Death is a heavy topic that all of us would rather not think about. So how do we celebrate a day dedicated to remembering violence and death in our community? For many, Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is a solemn day. A day to think on the friends and family we have lost, a day to think of the ways the system has let us down. But it also gives us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come. It lets us talk about our shared experiences as Trans and non-binary people. It gives us a time and a platform to voice our criticism and protestations.
Everyone experiences gender differently. No two people’s transition is the same and no two people experience remembrance in the same way.
This piece contains material that may be triggering to some, including mentions of slurs, suicide, death and dysphoria.
Zhi Wen Teh
Growing up in Malaysia, you could only be a boy or a girl. Everyone kept saying I was a girl and I believed them for most of my life. My natural tendencies labelled me as a ‘tomboy,’ but it was assumed to be a phase. I was supposed to grow up to be a woman and so most people kept telling me to be more lady-like. They kept calling me a boy and I would angrily tell them I was a girl. Looking back, my connection to womanhood was tenuous. I never felt like I could relate to the girls. But I wasn’t a boy either.
I didn’t have the language to explain what I was feeling. I couldn’t see any reflections of myself. As I started going through puberty, I desperately wished I could switch between being a boy and a girl — and then I wished people would just see me and not a girl.
Even after learning about Trans people, I was very hesitant to consider myself one of them. I didn’t feel like I was ‘Trans enough.’ It was a long journey for me to finally answer the questions I kept asking myself. I didn’t fully come out as non-binary until the beginning of 2019.
I consider myself extremely lucky. My family is accepting of my queerness. My deviancy never warranted violence and I’m privileged enough to be able to study in Canada. Others aren’t as lucky. Malaysia is extremely hostile to Trans people, especially Trans women. My Trans Day Of Remembrance is keeping my Trans sisters, brothers and siblings back home in my thoughts. It is knowing that I can’t be myself back home and most of the world. It is making an effort to affirm that I exist, I’m alive.
On this day, I will continue to fight for our siblings who no longer can.
TDOR was never a big thing to me until last year. In high school, I didn’t have a physical Trans community. I knew every November that TDOR was happening, but it didn’t feel special — I was angry all year round. Besides, I went to Catholic school. It wasn’t as if there was a way for me to grieve. I was just furious and hurting and defensive constantly.
At my last university, where I did have that in-person community, I didn’t want to think about TDOR. There were vigils held by the LGBT group on campus — we didn’t go. I had just met other Trans people who I loved and cared about deeply. I didn’t want to think about transphobic violence. I wanted to pretend that we would all be safe.
But TDOR was and is not about me. It’s about the victims, my siblings, whose deaths I did not want to face. Last year, when the SASC panel for TDOR fell through, the Pride Collective held a memorial or discussion group for Trans people in the Nest. The room was large, but we were small in it. There were so many empty chairs. Just being there, among other Trans people, and the conversations we had — it made me feel like I was being unraveled. It was unbearably good to grieve outside myself. Both to grieve with other people and to grieve other people.
Now, I think of that night and I think of Leelah Alcorn, who died 15 minutes away from where I lived when I was in high school. I wish she could have gotten to have something like that.
TDOR is a difficult subject to think about. We’re so lucky, especially growing up today in Vancouver. My friends are alive and I’m alive. I know many others didn’t have it so good.
We’ve come so far as a society and a country on Trans issues, but there’s still so much pain and fear. My cousin was called a faggot and attacked on the streets in Vancouver. My friend was kicked out of the house. I don’t know a single Trans person who hasn’t thought about killing themselves. I feel genuine fear when I step into a public washroom because I’ve heard all the horror stories of harassment and assault.
TDOR is a day of pain, but also a day of strength. We’ve come far as a community and somehow we’re still here.
I feel like I’m still very much a ‘Baby Trans,’ in the way that I started questioning my gender identity in January and it hasn’t been that long. So I don’t have a whole lot of experience to compare. I’ve had very much mixed experience being here at UBC — and I’m not entirely sure whether that would have been different if I would have been on another campus or if I would have just been living in the city of Vancouver.
Trans Day of Remembrance is completely new to me. It makes me feel very somber, very reflective. I just feel like I’m sure it’s the same for other people in the Queer community who aren’t Trans, who are some other acronym, feel a very similar way about being disjointedly disconnected from their own history. Not knowing those historical figures, those pioneers that paved the way for us to be able to identify it and be as we are today. It’s just that it’s hard to get that information.
I came out as transmasculine less than a year ago. The only reason that I was able to do so was the support of other students that are out as Trans at UBC. My self-confidence and empowerment came from our friendships and not at all from UBC as an institution or place of education. Being Trans at UBC is only a positive experience for me because of the community that has been built by Trans students.
Throughout the year, I read and hear stories of the injustices that Trans people face around the world. I seldom express the anger or sorrow that these injustices make me feel, attempting to prevent these emotions from infringing on other peoples’ lives. I may share articles on social media or have conversations with other folks who are also viscerally aware of the oppression of the Trans community.
However, I never give myself enough room to show my own personal pain. Transgender Day of Remembrance has become the one day a year where I allow myself to feel and experience what I have suppressed all year. It is also a day where I only allow myself to be around other Trans folks. It is my day of grief, anger, distress and anguish from the abuse and murders that our community is subjected to, around the world.
The rest of the year, I consciously try to turn these emotions into action, energy to educate others and effort to communicate the severity of these injustices.
If you are reading this and you are not Trans, give us room to express our pain without asking what we are feeling. Also, I urge you to encourage other folks to read this piece by The Ubyssey or google other TDOR articles written by Trans folks.
Now that I’ve started transitioning, I get the feeling that all my friends like me more. I bet it’s because I’ve started liking myself more. It’s part of a general theme of me feeling comfortable in my own skin after years and years of not really liking myself. My outside is starting to look like the person I am on the inside, which is great. Sure, I still get called “sir” or “that guy over there” by people every once in a while, which hurts, and I get stared at now and again, which isn’t fun for a reclusive computer programming student like me — but I think it’s worth it in order to be myself.
For me, TDOR is a time to reflect on how lucky I am that I’m able to do this and to acknowledge all my precursors and contemporaries who had this opportunity taken away from them.
“Our task then is to push these further — not only with respect to TDOR but also in the many ways we recount and confront violence. None of us are innocent. We must envision practices of remembrance that situate our own positions within structures of power that authorize violence in the first place. Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honour the memory of the dead — we must transform the practices of the living.” — Sarah Lamble
The Queer experience is, well, a queer one. Most of us share an understanding of isolation, alienation, trepidation. We rally together to fight for our right to exist as we are and yet we get caught up on things like the word “queer.”
It makes sense — it’s very valid. These things have meaning and importance to people, rooted in lived experience and they deserve time and attention. But so do people. And it’s about time we all paid attention to the experiences of those pushed to the margins and held offstage for the convenience of a lulled audience.
Queer people fall into that category. Trans people are cast along with them. I think it is a bit of a disservice to spend inordinate time on diction and semantics when people are still out living the experiences our words often fail to describe, when people are still dying because of them. Literally and metaphorically.
I’m infinitely grateful I’m in a place, physically/socially/culturally/spiritually/emotionally/economically — you name it — where I can sit and reflect on semantics: on my experience, on our experiences. But too many still do not have that privilege. Too many have been robbed of ever having the chance.
Learn, reflect, become more aware. Be curious. Be kind. And if you’re fortunate enough to be here, act upon it. Live it. “It is not enough to simply honour the memory of the dead — we must transform the practices of the living.”
I met R in my first year at UBC. We lived together in residence. They were studying social work and it suited them — they had a huge heart and deeply cared about people. They were also the first Trans friend I had. Instead of studying, we would sit in the living room and talk about everything Queer, which was so all new to me beyond the internet. They were patient, well spoken, caring and knowledgeable.
R took their own life over winter break.
There have been at least 38 documented cases of murder of Transgender people internationally in the past year alone. This doesn’t include suicide — almost half the population of Transgender youth attempts suicide. I stopped reading Queer news because of the amount deaths being reported. I used to try to lessen the pain of grief by telling myself that they went to a better place. R and my other lost Trans siblings may have gone wherever they believed in, but the truth is that they would be better here, alive, experiencing and changing the world.
Over the past two years, my sadness has been replaced with anger. I am angry about the deaths of my friend and siblings. I am angry about the pain in my community. I am angry about cisgender people’s widespread ignorance. I am angry at the bigots in power and I am angry at the bigots that support or excuse their transphobia. I also fear each of those things.
My dream is to live in a world where we feel safe, where children aren’t picked apart for their gender, where we can exist as ourselves without oppressive and damaging societal expectations. I hope I live to see that happen.
Today, we remember those who we have lost to transphobia. R, although I knew you for only a short time, thank you for being such a pivotal person in my life. I wish you could join us for TaGI. I visited Hart Park. You would get a kick out of Janelle Monáe’s album. Rest in power.
The Ubyssey would like to thank everyone for their contributions for this article. TDOR can be a deeply personal subject to talk about. In writing on this subject, you had to focus on the fears that you have to put in a box to be able to live your life freely. We have asked you to think about what we’d all rather not think about. We have asked you to let us share your grief. We asked you be open and visible for a predominantly cis audience. We asked you to do the work we don’t want to do.
Words can never make up the loss that is felt in the Trans community, but with your words you have let people see and feel how we feel and live.