For a while, just as Transgender Day of Remembrance was getting established as an observance, a competing movement emerged. That competing movement, well-intentioned but wrong-headed, had the following idea:
“Trans Day of Remembrance is a sad and depressing situation. We mope around mourning our murdered community members, and if that’s our only public observance it makes non-trans people think that transgender lives are only and ever nasty, brutish, and short. Instead, let’s take the day and make it celebratory! We’ll have a dance and a film screening and maybe a sexy party!”
Communities battled over this, and the source of the battle was people’s feeling that mourning and celebration were opposite to one another. With some time to reflect, I have been able to understand that this is a way that my Jewish values inform and infuse my understanding of the world so completely that sometimes it takes a while for me to notice why I don’t quite grasp some piece of mainstream, Christian-inflected, thinking.
Coming from a tradition in which the prayer we say for dead people mentions exactly nothing about death but has to be said every day for a year, and whose mourning rituals involve both profound self-abnegation and constant food and family, it’s no wonder I might be slow to understand. Jewish mourning is complex and communal; it invites us into a long contemplation of the dead person and their place in the world, now emptied.
For the record, I stand philosophically with those who wanted Trans Day of Remembrance to remain a separate observance, in November. I supported the creation of a separate day to celebrate the lives and achievements of transgender and transsexual people: International Transgender Day of Visibility, in March. I don’t think TDOR is a good day for a drag ball or a cross-campus kickline. It’s a day to remember who we’ve lost: mostly trans women, and of those mostly trans women of colour, who have been brutally murdered because someone heard something or saw something that outed her as trans. But since we don’t usually know the people we’re mourning – never all of them and usually not more than one of them – it becomes difficult to celebrate. We don’t have a sense of what space they’ve left behind; we can’t celebrate the dead. All we can do is add glitter and attempt to look cheerful.