Should the transgender community take its Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration out of safe spaces, such as a Q Center, and into the at-large community? Should we leave behind the discreteness and security of our comfortable, regular meeting place and make this event a vehicle for engaging the public, pursuing our mission of education and outreach, taking the opportunity to win over allies?
Or, as some members have stated, is TDOR just for us, our one "sacred" day of the year, which should not be diverted to other intents? As a powerful symbolic statement, could TDOR be taken into churches, synogagogues, mosques, perhaps winning over some of the fair-minded and good-hearted congregants, or is this an afront to those trans members who vehemently oppose organized religion? Would taking TDOR on the road be the perfect way to bring visibility to the injustices and violence our community is exposed to, or would this be politicizing a supposedly somber ceremony?
This is my viewpoint.
TDOR is the closest thing our disparate community has in the way of an acclamation of solidarity. It's a ritual. Some call it "sacred." We light candles. We sing songs. We give speeches (sermons). We mourn the dead. We elevate into empathy. We try to conjure up some tiny flicker of cognition of who these people might have been, though we can never know them, really, in the least. Yet what burns inside all of us who take TDOR seriously is the concept of justice... more specifically, lack thereof in the cases of the deceased. Justice is a moral concept. And a political one. So are the concepts of Equality, Liberty and Individuality, which also come into play at the TDOR commemoration.
We all love our safe meeting places. They are our safe little nests. We have had five TDORs at our safe nest, the Rainbow Center in Tacoma, WA. Attendance peaked at around 50 a few years back, but has dwindled since. It's the same-old/same-old. Afterward the ceremony, I have to say I don't feel much better. After the candles have been snuffed, have we really accomplished anything? We haven't brought back the dead. We haven't honored their lives by doing anything of real value. So perhaps we should ask ourselves, "what would THEY want us to do?"
Here are some points to consider:
The facticity of the matter, especially given that the majority of the names that we read aloud are Hispanic, is that most of these murdered trans people were Christian. Where do you think THEY would want us to commemorate their lives and mourn their deaths?
How do we honor their lives by emphatically rejecting their beliefs? Would they, when alive, have preferred to integrate their lives and deaths within the structure of a faith community? Probably yes. Would they, knowing they would be killed, then acquiesce to their very death being "used" to propagate some semblance of greater understanding about the transgender phenomenon? Surely yes.
I share a disdain for organized religion. I think religion divides people, is irrational and immoral, and has not served humankind well at all. Certainly the legacies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are dripping with blood. I hope for a time in the history of our species when we have left "religion" behind and have embraced a truer spirituality. But, alas, that time is not now. Not even close.
Yet while some of us (by no means the majority of trans people) may perceive organized religion as an "enemy," we should be able to see that there are many people involved in these churches, temples and mosques that are very good-hearted and want to live rightly. There are allies to be won in these congregations. There are minds and hearts to be changed. Perhaps only one or two in each sanctuary. But is that not more than we would change with yet another TDOR at the Rainbow Center, preaching to the choir?
TDOR is the PERFECT event to take out into the community... whether it be to a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a community center, college venue, or wherever. It is our one, ritualized event, steeped in seriousness and meaning. If we are to touch the hearts and minds of any of those potential allies, to light the justice fire in them, this is the most powerful way to do it. Inside a church or civic center we are sowing seeds of change, and who knows how they might take root and grow. Or, to use another metaphor, we leave behind a vortex trail that may swirl for years and affect a multitude.
Several local churches, including a Catholic church, have INVITED us to hold our sacred TDOR within their walls. That is an honorable, and remarkable, offer. Think about it. Who would have imagined such a thing 50 years ago? Shall we slap it away? Shall a few of us be so dogmatic in our own entrenched mindset that we disallow the very many religious members of our own trans community the opportunity to commemorate this emotional event in the beautiful setting of a church sanctuary, rather than once again at the all-too-familiar Rainbow Center location? Will we turn away from the opportunity to win over as allies one or two or perhaps more members of that congregation who might choose to join us in our event, and honestly wish to learn about our community? How would that be honoring our mission to educate and promote unity and diversity?
I, for one, being a believer that the arc of history bends inexorably (though not necessarily smoothly) toward greater equality, greater liberty and greater justice, would find it deliciously sublime if a bunch of trans people and their allies were to march directly into the belly of the Catholic beast and openly commemorate our dead. This would be utter "blasphemy" only a short time ago. If you choose to believe in the soul's immortality, you might just perceive the crucified Jesus smiling down upon us, as the throngs of theological tyrants through history shudder in their graves.
What kind of conversation, or debate, or protest, might our arrival stir up in any of these churches which has invited us to share our saddest stories and most somber evening? Would that be so bad? No, it would be great. Would some members of the church picket our event? Would others join us in solidarity? Would we get media coverage of such a happening? Wow. Cool.
For the squeamish, we don't have to go first into a Catholic church. The Unitarian Church, one of the staunchest institutional defenders of equality, liberty, justice, rationality and gender rights, the home of William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson, is likely also available to us. Other progressive churches would also welcome us, I am sure. Do we embrace this possibility, or do we fall back into safe space, rote routine?
So, you see, there are many angles to consider here. To dogmatically say that "religion has been bad to trans people and we won't have anything to do with it," is a very narrow and self-defeating tactic. I am not thrilled to report that we live in a very religious country... one of the most religious on Earth. We can go to war against that facticity, and thence find ourselves at war with the majority of society, as well as with many of our own trans community members - or we can use the weight of that facticity to further our own cause, tapping into the substantial amount of good will, good intentions, and good people that abound within these institutions.
Whatever we choose to do, let us move forward together... in solidarity with ourselves and with anyone - of any race, color, creed, or other variance - who wishes to join with us on this remarkable march toward Gender Liberty.