Trans Day of Remembrance

I was originally going to name this “The Speech I’ll Never Give,” but it seems it will not quite be the case. As I wrote this, it shaped into something that was quite different. It’s likely that no one would ask me to give this speech, but I no longer feel like this is something I would not give of my own choice. If someone asked me to give this publicly I would, happily. As you read the speech you’ll see why I feel that way, I’m sure.

 

The Speech I May Yet Give [Trigger Warning]

This is a somber day of reflection and honoring those who have lost their lives at the intersections of class, race, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, sex work, disability, religion, culture, region, and hate. A reflection on what it is that makes our Latin and Black sisters across Latin and South America so particularly vulnerable to trans violence. A somber but serious discussion of gendered violence, and how white supremacy, classism, patriarchy and our cultural disdain for sex workers and women creates an environment that is killing our sisters and imposing a culture of fear.
That was my first thought when someone asked me what the Trans Day of Remembrance was. But the truth is, it’s none of those things.

The truth is, the Trans Day of Remembrance is a day of political grand standing, using the deaths of trans women of colour as a numbers game to buy someone else’s pet project sympathy for votes, dollars, or attention. It’s a day where trans women of colour have greater value dead than we do alive.

We all too often hear that this day is a day where we must not let the deaths of these women be in vain, but this just underscores the transactional nature of these women’s deaths, most of whom fought no war. They lost their lives not in valour, but only as a result of being women in a world filled with gendered violence. They lost their lives because — all too often — our society casts out the disenfranchised and marginalized, no longer calling the huddled masses and tempest-tossed to our communities with heartfelt calls of liberty and virtue.

We should gather to mourn the dead, not conscript them into a battle they never had the privilege to fight while living. It pains me to stand here and remind you that these deaths, of our brothers and sisters and wives and husbands and daughters and sons, that these deaths are senseless tragedies that remain a black mark on society. These deaths are signs of a systemic, institutional, social, economic, and political failure to care for our most vulnerable and marginalized populations. But what may be worse, is the crude politicising of these deaths serves no cause more than that of the same vanity we decry.

The currency of liberty, civil rights, and equality does not reside in death, but in our lives, our histories, our bodies, and our spirit. That currency resides in trans women of colour like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who inspired their generation and beyond. It’s in Janet Mock and Laverne Cox who let their voice carry, and refuse the tempest to silence them. As well it resides in CeCe McDonald, who who would not be silenced and bravely continues to speak from the chains of injustice.  And it resides, perhaps unknowingly, in so many trans women of colour who are still struggling to find their voices in this world.

It is through the stories we tell, the histories we live, the injustices we share, and the people we inspire that we move towards a greater and more equal society where no person fears a full bladder, where no person is turned away from a home, a family, or a job; Where no person is denied the medicine, justice or dignity they deserve because of who they are, how they dress, or who and how they love. Without living voices; gendered violence, racial injustice, the war on body autonomy and medical independence, and the prison industrial complex stand to go unchecked.

We must be honest with ourselves: the Trans Day of Remembrance is not what it should be. Just as being trans in this world is not what it should be.

I took my first hormone shot when I was 13. This is usually the part of the story where someone wistfully says to themselves, “she’s so lucky.” Conjuring images of a middle-class family, providing their newfound daughter unconditional love– nothing but hope and support. They conjure images of the life they wish they’d had. But that picture isn’t what I lived.

My first shot was behind our church, just before Spanish mass.  I ran around back with a friend who in no uncertain terms saved my life. It wasn’t long after that my relationship with my family broke down and I soon found myself, a young girl, navigating life on the streets.

My life played out that way for years, relying on abusive men to make it from day to day. I suffered in silence through sexual and physical violence, and when I reached out for help I was pushed away by the resources that weren’t meant for women like me, or by the resources for trans women, because abuse just wasn’t in their vocabulary.

At 19, I was attacked by a man I’d been staying with at the time. With my clothing torn, my body broken, and my will and strength drained, I dragged myself to the only crisis center I knew of. I was so ashamed — full of self-hate — and desperately needing help.

I wasn’t welcome.

The look of scorn on the woman’s face was unforgettable as she told me that they didn’t have facilities to house “men.” She scolded me on how disgusting and offensive it was for a perverted “man” — apparently like myself — to come to the crisis center, expecting to get the chance to “further abuse and rape” women. They shook their heads as I asked for other resources or places to go. They then “helped” me find my way to the door, by roughly grasping the bruises on my arm.

That night I desperately needed compassion, comfort, and community like so many trans people who came before me and so many who came after. All too often trans women are culturally understood –contrary to fact– to be solely perpetrators of gendered violence rather than the victims of such violence. All too often in seeking the resources we need in order to cope with the violence and marginalization we are faced with, we find nothing but shame and rejection.

Queer addiction resources, disability services and support, domestic violence and sexual assault support, homelessness and shelter care, sex worker outreach and so many other resources in our community are lacking in their sensitivity to or even desire to help a trans individual desperately reaching out to pick themselves up and out of marginalization and trauma.

We, as a community of queers and women and people of colour and people with disabilities and human beings owe it to ourselves and our community to strive to build a better one. A better community that fights for all of us, because we know we are all better for it. Because we should understand that when we lift each other up, it lifts us all to greater heights.

These can’t just be words. These can’t just be the sentiment of the 20th of November. Because the old ways are failing the most vulnerable among us, and that means the old ways are failing us all. We must be moved to action and that means today and beyond.

I’m honoured to be standing here today. Not just because I’m touched that my words are valued on such an occasion, although that’s true, but because if it weren’t for chance I might not have had the life to do so.

Seven years ago, I lay on the concrete of a dark alley gasping for air, expecting my next breath would be my last. I had every expectation that moment would be the end of my story.

Just minutes before I’d noticed a group of men following me from the bar I had visited earlier, and my stomach leapt as I walked faster. They cat-called at me, they spoke to each other loudly about my body, and what they’d do to me. Their shouts grew louder and angrier as I turned the corner, as they deduced my trans history. Bitch, whore, pussy, faggot, tranny; the viciousness of their tone, though, couldn’t have been matched even by these corrosive words. The hate and outrage dripped from each word as I stopped in my tracks. In an instant I realized that in my fear I’d rushed into the alley I slept in, the one that ended at a wall.

I caught a glint of something shining in the hand of the first of five men. And as he held his knife he told me he just wanted to give me what he knew I wanted. Not knowing what to do, I screamed for help at the top of my lungs, and he struck me in the stomach cutting my flesh and my scream short.

The moments that followed, the unspeakable violence, sexual and otherwise live in vivid memory. It’s something I wake up to each day, and the scars on my breasts and body are a sobering reminder of the violence that strikes our community with no remorse or recourse.

I woke up in a hospital, days later, bandages on my chest and my hand locked to the bed like a criminal rather than a victim. Disoriented and confused I struggled to cope with the shame as the staff offered disgusted looks and gawking tours of my hospital bed to curious onlookers. After the police finished questioning me I asked if they had found the men responsible. I asked if they needed a description, but only their discomfort and dismissal now echo in my memory. The men who brutally attacked and raped a woman and left her in an alley to die would not be a priority, would not be brought to justice, solely because I wasn’t the right kind of woman. I wasn’t the kind of woman who was worthy of their resources or concern.

All I could think for so long was how much I wished I could have been someone else. How I wished I wouldn’t be this monster everyone treated me as. How I couldn’t bear knowing that the true monsters were walking the streets, smiling and laughing, and getting on with their lives after what they did. I wanted to know why I was the monster and they were the victims and heroes. And, I wished, how desperately, I wished I could have just been a boy from the start.

You know, it’s sad. It’s sad because my story isn’t isolated. It isn’t even unique. In fact, this story, my story…is all too common. And it’s sad that so many women like me, so many women who have darker skin than I do or who look just like me are stripped of their voices, agency and lives.

I’m honoured to stand here today, not just because I lived through those days, not just because i’m still here. I’m honoured because of the voices I join today, and the change I may yet see. I’m honoured because today I add my voice to the chorus of women who live openly.  I choose to disclose because too many never can and never will. And if my history of injustice and living body can change a life, if it has even the smallest chance of helping to change the course of history in the cause of justice and liberty then, for me, it must be done, because today I have the safety to do it. Today I add my voice to the chorus of women who live openly in the hope that someday it won’t matter anymore.

I couldn’t allow myself to stay silent any longer as my brothers and sisters and siblings and all queers face insurmountable odds day in and day out with no reprieve. I stand here today knowing that the fact that I made it off the streets is not enough, because until all of us are free, none of us are. Until the day that families like mine are no longer ashamed. Until the day that it doesn’t matter if you are cis, trans or queer or black or white or able-bodied or disabled or rich or poor, you have the same access, the same rights, and the same freedom.

Remember trans people today…but remember us tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And never forget that fighting for trans justice is fighting for social justice. And just the same, fighting for economic justice, disability justice, and racial justice are fighting for trans justice.

Whatever the cause, whatever it is, tomorrow isn’t about marriage or jobs. Tomorrow is about all of us.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, that the arc of history “bends toward justice.”  And each of us should never forget that when he spoke those powerful words he did so understanding that it bends only because of the weight of the work each and every one of us does to change the world. And that the most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means at all.

Reflecting on those whose lives were senselessly lost at the intersections of violence and injustice is one of the most important and sobering works we can do as a community.

But it can’t be all we do. And until we rise to the occasion; until each of us rises to action; until we meet the very real challenge of creating a more equal community and society; until we do better, we’ll keep meeting here each year, reading this ever-growing list of names of those who lost their lives at these intersections of violence and injustice.

It’s true. The trans day of remembrance is not what it should be, at least not yet. And being trans in this world is not what it should be. Not yet.

NOTE: that I am requesting that you please do not read this aloud at your TDoR event. I understand that people asking or planning to do this mean well, but it’s something I’m terribly uncomfortable with. Please refrain from reading my words. However, I would encourage you to continue to be inspired by the things women like me are saying, and please take my words as inspiration for your own writing. These topics are certainly things that need to be talked about, but we can only achieve the things we need if each person takes their own voice, stories, histories, and spirits. Otherwise, I worry that we end up with the same problems as before just shaped differently were everyone to read my speech aloud at their event.

On a personal note: To do so would make me feel silenced and violated. And would take the energy and power out of my words, I feel, if it was read aloud by someone who wasn’t, you know, me.

Posted on by Monica Maldonado | Trans Day Of Remembrance

23 Responses to Trans Day of Remembrance

  1. Ashleigh

    I support you, as a person, as a trans woman, as another beautiful being upon this earth. let’s remake this world to accept everyone for who they are, not who we would make them be.

  2. Natasha Yar-Routh

    Brilliant, this speech needs to be given at every TDoR in the world. You shame me for not having done nearly enough for my trans* siblings.

  3. Cindi Knox

    I greatly appreciate this post. Would you like for it to be read at a TDoR event? I really would like for your voice to be heard.

    • Monica Maldonado

      NOTE: that I am requesting that you please do not read this aloud at your TDoR event. I understand that people asking or planning to do this mean well, but it’s something I’m terribly uncomfortable with. Please refrain from reading my words. However, I would encourage you to continue to be inspired by the things women like me are saying, and please take my words as inspiration for your own writing. These topics are certainly things that need to be talked about, but we can only achieve the things we need if each person takes their own voice, stories, histories, and spirits. Otherwise, I worry that we end up with the same problems as before just shaped differently were everyone to read my speech aloud at their event.

      On a personal note: To do so would make me feel silenced and violated. And would take the energy and power out of my words, I feel, if it was read aloud by someone who wasn’t, you know, me.

      • Cindi Knox

        Thanks. I wanted to respect your wishes. Some people prefer to have their words heard rather than have someone else speak on their behalf. Others prefer to have people take inspiration from them.

        I wanted to make sure that what I do, if anything, honors you and your experience.

  4. Cindy Bourgeois

    I absolutely love your speech. I hope that some day a safer space becomes available where you could give this speech. I love your writing in general and appreciate what you add to the discourse. When people ask me for resources I always suggest Transactivisty.

  5. Janna

    Would you be OK with reading this aloud at an event in a group of people who are blind and can’t read this online? Or would you be willing to record yourself or make a video perhaps?

    • Monica Maldonado

      Acessibility assistance is totally different. If someone doesn’t use text to speech and would prefer to have a person read it to them, that is totally fine. But read as a speech at an event makes me uncomfortable. Does that make sense?

  6. Jules

    Yours is a powerful, unique and beautiful voice. Thank you for sharing these words and pieces of yourself with all of us. I especially take these words with me as I go: “Remember trans people today…but remember us tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And never forget that fighting for trans justice is fighting for social justice. And just the same, fighting for economic justice, disability justice, and racial justice are fighting for trans justice.” AMEN

  7. Sy Roche

    Honest, powerful, strong, resilient, beautifully written. The world is a far richer place with your survival and now your flourishing words. Thank you
    Sy

  8. Laura Seabrook

    Can I reprint this with this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance Webcomic Project? Just follow the website link to see what has been done before.

    • Monica Maldonado

      You’re welcome to reprint it with attribution and a link :)

      (note: My first inclination was to say “reprint in part. but i rethought and decided I’d be OK with a full reprint. Just an FYI on my mild apprehensiveness to that.)

  9. Provocativeinpink

    I commend you on sharing your story, and admire your courage to take your experience and use it as a sword for the fight for Trains Justice and a shield for Social InJustice. Your writing is so empowering, I glad to have you on the team to building a better tomorrow for our community!

  10. Helenarth

    This is very powerful. Thank you.

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  15. Rachel

    Thank you for sharing your story. This is a strong and moving speech. Be well.

  16. Women's Liberation Collective

    Thank You.

  17. Annette

    I’m not trans, it’s not part of my lived experience, but I am so fortunate to have run across your piece. I am part of a marginalized community, so I have some, vague, understanding of what it means to be systematically abused, but I am humbled reading your words.

    I will think of you, tonight, but also tomorrow, and on days after that. I will think of my friend, not when someone mentions trans women, but when someone tells a joke that she would find funny. I am working for the day when being trans is what it should be, from the outside, and only as an ally, because I want being me to be what it should be too. When all the marginalized groups are set up in silos, and fight each other for space, attention and relevance, we lose. We lose as people, as a society, we lose our humanity.

    I hope a lot of people come across your words. I hope you have a good night. I hope you have love and support, and I hope they appreciate how amazing you are.

  18. Anita

    Monica, thank you so much for your powerful speech. I particularly am grateful for your reminder that trans justice is a social, racial, economic justice fight. I teach in a law scschool’s immigrant justice clinic, and today watched 2 of my students support a transgendered woman in her claim for asylum. They have been transformed by the case and their client. I would love to share your piece so they know that there is a critical fight at home as well. I am so grateful for your words and admiring of your strength. Please keep sharing your power.

  19. Anna

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s women like you who are helping me to recognize my own privilege (as a white cis-woman).

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