does not have to continue to be our collective reality.

One of the challenges with days like TDoR is that all too often it only tells us the ending of a person’s story. It does not capture the rich tapestry of their life, the lives they impacted, the people they left behind, or who they were. Fortunately, so many trans people have shared their stories and recorded them in books, articles, art and film. Here at Out on Screen we believe in the transformative power of people’s stories, so I thought that today, as we remember who we’ve lost this year, maybe we could also spend some time learning about a few of the amazing trans folks who have made, and continue to make their mark on our community.

People like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylivia Rivera, Miss Major, who are known for their roles in the early days of the Stonewall Riots. Or the late, Jamie Lee Hamilton, who was just profiled in a  mini documentary by the CBC, highlighting four (Canadian) transgender activists you should know about.

I think about my own relationships with trans elders, mentors, colleagues, artists, youth and activists… Raven Salander, Sandy Leo Laframboise, Brenna Bezanson, Kelendria Nation, Avery Shannon, Q Lawrence to name a few…the list is truly never ending of the people who I am continually learning from and with, and feel inspired by to continue working so that one day we might we wake up and not find the murders of our trans kin to be commonplace.

Some of us within the trans community, have also come to know today as the Transgender Day of Resilience, which moves us to think of the strength that exists within our communities, despite of the violence we often face. As Andrés Bautista questions in the article above, “What does it mean to honor trans lives that are cut short by violence? What can acknowledging that violence look like in a way that does not perpetuate harm or re-traumatize living community members who are forced to face the realities of systemic transphobia and oppression?” 

Violence looks like many things, from the denial of our existence, to deadnaming, to administrative forms which provide many barriers and unnecessarily complicate our existences. It also looks like name calling, physical violence and abuse, and the structure of a colonial world that tells us we shouldn’t exist.

It is in the beauty of this resilience that I feel called to hold both truths so to speak; to “mourn for the dead; and fight like hell for the living.” 

Returning to the circle we held five years ago, I remember listening to my elders speak. I remember learning of our collective histories. I remember youth speaking up to share the exact words that I used to think; I didn’t know it was possible to exist. I never saw anyone like me, so I just didn’t know it was possible. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance comes at the end of Trangender Awareness Week, and I can’t think of a better way to honor those taken from us than to learn from others like them. Sitting with, hearing from, being in relation to trans elders, this is what made me realize it was possible to grow up and have a future. A seemingly small thing, but huge for me at the time.

TDoR is a day to call attention to those who have been taken from us, and also learn so we can show up for those who are still here.

Below, you’ll find a list of poets, authors, activists and influencers who you should familiarize yourself with and learn from on your journey. Learning is a lifelong act, and with that, I encourage you all to take time to learn from those who came before, those who are still here, and those who have yet to come.

I would like to acknowledge my friend and co-conspirator, Brenna Bezanson, for her contributions to the writing of this post.

Gavin Somers

Education Director, Out On Screen 

Poets, Authors, Activists and Influencers

Film and TV

See VQFF’s extensive list of trans focused film recommendations here.

TroubleMakers Films featuring Transgender elders

Books and Blogs

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