20 November 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance: For The Truth About Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  For those of you who are just learning about it, this day commemorates those who met violent deaths on account of their actual or perceived gender identity and expression.  It commemorates the 1998 murder of Rita Hester in the Boston suburb of Allston.  

Like so many murders of transgenders--and that of Matthew Shepard, which preceded hers by a few weeks--it was notable for its gruesome overkill.  For all of those who think that we're trying to make our deaths, and the ways in which we are victimized, seem more important than crimes against everyone else, I want to say just a couple of things.

First of all, murders of transgender (and other gender-variant people) have some of the lowest "solve" rates.  When I wrote an article about the issue five years ago,  92 percent of such murders committed during the previous 30 years hadn't been solved, according to Interpol. That has much to do with the fact that they are not taken seriously by authorities in many places; among those in law enforcement and criminal justice, there is too often the attitude that we "had it coming" or that no one will miss us.  The latter notion is, too often, true, for many of us have been cast aside by the families into which we were born or the ones we made.  (In that sense, I am luckier than most, as my parents have been supportive even though they don't entirely approve of what I've done.)

Second, as I've mentioned, our deaths are some of the most gratuitously violent.  In those cases in which investigators actually investigate our deaths, much less take those investigations seriously, police officers and coroners as often as not say that our murders are the most horrible they'd seen.  As an example, just two weeks ago, a cross-dresser and a eunuch were tortured--Their eyes and nails were removed--and burned beyond recognition.  

You might be tempted--as I would have been, not so long ago--to say, "Well, that's Pakistan.  Things like that happen there."  Indeed it is a conservative Muslim country.  But there, as in India, there is a class of people--of which the two murder victims may have been part--called the hijra. They have been tolerated if not afforded equal status, but they have been increasingly marginalized, and even stigmatized, during the past sixty years or so.  Still, the fact that they were even tolerated--if only for their usefulness as sex workers--makes them without parallel in most of the Western world.

(Ironically, "Hijra" is also the migration of the prophet Mohamed and his followers to the city of Medina in C.E. 622.  Most Americans and Europeans know of that journey by its Latinized name, "Hegira." )

To his credit, the Police Superintendent Syed Amin Bukhari has actually formed separate investigative teams for each murder.  And while some people still seem to think that they brought it on themselves by "bringing misery to the streets," as one commentor said, others have lamented the brutality of those slayings.  

However, to find any of those attitudes expressed, or to know how brutal the murder of a gender-variant person can be, one needn't go to Pakistan.  At least, I don't need to.  All I have to do is ride my bike about half an hour from my apartment to Ridgewood, Queens, where Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar lived and died in March.  Hers is one of the (too) many names being read at Transgender Day of Remembrance events this year.   

Somehow, I don't think this will be the last time I mention her name.  I know that there are others--some of whom I saw at the vigil held in front of her apartment--who will also keep her name, and thus her memory alive, for themselves and in the minds of those who investigated her killing.  Even though they made an arrest and are to be commended for their work, I don't want them to forget, for her sake as well as that of anyone else who meets a fate as terrible as hers.  

And I want to remember, and be sure they remember, her and the others because of what Voltaire said:  On doit egards aux vivants; on ne doit aux morts que la verite:  To the living we owe respect; to the dead, we owe nothing but the truth.