There have been moments in my life when I’ve felt the fear. Running down the street at seventeen, after my friends warned me that a group of straight guys had shown up to the party intent on beating me with baseball bats.Or having sex with straight cis guys while stealth, pre-bottom surgery. In these moments I felt the fear.
If you are trans or genderqueer or butch or effeminate, I know that you have felt the fear, too. I know it because it seems like most of the gender-variant communities are based upon this fear.
I have also felt the fear entering bathrooms – the fear that someone would tell me that I’m out of place, would call security, or hit me with a shopping bag. I have felt the fear walking down streets in broad daylight and the middle of the night – the fear that those random passersby might look at me at just the right angle and come after me. I have felt the fear while reading about trans women murdered in articles. I have felt the fear from watching Boys Don’t Cry.
If you are trans or genderqueer or butch or effeminate, I know that you have felt the fear, too. I know it because it seems like most of the gender-variant communities are based upon this fear. For trans folks especially, most of our communities seem structured around the annual Trans Day of Remembrance – a day not only to honour the trans people (mostly trans women of colour who work in the sex industry) who’ve been murdered, but also, apparently, a day to remind us that we are meant to be afraid. That this whole world is out to get us.
My personal trans hero is Mirha-Soleil Ross, a performance artist, sex worker, and activist from Quebec (that’s the French part of Canada, to all of you Americans – and though I don’t have time to get into this, the fact that she is a francophone and managed to be as hugely prominent as she did is a big deal in terms of Canadian racial/cultural politics). My job involves running services she began fifteen years ago after the murders of three sex workers, two of whom were trans. I’ve been greatly influenced by her thinking about many things, but especially about Trans Day of Remembrance and the resulting culture of fear. Mirha, in an interview with my other main trans hero Viviane Namaste (another franco-Canadian trans activist) in Namaste’s book Sex Change, Social Change, had this to say about TDOR events:
Mirha goes on to explain that the reason the people listed on the TDOR lists aren’t actually martyrs for the trans community is that we don’t actually know why they were murdered. She says, “It could have been because of hatred and prejudice against sex workers, because of racist or misogynist attitudes, because of a drug deal gone bad, or simply because that particular trans person was a fucking asshole who stepped on too many toes. Or most likely, it was a combination of the above factors.” (pg. 91) I would also argue that these campaigns are motivated by and make political use of the fear. That the fear becomes our unifying thread.
I want to talk to you about this fear. I can’t simply tell you not to be afraid, even if you are white, even if you pass, even if you are not a sex worker. But what I can ask you to do is think about how much power this fear has over you. How much does this fear dictate your actions? And, with an honest assessment of your privilege (think about things like your skin colour, sex working or non sex working status, passing privilege, your sexual orientation, and geographical location), how and when is this fear justified?