Monday, 20 November 2017

Why Transgender Day of Remembrance Matters

(UPDATE: Content Warning - references to suicide, hate crime, murder and assault, verbal & physical abuse)

Its Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) and I want to say a little about why all of us should treat it with the seriousness it deserves.

While its true that, in broad terms, our society has made leaps and bounds in its understanding and acceptance of trans people in recent decades, recent headlines and columns indicate weve a long way to go.

Repeated trans-negative and mocking headlines and think-pieces indicate that discourse about gender is a fault-line that reaches far beyond politics and theologies into visceral bile and fear.

Ive witnessed Christians (who, in faith, I still want to claim as kin), radical feminists (they are kin too), and terrified conservative-reactionaries want to make trans people and their allies the vanguard of a monstrous deconstruction of society and culture. (It would be funny to ponder what these powers of destruction look like, if only these claims werent so damaging.)

Why does TDOR matter? Well, lets start with some startling truths.

This year looks like becoming the deadliest year for trans people on record. Around the world over three hundred trans people have been murdered (go to the GLAAD website if you wish to see the list).

Furthermore, over half of trans and gender-questioning students in UK schools have been bullied.

Many trans people around the world have been assaulted and attacked.

Suicide attempt rates among the trans community in the UK are fearfully high and our identities are consistently traduced, questioned and mocked. These rates reflect a lack of support and understanding from within our society.

But if youre reading this, you probably knew that already.

Perhaps you want to say, Well, thats all very well, but what makes you lot so special? Why have a special day of remembrance? Lots of people non-trans women, people of colour, disabled people are traduced, violated and murdered simply in virtue of being themselves. Are they remembered?

In response I want to say, this isnt about special pleading or victim-signalling.

I stand in solidarity with those whom our prejudiced, patriarchally-ordered and violent world kills, damages and injures.

I am furious about the crap faced by anyone who does not fit religio-kyriarchal representations of the human and am determined to change a world that still privileges white, patriarchal, heteronormative ways of going on.

If trans people represent a tiny percentage of the population, the murder stats worldwide are mind-blowing. Three-hundred-plus of us have been murdered this year alone simply for being trans. Its a horrifying statistic. Three hundred deaths among a minuscule minority is terrifying. It signals deep fault-lines of violence and terror.

I am an exceptionally privileged person in many different respects. I am able to be trans and be out about it, and (within the limits of these things) respected. I have a fine job. I have lots of shiny-sounding titles and styles. I can make myself sound grand. My voice is heard.

Yet I too have received hate and threats, including a death threat, simply because I am trans.

I have been called nasty, nasty things.

I know people who are polite to my face but have claimed simply in virtue that I am trans that I am unfit to be a priest or hold a bishops licence.

I have received many professional slights, dis-invitations and exclusions simply because I will not apologise for being me. These slights add up and present challenges to the most resilient.

Why am I telling you this? Not to stir up pity for me. I dont need it. Im doing well and am alright.

The point is this: if this is what it looks like for someone who is a so-called successful or privileged trans person, what the hell is it like for trans people facing the full-on nexus of mockery, aggression and violence, without my privileges?

The fact is that trans people, young and old, simply would like to get on and live and flourish. We want to have our stories and lives cherished and respected as we define them. We want our stories to be honoured as anyone would like their story honoured.

In case you were wondering, trans people are no more engaged in self-indulgent narcissism than anyone else. We just want to live.

Our need to ask questions of gender, explore gender possibilities, transition and so on come not from capricious self-obsession, but deep, passionate wrestling. Its bone deep.

Most trans people I know have thought more deeply and carefully about the possibilities and aporia of identity than most non-trans people. We are not screwy, damaged or nut-jobs any more than non-trans people are. Wed like a little respect.

So, woe to you, woe to me, woe to us, when we seek to erase trans lives erase their dignity, seriousness and ordinarinesswoe to us when we seek to erase and control trans bodies through violent speech or gesture.

Let us remember the dead because we are them and they are us: people longing to live, people with dreams, people bewildered and foolish and loving, by turns.

Let us commit ourselves to changing the world.

For the love of God, let trans people live! Let us flourish. You might discover the world is richer and more full of grace than you thought.


  1. Beautifully and powerfully written. Thank you for your ministry, Rachel.

  2. I have shared this on my facebook page . Thank you Rachel

  3. Divide and Rule, successfully creating divisions within community. It ensures that the 'Helpers' remain in their careers 'and the 'Helped' remain a segregated ghettoized section rather than a part of the main. 'Isms & Ologies' is dividing and sub-dividing community - inclusive community where we need to forge tolerant relationships that do not negatively reinforce more and more labels - we need to continue to devise development plans that integrate persons - not segregate isms/ologies and labels. The Professional 'Helpers' are dividing community reinforcing the chasm between the disengaged and the trapped, between the 'Helpers' and the 'Helped' We MUST learn to promote Person-hood!

  4. I can't believe what I have just read. For and Anglican you clearly have zero regard for Anglicanism at all. In the Holy Scriptures (which is necessary for all doctrine and salvation according to the 39 articles) God laid out a moral code that all people are to follow, this moral code prohibits transgenderism and cross dressing. Now, there is a reason for everything that God has commanded in His Scriptures. God clearly intended for all people to live the gender He created them, so God decreed that it is wrong to decide to act as or be a different gender.
    Now I am simply saying that transgender people should not be encouraged to be transgender in the church. We, as the church, must help people who struggle with sin (all sin, not just transgenderism). We should not shout from the rooftops that something that God despises is kosher. If God says something is wrong then who are we to say differently?
    That being said, I am not advocating we shame transgender people or we treat them without Christian charity and love of neighbor. I am simply saying that, if someone chooses to be a Christian, we give them the help and support they need to live out the sex God created them as.

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  6. Hi Rachel, I was really moved by your post. So much so, it became a key ingredient to my latest Bible Pirate podcast episode. If you end up listening, I'd welcome any feedback. I'm particularly aware of dealing with a sensitive subject and the power dynamics of even speaking about it. Thank you for the ways your words open up space - in this case to remember.

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  8. I thought it was time someone wrote something reasonable in response to your thought provoking blog. In researching the case of Margaret Allen, Britain's only executed transgendered killer, I was shocked to read the statistics for TG people who were, and still are are victims of hate crimes, and to see that this sort of crime is so prevalent as to have it's own name - Transphobia. In my book 'Odd Man Out - A Motiveless Murder?' (author name Denise Beddows), I reveal the difficult life and brutal death of Margaret 'Bill' Allen and also reveal the fact that the police deliberately suppressed critical evidence which might have led to a different verdict. Allen clearly suffered verbal and physical abuse in her lifetime and, consequently, depression, and so I am greatly taken aback to see that the world has not moved on since her execution in 1949. I had seen that there was a TDOR service a couple of years ago at Manchester Cathedral and had hoped to get along to the same service last October, but there did not seem to be one or, if there was, it was not advertised on the cathedral's website. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the 1948 murder in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, for which murder Allen was hanged the following January. It would be nice if she, too, might be remembered at one of this year's TDOR services.

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