“More Than Remembrance”
“Transgender Day of Remembrance was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn
Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed
in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester's death and began an important tradition that has become the annual Transgender Day of
Remembrance.” Gwendolyn writes in part that, “Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to
highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence . . . no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost . . . it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice." 1
Why do we, here today, take this time to remember the transgender lives lost this past year?
Do we know someone who has suffered violence due to their transgender identity?
Are we a transgender person ourselves?
Are we afraid for someone we love?
All of these would be good reasons to participate in a ritual of remembrance. Is it our faith tradition that calls us to remember as an act of justice seeking, our mission that says we seek equity for all of humanity? Perhaps it is an outward expression of our desire to be inclusive. More good reasons, to be sure.
For some of us this awareness of transgender persons and their struggles to live their authentic lives is a new concept. We are of an age and era where such things were not discussed, where we were not educated about gender difference at all or if we were it was a very concrete and binary education. And so, we just don’t get it. I take these as explanations, but not excuses! It doesn’t give us a pass! When we say that it is hard to understand and that we are trying, we imply that a transgender person’s transition is harder for us than it was for them, that the pace of their transition should depend on our comfort, according to Davey Shlasko in their Trans Allyship Workbook. We are, in a sense, on “autopilot” around gender, but what we often don’t realize is that transgender person’s identities are contested all the time – questioned, ignored, denied. 2
We only add insult to injury when we choose not to do the personal work needed to bring ourselves up to speed. For our banned books discussion, I read Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir, Gender Queer. This beautifully illustrated and heartfelt, at times raw, story of their struggle over most of their 30 years of life with gender, with an understanding and acceptance of their own gender – hear that, please – their own gender, touched me deeply. I felt it at a gut level, that seat of compassion in our bodies, why, WHY? – do we in our culture create a pool of shame that we then force folks to swim in for all of their existence? Shame because the person they know themselves to be at their very core doesn’t fit with the assumptions we impose as truth about how boys look and how girls behave and that these are the only two options. Persons like Maia feel the exclusion early on. They can see the expectations all around them and they know in their bones that to live authentically they will need to rub up against these norms, feel the chafing, experience the painful emotions. It shouldn’t be so hard to be oneself and yet, each day I can imagine there is yet another aggression hurled – the micro and the ultimate, which we have born witness to this morning.
In 2015, the Gender and Sexualities Alliance Network, formerly the Gay Straight Alliance Network, wanted to do something more than focus on the transgender lives lost and to call attention to the transgender lives lived and being lived in our midst. They wanted to honor these precious lives in ways that were less triggering for transgender folks and so shifted to a celebration of the resilience embodied in these persons lives. Trans Day of Resilience was instituted alongside our remembrances, centering a new narrative. What began as a way to highlight transgender art evolved into a simultaneous recognition of the disproportionate rate in which trans communities of color and trans women of color in particular are targeted. “Trans Day of Resilience focuses on how trans communities of color resist violence and fight for their survival. Under our patriarchal, capitalist society, trans lives are not valued, but Trans Day of Resilience challenges this norm by showcasing trans people’s power in the face of adversity.” 3
It is a more holistic approach that calls attention all the ways that transgender persons resist stereotypes that confine them to someone else’s definition of life. It restores stolen dignity and celebrates each individual’s unique expression of their body-mind-spirit. I wonder what we might be doing here to make this shift to something more than remembrance. How might we say in words and in actions that we see you just as you are – no explanations needed? Are there ways we can be more inclusive? Signal that we are about the business of changing ourselves in order to be good allies. A shift like this takes time and education. In preparation for today’s service I reread Schlasko’s chapter on pronouns which I first encountered in a webinar series offered by The Transforming Hearts Collective a couple of years ago. This time I ordered the Trans Allyship Workbook itself. And if any of you are interested, I would be willing to form a small group around the study of the material. You can let me know if you’d like to do that together. We can’t take action on what we don’t know!
Pronouns are, of course, a big deal because they say that we accept a person however they come and however they choose to be identified. It sounds so simple, so small, but the reality is that whenever we misidentify a transgender person we are causing them great pain – pain that is heaped upon pain – the power of microaggression. We would do well to pay attention to how folks want to be known, to not question it, but just accept it and move with it. It’s okay to ask once. After that, the onus is on us. Stating our own pronouns shows that we are thinking about this important topic of identity and dignity here. We become a safer place for transgender persons to be their authentic selves.
The Progress Pride flag you see today in our slides was created by nonbinary artist Daniel Quasar. It incorporates the original rainbow flag of the 1970’s and the more recent transgender flag with pink, blue and white stripes representing traditional male and female colors along with a white stripe to acknowledge those who identify as intersex, gender neutral or transitioning. The black and brown stripes represent marginalized LGBTIQ+ people of color. Taken together this flag is meant to represent diversity and inclusion. Are we at a place where we are ready to expand our understanding and express our desire to be more inclusive with a new flag outside our Meeting House?
I have said before and today it seems particularly important to repeat that real inclusion, what some would call radical welcome, requires that we are open to being changed by our experience of other people. Inclusion goes beyond the welcoming open door that invites all who would come to join with us as we are. Inclusion invites, yes, but says that my experience of life is bound up in your experience of life and what we find together in our creative exchanges will be new territory for each of us. To be inclusive is to be changed. It is to be humble enough to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. It is to be courageous enough to move beyond the confines of what we know.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance – this Trans Day of Resilience – may we take time to hold in our bodies the compassion that serves as a starting point in greater understanding and acceptance. May we purpose ourselves toward more inclusive ways of being in this world – ready to be changed and ready to change a world made small by false assumptions and exclusivity.
My hope for us here on the hill, as we consider how we will go forward, is that we will embrace a desire to deepen our sense of humanity in all the ways that folks show up. That we will create a space that provides a safe haven for the marginalized in our communities and that we will be changed in powerful ways both personally and as a people of faith.
Blessed be, and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson, UUMH Chatham, November 20, 2022
1 Transgender Day of Remembrance | GLAAD
2 David Schlasko, Trans Allyship Workbook: Building Skills to Support Trans People in Our Lives, 2017.
3 Making the Shift to Trans Day of Resilience – GSA Network