24 November 2008

Transgender Remembrance Day

Last night I went with Dominick to a Transgender Remembrance Day service on Long Island. Someone he calls "Dad" was one of the guest speakers. As it turned out, I'd met him before, at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan.

He was Dominick's Spanish teacher in high school. Dominick's parents divorced when he was a small child, so his father really wasn't part of his life. That teacher, therefore, became the nearest person Dominick would have to a male parent.

Anyway, that service took place in a Unitarian church. I had been to Unitarian churches maybe once or twice before: when I was searching or had all but given up, I'm not sure of which. Dominick liked what he saw of that church; the people were indeed friendly, as he remarked. Also, he noticed, they seemed to accept everyone. I pointed out that it's one of the reasons the Unitarians were founded, and they were, along with the Quakers, spiritual leaders of the Abolition movement.

I, too, liked the people very much. But I also remarked on the homogeneity of the people there. "For me, it's cultural shock to be in a room full of white, mostly middle-class people."

"I know how you feel," Dominick said.

"We work in multicultural environments. I'm in a college where 80 percent of the students are black. Being around people who are different from me is normal now."

He laughed with a twinge of recognition. "I never feel like I'm around my own people."

"That's exactly what all those transgender people said tonight. That's how I felt through most of my life."

"But you know, while I think it's great to be in New York with all these different kinds of people, I'm not so sure that it teaches people how to live with people who are different from themselves."

"Well, if a person's not ready, nothing and no one can teach them."

"It's what you learn at home."

He's right, at least to a point. For most people, chances are that if they don't learn tolerance from their families, they won't learn it from anyone else, anywhere else. But the operative phrase is "chances are." I wondered, "Are you really bound by that?"

"Well, pretty much...I see it in kids."

"I know what you mean. But just because your family did something, it doesn't mean you have to do it, too."

I was thinking of the murdered transgendered people whose names we read at the service. I was one of the few people who also had the name of the victim's killer: Antonio Williams. Where did he learn to hate a man in woman's clothes enough to shoot him in the head with a semi-automatic rifle? Even if his parents (if he had them) or any other adult in his childhood taught him to hate cross-dressers, how could they intensify that hatred enough to kill in such a brutal way? How did any of those who killed those people whose names we read learn to hate a transgender, drag queen or king, or anyone else who deviates from proscribed gender roles, enough to stab her multiple times in the torso, head and groin or to plug her with ten, fifteen or twenty bullets. Those are some of the stories I remember from last night.

"My" victim, Brian Mc Glothlin, was only 25 years old when Antonio Williams killed him on 23 December of last year. The 23rd: the day after Corey, a friend of mine, committed suicide in 1982. I spent the last night of his life with him: He'd called me, and I just knew he couldn't wait. He didn't talk about ending his life; rather, he alluded to its futility and pointless pain. "Why do I have to live a life in a man's body but feel like a woman?"

That was exactly the question I asked myself nearly every day for forty years. I didn't tell him that; rather, I said some things that now seem vague about feeling out of place and misunderstood. Back then, I was nowhere near acknowledging my own truth; I wasn't even near admitting that I had problems with drugs and alcohol. I held him; he actually fell asleep in my arms. I'd hoped somehow that he could sleep it off, or I could hug all of that self-hatred out of him. How could I, when I was so filled with hatred of myself?

Somehow Corey's death has always seemed as violent--like a murder, at least in a spiritual sense--as those of any of those whose names we read last night. Which is why after I pronounced my last sentence-- "For his deed, the gunman is now serving a six-year prison sentence"--I could not stop crying as I stepped off the altar and walked back to the pew where Dominick and I had been sitting.

I never met Brian Mc Glothlin. I've never been to Cincinnati, where he was killed. Yet I felt, at that moment, as if I'd lost a member of my family, or at least my community. Intellectually, I know that I couldn't've prevented Brian's or Corey's death. But sometimes I still find myself echoing Camus's character who believes his failure to say "hello" to someone contributed to that person's suicide. Maybe, just maybe, if I'd more openly acknowledged how I felt--that I, a woman, loved Corey, whatever her gender--if I'd only shared that,,,,Could I have started a chain of love, or short-circuited a chain of hatred that would have prevented the horrible deaths of Corey, Brian and any number of people who, whether they were killed by their own or someone else's hand?

Of course the "sensible" answer is "no." But does the fact that I was not, at that time in my life, capable of being anything like an agent of peace and understanding (and maybe I'm still not) absolve me from blame for what I didn't do--or, more important, its consequences?

If for no other reason, going to that memorial was good for me because I most likely wasn't the only person there who'd asked herself such questions. Or who'd come to remember people they'd never met but with whom they felt a spiritual kinship. Isn't that the purpose of a remembrance (as opposed to a mere memorial), after all?

No comments: