This Tuesday is International Day of Transgender Remembrance. I should be dwelling on Happy Things today but it’s been a lazy month for blogging.
Judith Butler talks in Undoing Gender that within the spread of gender and desire what isn’t necessarily important is who you sleep with or what you identify as, it’s what you are seen to be. It’s easy for a straight-acting gay man to hide the reality of their desire, especially when being seen to be straight affords a better life. It’s not so easy for someone who looks like a butch dyke or femme poof to disguise this, irrespective of whether their appearance corresponds with a particular set of desires or identities. Equally, the insistent surveillance of aberrations from the norm mean to be a punk in Adelaide or be a woman with short hair leaves people open to the possibility of negation, erasure, a violent denial of identity and life.
I mostly get left alone. Occasionally I’ve had verbal abuse, either direct or whispered. I received far more unwelcome attention and violence when I was a goth and punk. I’m not sure whether to regard this lack of hate as fortunate, or, to use that difficult word, normal. I sometimes think being over 6 foot affords me a degree of apparent protection. I also tend to think people really have evolved in the last twenty years, and yes, I’m extraordinarily lucky to be living in a secular european society that more or less regards human rights as unalienable.
Nonetheless, far too often people who look like fags or dykes or trannies or punks or just not normal, or who appear to be normal but are exposed as different have their right to choose their identities and desires forcibly removed by other people who simply cannot abide a reality in which difference exists.
It is this lack, of rights, of protection, of having a livable life that I think is the commonality between the various letters in the GLBT…(insert extra letters here). It also means there is no difference between the ongoing feminist struggle for women’s rights, racial and cultural equality and that of desire and identity. The need for human rights, for there are never enough, is what makes us the same.
There is though, from within, a compulsion to smooth out all this abundant diversity, to make each individual the same, to deny others their rights, to make them less than human, because they possess a different difference. It is to say, while my difference deserves protection and is acceptable, is right, yours is not and does not.
I don’t know if I particularly care about remembrance days. In the 90s it was AIDS vigils and I suspect despite the transient media attention it doesn’t make much of a difference. What does? Publicly out trannies perhaps, though then one or two become the voice for a community that is far too disparate to be called one, and their subjective opinions and prejudices (such as the boringly prevalent anti-shemale porn party-line in the transgender community) become those affixed to this now defined group. Though it’s self-evident that seeing diversity is a good thing.
I’d like to think of those individuals who for some personal reason decided to use their expertise and position to make a positive difference in their field for those who need what they cannot get alone, in medicine, law, politics, education. I’ve met so many people like this who over many years have slowly and inexorably caused the world to change. If we are going to remember the violence, it’s also pertinent we all remember, as Jacques Derrida said, those who “stand on the side of human rights”.
Nakia Ladelle Baker died in January in Tennessee as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. Keittirat Longnawa was beaten by nine youths in Thailand, who then slit her throat. In March, Moira Donaire was stabbed five times by a street vendor in Chile. The body of Michelle Carrasco was discovered in a pit in Chile, her face unrecognisable. Ruby Rodriguez was found naked and strangled to death in the street in San Francisco. Erica Keel was repeatedly run over by a car in Pennsylvania. Bret T. Turner died from multiple stab wounds in Wisconsin. Victoria Arellano was refused HIV related medications in California. Oscar Mosqueda from Florida was shot. Maribelle Reyes from Texas was turned away from HIV treatment centres because she was transgender. In July an unidentified cross dressing male was found dead with gunshot wounds to the chest and lower back.