WE WILL NOT BE ERASED
By Tiq Milan
November 20, 2019
Over the last five years, transgender people have been experiencing new heights of visibility. Acclaimed actress Laverne Cox being on the cover of TIME magazine in 2014 was indeed the trans tipping point. Janet Mock’s best-selling memoirs Redefining Realness and Surpassing Certainty brought her story of triumph, heartbreak, and truth to readers all over the world. These women helped propel the fullness of transgender life and the complexity of the human condition into the public imagination. It was momentous and shifting.
Now we have movies (The Danish Girl and Tangerine), TV shows, and web series (Pose, Transparent, and King Ester) about trans people, starring trans actors. Trans folks are in front of the camera sharing their stories and behind the camera cultivating them. Transgender men have been showing up like never before. Gender-nonconforming folks are being spotlighted and sponsored. From ad campaigns to modeling contracts, it feels like transgender people are the new wave.
Our visibility is the clearest it has even been. However, let’s not get our existence confused for a trend. We still close out every new year with the sobering reality that the visibility of transgender people has been met with a brutal swing of the cultural pendulum. The more they see us, the more brutal the efforts to render us invisible.
Twenty-two transgender people, that we know of, have been murdered in the United States this year. The overwhelming majority were Black women. Over 300 killings have taken place worldwide. Hundreds of pieces of legislation have been introduced into the United States Congress to limit our access to public accommodation, our right to employment, to family, and our right to engage in patriotic duty to serve this country. Most recently the Supreme Court heard the case of Aimee Stevens a trans woman who lost her 30-year career after coming out to her colleagues. Now the highest court in the land is debating the validity of our literal existence, and if we are worthy of protection under federal law.
We have to celebrate the progress and fight like hell against the pushback. Our visibility has stoked the fears of the bigoted and cowardly who think making space for an expanding humanity takes away from theirs. When the cowards and bigots are fearful, they become violent — either killing trans people in the streets or enacting policies that try to beat us down and diminish our value.
The more we are seen, the more important it becomes to remember where we’ve come from. To know where we’re going we have to know where we’ve been. Billy Tipton, Little Axe, Jackie Shane, and Lucy Hicks Anderson. The names of transgender people who may not ring familiar like those of us who get to take up valuable space during Trans Awareness Week every year but they are worthy of our memory. Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to reflect on the lives we lost but also an opportunity to comb through the archives of history and find the names and faces of transgender people long forgotten and deliberately ignored.
Remember our dead and don’t forget the struggles of us still here. See us, but don’t lose sight. The allies who have popped up in the last few years have work to do. Their work is to vigorously fight against the systems that benefit them but oppress us. An ad campaign isn’t decreasing our murder rate. Emmy worthy TV shows with trans people at the helm aren’t shrinking the housing, employment, and healthcare gaps. Transgender people are still four times more likely to live in poverty — eight times if they’re Black.
The social justice nonprofits and foundations who for years ignored the needs of the T in LGBT are finally being taken to task and forced to be accountable. The Presidential debates held by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQI+ rights organization in the world was disrupted by trans leaders live on television in front of millions. This was a necessary action. An action that was met with a renewed commitment from the organization and created much-needed dialog. The first Trans March on Washington took place this September with thousands of transgender people rallying in Freedom Square and marching to the Capital. We will not be erased.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, my hope is that we as a community reflect on all the people, namely Black and Latinx transgender women who were taken from us too soon, and didn’t get to enjoy all the moments of triumph and celebration we’ve had recently. The girls who didn’t get to feel the freedom that is the transgender experience. The freedom of definition, expression, and self-determination. I hope that the lesson we teach to everyone, whether straight or queer, cisgender or trans, is that we belong to ourselves first, that we all have the space and the right to show up in this world in the way God intended: fully, thoughtfully and without fear.
Tiq Milan is a transgender advocate and has written for BuzzFeed, Billboard, CNN, and The Guardian.