Every year in November, when Transgender Day of Remembrance rolls around, I find myself unsure quite how to feel. The day has meant a great many things to me over the past decade, each important in their own contradictory ways, and any attempt to settle on a single feeling about the day tends to fall short. So, this year, I’m not going to talk about one thing that Transgender Day of Remembrance means to me, but many.
When I first came out as trans in my late teens, first to myself rather than my family or friends, Transgender Day of Remembrance was a pretty bitter sweet experience for me. I was young and optimistic, with views of how my life was going to change forever when I transitioned, but lacking in community, and brutally aware of the reality that transition would not be a painless experience for me. I was walking a tightrope between hope and fear, and Trans Day of Remembrance was in many ways a day that crystallized those feelings for me.
Going and spending some time in the company of other trans people was wonderful. I got to see trans people from a variety of backgrounds, some who had grown old and found love, and see proof that I could live a long and happy life as a trans woman. But the tone of the evening was contrasted by sitting with the knowledge of why we were all gathered, the knowledge of far too many lives cut far too short. I was surrounded by the trans people who had survived and thrived, as well as the memories of those who had not.
My first Transgender Day of Remembrance laid out the stakes for coming out. The best and worst case scenarios about how my life might turn out. It’s tough emotional work seeing the risks of being yourself laid out in front of you, but its important. You need to understand the realities of the world in which you transition.
A couple of years later, when I finally came out to my family as trans, Transgender Day of Remembrance became one of my earliest points of connection with my mother, in terms of my transition.
When I first came out as trans to my mother, she was pretty reluctant to take my transition seriously. She talked about how she couldn’t see me as anything other than her son in a dress, she convinced herself that I was being manipulated into being trans, she felt my autism diagnosis invalidated my ability to make an informed choice about my trans status, and she struggled to understand why I would want this future for myself.
My relationship with my mother is much better these days, but that journey took time. While things didn’t change overnight, one of the earliest points of understanding we found was a direct result of her attending a local Transgender day of Remembrance event. Something about taking the time to, as I had done, see the mixture of happy and healthy trans people from various backgrounds, contrasted with the sombre nature of being surrounded of reminders of those who didn’t make it, seemed to humanize the trans experience for her. Soon after, she asked me about if coming out as trans felt worth the risks it carried with it. I told her yes, without hesitation. After that, things between us started to improve.
Some years, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day of sorrow and anger. A day filled with grief for lives I’ll never know, and lives I wish I could have known longer.
Some years, on TDOR, I’ll sit and read the full list of trans people killed that year around the world. I’ll look at their faces, read their names, and read their stories. Those who were buried under their deadnames, I’ll make the effort to learn their chosen name, and to sit with it a while, trying to make sure it gets the recognition it deserves. I’ll grieve for those who committed no crime, and saw no justice. I’ll grieve for those who didn’t make the list, because whoever registered their death chose not to recognize their lived identity. I’ll grieve for those who never got to be seen.
Some years, Transgender Day of Remembrance is about personal grief. It’s about grieving the transgender people I have personally known, who are no longer around to talk to. The friends lost to suicide. The friends who went into hiding after harassment. The friends who were taken from me. Some years, Transgender Day of Remembrance is about putting on some Laura Jane Grace, and getting angry at a world that would take such bright lights, and snuff them out in their prime.
Some years, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day where I feel lucky. Every year, when you look at the lists of places where trans people are murdered around the world, those places are not usually the South of England. Don’t get me wrong, the UK is not a great place to be trans right now, we’re the epicenter of global anti trans activism, access to even basic medical care takes years, and our rights are at constant risk of rollback. But, statistically, I probably won’t be killed here for being trans. I might face hate in the streets. I might have someone try to sexually assault me. But I probably won’t be murdered. God, it’s depressing when living in a country that probably won’t actively murder you is the high bar for an optimistic viewpoint.
On those years, I try to take the time to be loud and vocal about the places where trans people have it worse off than me, and try not to make the day all about myself.
And some years, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day to be hopeful. Sometimes it’s a day to imagine what the world might one day be like. To sit in hope that some day, some of the hatred towards the trans community will have washed away, and things might be better. Maybe someone’s grandkids might not have to go through what we went through, if we keep fighting to move forward. It’s a day that inspires action. A day that reminds us to push for better rights and representation today, so that future generations of trans people might not need to go through what we have been through.
And honestly, some years, Transgender Day of Remembrance is all of the above.
It’s hard for me to sum up succinctly exactly what Transgender Day of Remembrance means to me personally, as the answer changes from year to year. It’s a day of community, where I don’t need to feel so alone. It’s a day of mourning, a stark reminder of the risks with being myself. It’s a day of grief those whose identities were not respected in death, and those who deserved better than they got. It’s a day of anger and pain over personal loss. It’s a day of thankfulness, that where I live is safe in the ways it is safe, and it’s a day that fuels me with a determination to shout from the rooftops about the places that have it worse than me. It’s a day of joy, to celebrate people who were brave enough to be themselves, no matter the cost.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is sometimes one of these, sometimes multiple, and sometimes all of them at once. it’s a complicated day, but one I’ll always take the time to sit and contemplate, until the day that’s hopefully not necessary.