Here’s a piece I wrote before Election Day about Monica’s death that I recorded for FORGE’s Trans Day of Remembrance.
It feels so different this year with Monica gone.
It feels so much the same this year, seeing all the photos of the beautiful people taken by violence because they were trans.
It feels so different this year with 250,000 families mourning a loved one who died from Covid.
It feels the same to realize that there are still people who think a person’s gender identity is a good reason to hate them.
It feels so different this year because President Elect Joe Biden not only marked today as Transgender Day of Remembrance, but he made trans and non binary people a promise to respect their dignity and human rights.
I was talking to a fellow partner of a trans person recently about how terrifying it can be to negotiate other people’s attraction to your partner. On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone realize that they find a trans person attractive for the first time. On the other: really? I mean, there are a million billion examples of beautiful trans people. But the dynamic for someone who is surprised by that attraction is so, so complicated. I’ve had people walk up and tell me how hot my wife is, and sometimes they are so proud of themselves for validating her gender and beauty. Other times it’s just creepy and weird.
But partners always live with that fear that exactly the wrong person will find your person attractive, or find their gender an affront, and so we live with that fear all the time of the person we love being hurt because of who they are, but moreso, because the wrong person’s dick got hard.
It sickens me over and over again to see the beautiful people who were killed maybe because they slept with the wrong person or just because they were walking home from work late at night. Maybe they were doing sex work. Maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s still a reality that a trans person can be targeted for doing absolutely nothing at all but existing.
So when we have these “theoretical” conversations about what gender is I never hear a conversation about gender. What I hear instead is a conversation about whether my beautiful wife deserves to be treated with respect, her life and autonomy protected.
And honestly my heart hurts these days, hurts with the piles of grief. It hurts because I miss Monica and still can’t quite believe she’s done. And it hurts with the fear I have for others’ safety, the frustration when I realize how little I feel like I can do, have done.
So this year I’m inviting you to celebrate or thank a trans person you know, to send them a card or a gift or pay a bill that needs paying.
If you’ve got suggestions for organizations that specifically help trans people, let me know.
Here in Wisconsin there’s FORGE and Diverse & Resilient. Today, consider a donation.
Do more. Read a book. Watch Disclosure. Support trans candidates for office.
Sometimes what bothers me most about TDOR is that I am reminded that a bunch of my friends are trans because their being trans isn’t the important thing about any of them and never fucking has been.
But we mark the day to respect the dead, to say their names, to say: violence is not okay.
I just really hope, someday, there is no need for TDOR because there is no violence against trans people.
I got interviewed for this article which focuses primarily on Sarah McBridge but also on the history and reasons so many trans people are running for office. I think the most important point I made was this one:
“The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 has spurred trans people to consider elected office instead of just local community organizing and advocacy, according to Helen Boyd Kramer, an author and instructor of gender studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. She said trans people understand the unnecessary politicization of bodies, choice, and medical care “in deep ways.””
Yesterday, for the trans/GNC and LGBTQ caucuses, the Jane Fee award was given to Babs (Barbara) Siperstein, who died last year.
This year, there are 35+ trans /GNC delegates to the DNC, and they, of course, are standing on the shoulders of giants.
Jane Fee was the solo trans delegate, at age 73 – the first ever out trans delegate- to the DNC in 2000.
By 2004, there were 7 trans delegates:
Monica Helms (who also created and designed the trans pride flag and TAVA, the first trans veterans org)
Vanessa Edwards Foster, who created the trans lobbying org, NTAC
Barbara Siperstein, who was so awesome she now has a law named after her
Kathy Padilla, who helped pass Philly’s trans rights law
Melissa Sklarz, who has been a moving force in NYC trans rights since forever, and
Christina Ocasio (whose current focus is her awesome music).
They were joined by trans journalist Roslyn Manley and by Mara Keisling of NCTE, who has gone every year in one role or another.
Stay tuned for more info about the current crop of trans/GNC delegates, info about their races, and how you can support them.
I’m not managing to write very much – same thoughts over & over, to be honest, most days – but a kind gesture by a friend causes me to write this piece. Here’s an excerpt (and a new photo taken by my very talented wife).
There are moments in this pandemic when the enormity of it all hits you for a second. It’s usually, for me, a banal moment when I’m telling my cat she has already had dinner or I’m trying to find a lighter or I’m pulling wet laundry out of the washing machine. My heart feels cold for a minute. My breath stops. An overwhelming feeling of nausea and dismay washes over me in a wave, a series of waves. I feel as if I’m about to vanish in a puff of smoke and then… it’s over again, and my hand is pulling on the wet towel that’s wrapped itself around the agitator. I can feel the cool sweat on my forehead or upper lip – evidence that something happened; my stomach clenches, and I cough or sigh to re start my breath because I’ve been holding it without realizing. It has passed, that feeling of dread, that panic attack, the nausea of this reality. It’s almost as if I’m not there for a minute or ten, and I don’t know how long I was gone. I don’t know why it hit just then, no matter what it was I was doing or saying or looking at. Like a wave picked me up and dropped me back down but not an ocean wave – instead a sinister wave of fear, death, panic, dread, sadness, grief, anger.
This came as something of a surprise: me in a list of “champions of pride” in The Advocate. Every year they name 104 activists, 2 from every state, and this year I’m one of Wisconsin’s.
And it comes with a very nice photo taken by my awesome wife Rachel Crowl, too.
I really do wish people understood the deep anxiety trans people & their families go through with medical care. I’m sitting here waiting for Rache to have a procedure done that they have to put her under for, & I’m sitting out here wondering why we don’t get to talk to any specialist about trans bodies and whether they’ve seen or worked with any before.
And this is ME, people. Empowered trans advocate and educator for 20 years and I feel absolutely powerless and have to hope & have faith. And I know my wife well enough to know that she brought it up in the most charming way possible as they prepped her. We asked ahead of time & were reassured it’s in her chart. Great, sure. But do most specialists know what that means, what trans bodies can look like?
Love to all the trans people, their partners and parents & care givers. It’s a fuck of a thing to have to worry about inexperience and/or transphobia during what should be a routine procedure.
I’m sure she’ll be fine and I’m going to take some deep breaths right now.
It is hard to love someone who you know others hate just because of who they are and how their bodies are.
& Fuck all of you who voted for Trump & these monsters who would encourage any medical personnel to not treat my beautiful wife with dignity & respect.
I’ve been thinking a lot this month about queerness and de centering whiteness this month — someday I’ll have the energy to write more about it.
But what I have been doing is trying to focus on fundraising for some cool organizations and individuals who I personally know are doing great work. So here’s my short list. Donate if you can.
- The Okra Project, a grassroots collective that combats food insecurity in the black transgender community, has launched two mental health recovery funds to provide black trans men and women sessions with a licensed black therapist, free of cost. Donate via their PayPal to either the Tony McDade fund (for black trans men) or the Nina Pop fund.
- Monica Roberts is the Trans Griot, and she has been reporting on issues of black trans identity for decades. Here is a direct link to her blog. On the right is her tip jar. Use it often and generously.
- The Audre Lorde Project is a community organizing center focused on the needs of LGBT, GNC, Two Spirit POC. Donate here.
- Brown Girl Recovery is a peer support, trauma focused organization “dedicated to community healing for femmes and folks of color” in the Bronx and uptown NYC.
- SHEBA (Sisters Helping Each other Battle Adversity) is a group of 20 African American trans women that meets biweekly for leadership development, health promotion activities, and social support. They are supported by Diverse & Resilient, and you can donate through them.
The New York Times has their front page ready for tomorrow, when we hit that number: six columns of names, places, some brief phrase culled from the person’s obituary. There are no images, just names. It’s powerful and provocative and is the first thing I’ve seen that tries to present to us what we’re living through.
I wish they had given their entire Sunday paper over to the whole of it, to print every single one of these 100,000 names, with the sparest of details – name, place, phrase – and if they had, the Sunday edition of The New York Times would be 100 pages long — and have nothing in it but them.
I wish they had because I think we need to understand, to try to understand, to try to grapple with what we are living through.
This is the equivalent of one person dying every minute of every day for 70 days straight.
This is the equivalent of a person dying every second of every hour of every day for a month.
When do we get to mourn as a nation?
When will people stop arguing about wearing masks?
When will people take a minute to realize what has happened, how many families are grieving, how many lives are lost?
When do we stop caring about how bored we are?
For 20 years we have recited the names of the nearly 4000 who died that Tuesday in NY & PA. It takes nearly 4 hours.
This list would take nearly 100 hours to read, or 4 days, reading non stop.
How will we grieve this? What is even possible? Since our minds can’t make sense of it, there is no ritual that would satisfy the requirements of loss at so great a scale. We can’t make sure every family, every person who was lost, finally gets their memorial, their moment in time, their celebration of life. No, the reality is that they have died watery deaths – no body, no memorial, no gathering, no last rites.
And that is not the beginning of what is horrible about any of this.
Today I will not murk the loss and sadness and grief with finger pointing or mockery of our leadership. I will do that on another day, at another time, and I sure as fuck will do that in November.
Right now I just want to contemplate what it means to live in a culture where a hundred thousand families can’t grieve with each other and instead we’re arguing about masks and so called freedom, where healthcare workers are being accused of villainy or conspiracy.
Right now I just want to say: turn it off. Turn off all the social media. Forget the sarcasm, and the clever “coronavirus likes this” image, the innumerable clever gifs, the everything. But my god, especially the funny. This is no time for scoring a point or having the right emoticon.
This is only a time for grief: collective, wailing, keening, uncategorizable, overwhelming grief.
Sit with it. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Pet a cat. Throw a ball. But remember, with the whole of you, how many people are missing that person they said the prayer for, the pet they loved together, the games they saw together.
We will, I predict, become 80x more callous than we are today if we don’t.
So sit with it. Let your humanity light up a minute of your life. For once in your life, be uncomfortable. Try to reconcile the irreconcilable and fail. Imagine the one loss, or two, or twelve that you’ve experienced. Remember in your guts how it felt, in your head.
There is no way for us to reconcile this loss, to respect it, to grieve it. We could be silent for a month, not talk for a month, maybe. We could light 100,000 candles and still not understand, because every grief, every loss, is inconsolable. Anyone who has lost someone important knows this; everyone who has cried and not slept or slept too much or drank too much or not eaten or eaten too much knows this.
We all know what this loss means, what it is, why it hurts, or we all could, if we stopped, stopped everything, stopped arguing, stopped posting, stopped worrying.
Grieve with me.
Take those four days – the days it would take to read their names out loud – and just grieve.
I don’t know when my four days will happen, but that’s what I’m going to do: no talking, only fasting, only prayer. I think I’ll start the morning after we officially hit 100,000 so that I can tie up loose ends and put up an automatic reply to my email and a note on Facebook because those are the concessions the living demand.
Join me. Let the world go dark for a minute for these, our one hundred thousand dead.
As many of you veterans of the mHB boards know, they flatlined a while back and Rachel and I decided we just couldn’t bring them back. We’ve both given so many hours moderating them over the years; I did, especially, — since 2003! — and I needed instead to focus on my own career, other projects, etc. I do a lot of writing now at Patreon, if you want to come follow me over there.
Perhaps one day I’ll write up a piece about what they were and have been in a way that does them justice.
But for now, some awesome folks from the mHB boards who especially missed them as a result of Covid-19 have created their own.
I’ve become a member (though I’ve yet to post) and a few of us also get together for a zoom chat weekly if that’s something you might like.