THE BLOG
11/20/2014 02:08 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Remembering Our Dead

franklin lugenbeel via Getty Images

I think that remembering, when we remember our dead today, is an active verb. Our remembering today is a vocal and a vigorous act of naming a people and describing a hate that is not pretty, or comfortable, or nostalgic.

Remembering Marsha P. (for Pay It No Mind) Johnson -- a Stonewall veteran and subject of Andy Warhol photography -- means knowing that she was drowned on July 6, 1992, shortly after the New York City Pride March. She had been harassed earlier that day near where her body was found, and the people close to her said she had been in good spirits. But remembering Marsha means knowing that the police ruled her death a suicide, after an investigation that reportedly consisted of two phone calls.

Remembering Brandon means knowing that he was raped on December 24th, that he went to the police and cooperated in their investigation. Remembering him means knowing that the sheriff was more interested in asking why Brandon dressed "like a boy" when he was "really a girl" than he was in making an arrest, despite the evidence corroborating Brandon's account. It means knowing that on December 31, 1993, he was murdered by his rapists so that he could not testify against them, and that they also killed Lisa Lambert, a young single mother, and Philip De Vine, a disabled black man. Remembering Brandon means knowing that he had spent time in jail for passing bad checks. And remembering Brandon means knowing that Norm MacDonald of Saturday Night Live said in his news skit, "Sorry if this sounds harsh, but in my opinion, everybody in this story deserved to die."

Remembering Tyra Hunter means knowing that on August 8, 1995, she was in a car accident. Fire Department emergency workers arrived and began to provide her with life-preserving treatment until one cut open her slacks. Remembering Tyra means knowing that when the paramedics found a penis, they stopped treating her and instead laughed and backed away. Tyra Hunter died at DC General Hospital.

Remembering Rita Hester means knowing that she was stabbed repeatedly on November 28, 1998, in her apartment. It means knowing that her friends saw her as vivacious and outgoing. It means knowing that she may have invited her killers back to her home from a bar. Remembering Rita means knowing that after her death, Boston papers from the straight and queer communities referred to her with male pronouns and by her given name, and placed quotation marks around her chosen name.

Remembering Amanda Milan means knowing that her throat was cut on June 18, 2000, late at night by a man who had been verbally harassing her earlier about her gender. He cut her from behind as she turned to hail a cab. Remembering Amanda means knowing that she died because another man handed her killer a knife. Remembering Amanda means knowing that she argued back with her harasser and that she had a sharp tongue. And it means knowing that several New York City taxi drivers clapped and cheered as she bled to death.

The Remembering Our Dead website is filled with dozens of stories of our fallen saints. The Transgender Europe lists 226 names for this year. And we can't possibly know them all, we can't possibly have a list of everyone who has been murdered for living and expressing a trans, genderqueer, or CD life. And they are not pretty stories with manicured lawns and gingham curtains. We're messy, just like everybody else, and we're mouthy and sharp-tongued and really, righteously, angry sometimes.

We are to remember our dead today, and that means really knowing them for who they were. Incredible lives, rich with love and friendship and loyalty. And complex, complicated lives that were messy and lovely in their imperfection. Saints don't have to be perfect, just wonderful and valuable and gifted. Every person, named and unnamed, every person with a story, even if we know them only as "Anonymous," only as "Unnamed Transgender Woman," these are people who knew themselves and lived that knowledge. These are people who did not deserve to die.

It's not just Norm MacDonald who said Brandon got what was coming to him. The Nebraska sheriff said it when he didn't arrest Brandon's rapists. And the trail court judge said it when he found that Brandon was responsible in part for his own death, and that Brandon's mother experienced no loss of love and companionship when he died.

Our dead are not something to talk about respectfully in civilized society, in polite company. The media and law enforcement and courts keep letting us know that our lives, and our deaths, are not matters that warrant much reflection by well-mannered circles. But in remembering our dead, we refuse to let them slide into gentle, polite obscurity. In remembering our dead we assert that there is no shame in our lives, and that our people are good people, and that our murders are untenable acts. And we speak the names of our dead and we tell their stories and we grieve their loss.

Remembering our dead today starts with knowing names and stories, it starts with really knowing our people in all of our richness and complexity, not prettying it up and not determining that lives that are not "pretty" are not worth living. Remembering our dead means reminding ourselves and our neighborhoods and cities and governments that we will not sit quietly while our lives are devalued and erased. Remembering our dead starts there.

But remembering at a service or event today is just the beginning. Because our remembering is a vocal and vigorous act, one of re-creating community and celebrating life.

When we remember the lives of those people who are gone, we remember too and celebrate those who are here, today, among us. We explore and discover ways that we can become more understanding, more supportive, more active in valuing and defending trans and genderqueer and CD experience. We remember our saints by honoring one another.

One way that you can honor us is by respecting our preferred pronouns. If you don't know what pronoun we prefer, ask. If you feel weird or awkward at first, that's understandable given the weight and emphasis that gender is given in our society. But own your discomfort, recognize that it's yours, and actively, vocally, vigorously try to find more ease and grace with seeing us the way we see ourselves.

Flip the switch in your head, the one that is responsible for equating particular attributes with a particular gender. Flip it to manual rather than automatic. Let beards and hair length and location and balding patterns and voice boxes and shoe size and neck size and breasts and hips and muscles be what they are, rather than evidence or clues to assign and reinscribe and trip over gender. Don't make surgery and hormones the litmus test of authentic or real gender. Let go of the primacy of sexual organs and secondary sex characteristics.

Understand our dilemma when we're faced with two bathrooms and stick figures. Do we use the one we were assigned, the one we're "supposed" to use, and face hostility and fear and extra longs stares and gasps and people who see us at the sink and step outside to look at the door again before coming back in? Do we use the one that fits best with our understanding and expression of ourselves and face possible arrest? Possible assault? And what about those of us for whom two bathrooms and two stick figures are equally insufficient? How do name ourselves, and why must we, in order to empty our bladder? If you're feeling especially vocal and vigorous in your remembering, take this matter up with your city and county officials and help us find a solution, preferably a single-occupancy room with a lock and a assortment of stick figures on the door. Help us be free to pee.

Don't assume that we don't want to talk about gender. Don't assume that we do. Don't equate gender and sexual orientation, don't make too strong a relationship between the two. Educate yourself sometimes, check out Leslie Feinberg, rest in peace, and Kate Bornstein and Riki Ann Wilchins and Helen Boyd and, if you're feeling really ambitious, Judith Butler. Explore and discover whether the mainstream gay movement is doing a fake T, and challenge yourselves and our movement to be authentic in our commitment to trans issues.

Understand and respect our decisions about whether and how to be "out" about gender. It's not safe for trans and genderqueer and CD folks in the world. Today, if not every day, we are reminded of the danger in knowing ourselves and living that truth. Recognize that whether or not you honor our pronouns of choice and whether or not you call us by our chosen names may have unexpected consequences in public space. Coming out, for us, often means that people stop recognizing our true selves.

Understand and respect our anger. We're not more sensitive than you are, and we are entitled to our outrage. Our lives are litanies of imposed and inscribed and enforced gender and that will wear out the most patient soul. It will chafe the thickest skin. And we're not all that patient to begin with, frankly. Our skin isn't all that thick.

Those are a few ideas I had. Those are the ones just off the top of my head. A vocal and vigorous actor could undoubtedly come up with others. Loving us won't bring Amanda or Brandon or Marsha back. Tyra and Rita still died for nothing. Remembering our dead will not give us back those beautiful lives. That's an important part of remembering.

And, our vocal and vigorous acts of understanding and support create new communities of love and respect that celebrate lives and difference. Remembering our dead by naming them and telling their stories, remembering our dead by loving and supporting one another moves us forward into life, away from murder. It is those who do not remember who are doomed to repeat historical hate.

Supporting and defending trans lives tells the world that you will not sit quietly as our lives are devalued and erased. It tells the world that you will not participate in the marginalization and murder of our people. And our own silence, as Audre Lorde says, will not protect us. Not living out the knowledge of who we are as trans, genderqueer, and CD people will not save us. We will still suffer. And we will still die. Only then we will suffer and die in a prison of our own fear.

And coming together to remember, joining together to create new communities based on respect and celebration will make a difference. It faces down hegemony, it defies The Way Things Are, and it hopes for a new way of being in relationship - with ourselves and one another.

Remember our dead.