Five Questions With… Gwen Smith

gwen smithGwen Smith, Transmissions columnist and originator of the Remembering Our Dead project, answers five questions. Thanks, Gwen, for being willing.
1) Since you’re famous for having created the TG Day of Remembrance, what do you think is the best thing to come out of this holiday?
When I began the Remembering Our Dead Project, out of which the Transgender Day of Remembrance was born, I did it with the full knowledge that I was but one voice crying out in what seemed to be a wilderness.
I’ve long been pleasantly surprised to have been proven wrong about that, and to see the event has become as big as it has. Last year there were 212 events that I know of. There was an event in the small town I live in, that I had no direct hand in: it sprung up on its own. I simply never expected it to grow like it has.
As such, I’d have to say that the best thing to come out of this is a moment where we are all together, showing our strength, and that our community can truly be as one.
2) The worst thing?
This question, for me, is easy. There have already been nineteen cases this year, with half of them within the United States. It’s the very fact that this remains an issue. That we continue to see these horrific deaths every month is nothing short of appalling.
3) They say that if the Dalai Lama weren’t the Dalai Lama, he’d probably be an engineer. If you weren’t a trans activist, what would you be?
It’s hard to picture a world where I would not have this particular calling.
In High School I was already doing activism, though not anything related to transgender issues. Back then I was also already heavily interested in art and design, and wrote editorials as a staff member of my school newspaper. So much of what I do was already there so early on.
So if I wasn’t a trans activist, I’d probably be an activist still. If not that, then, I’m really not sure.
4) What’s the best/worst thing about being Gwen Smith?
It’s always a mixed blessing being me. When I first started transition, I hoped for a nice, quiet life. I even tried my hand at the living “stealth” for a while. That wasn’t me, as you can easily surmise.
Still, There are certain expectations the get placed on me, simply because I’m Gwen Smith. That is, the Gwen Smith who is a known transgender activist and all. This can make it difficult to just hang out sometimes.
At the same time, being who I am has allowed me to grow as a person in ways I never expected when I was just some kid back in South El Monte, California. I’m not just referring to issues surrounding being transgender, but also feeling like I have a stake in this world, and am a worthy part of it.
5) You’ve been in the trans community for a lot longer than a lot of people: what’s the single most important/visible change in trans politics of the last five years?
I even go back further than that, attending my first transgender event during the summer of 1992. My, but that seems like ages ago. If I was thinking from all the way back then, it would be an easy answer — visibility. We’ve gone from a world where we hid in back rooms and avoided the light, to one where we actually have a voice in this world. A small one, true, but a voice nonetheless.
In the last five years, we’ve seen a community that is gaining its legs. We’re starting to see our activism organizations grow into real entities with some say about the world we live in, while some of the GLBT organizations have actively worked on the rights of the transgendered and gender variant. Transgender issues are now discussed in tones other than pure shock and disgust, and as a result, rights have — in many places — been gained.
There is still a lot that needs to be done in that regard, and I live under no illusions about what a difficult path this will be — particularly as our opponents focus more and more attention on us.
Nevertheless, we have let this genie called “transgender equality” out of the bottle, and once out, it will be near-impossible to put such back in.