Annually, on the 20ieth of November we remember those who have been taken from us way too early, but, until we have reached a state of mutual respect and acceptance, every day is Transgender Day of Remembrance…
I was born in Germany in 1971, a little boy in a girl’s body… then transitioned almost twenty years ago, in 1993, in Switzerland. It’s not been easy. Fear, loneliness, depression, and despair were my constant companions, faithfully lurking just around the corner like a bunch of hungry zombies. Facing the challenge of being born in the wrong body was a matter of survival. Leaving things as they were was simply not an option. Today, I can say I am at peace with my circumstances. I like who I am, and am – mostly – at one with myself.
Considering all I’ve been through it comes as a shock to realize I am one of the lucky ones.
Annually, on November 20ieth, during the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), we memorialize those who have lost their lives to hate crimes.
When I first came across this long list I literally had to sit down and breathe slow and deeply for a while.
So many killed each year. .. stoned, beaten, bludgeoned, stabbed, and shot to death. And why? Simply because they were being themselves.
The Human Rights Campaign posted a story in April 2016 of a transgender girl and her (very supportive) family. The girl’s mom said, “Imagine spending your life pretending to be someone you aren’t, to try to live to make everyone else in your world happy rather than yourself.”
Those who kill our transgender peers can’t comprehend, can’t allow the possibility of diversity beyond the scope of what they know to be their reality. They are scared, feel threatened by what they can’t understand. Thus their reactions become as primeval as their fear – leading to senseless violence and death.
In many countries it still isn’t safe and can be fatal to come out openly as transgender. Also, in many countries a large percentage of trans individuals are still homeless and can only find employment in the sex trade. They are perceived as freaks of nature instead of being appreciated as the intriguing, strong, and brave individuals they truly are.
I’ve always been able to live life the way I wanted. I never took no for an answer and managed to live all over the world, working as a movie theater manager, designer, scuba diving instructor, hyperbaric chamber operator, show diver, performer coach, and production manager.
However, I too had to be careful. Depending on where I lived or traveled, I knew I couldn’t let my guard down… On a road trip through the “bible belt” in the United States I kept to myself and never went over the speed limit (– lest a trigger-happy cop decides to pull me over, searches me and discovers I’m not quite a regular guy). In Indonesia I never smoked a joint. What would I do if police strip-searched me in a dark alley, discovering I’m a guy but don’t have a penis? In Macau I took great care to not get caught drunk driving to avoid ending up in prison overnight (standard practice there). In fundamental religious regions I never went to a massage or sauna.
I am fully aware I have to be careful with my very own brand of preconceived notions and prejudice. Regardless, it’s better to be alert instead of finding death prematurely. The TODR list speaks for itself.
It’s a tightrope act – managing to live my life exactly as who I am, whilst at the same time successfully avoiding any situation that could potentially end up with me being cornered by a bunch of trans-phobic guys or even police men who might or might not beat me to death.
One day, I hope alertness like this won’t be necessary anymore. I hope we won’t need memorial lists anymore. Diversity is a gift, a privilege, not a threat. Is it possible for people to someday truly accept each other without judgment?
Most likely not.
But it is a valid dream to have. A goal for all of us to work towards – honoring and speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves anymore – or those who haven’t found the strength to do so yet.
Gender has always been fluid. Some Native American tribes, for example, recognized this fact already long before our time by accepting up to nine different genders in their societies. More widely known amongst most Native American tribes was – and still is – the term “Two-Spirit People”, to describe individuals who find themselves with a soul imprisoned in a wrongly-gendered body.
From own experience I can say being trans is not something you just decide to be one day. It is who I am. It is who I was born as. None of us transgender individuals know why we were born this way. It just happened. It is not anyone’s fault… just a strange deck of cards that has been given… a quirk of nature that occurs far more often than you’ve been led to believe. Only within the last decade have more and more trans and/or gender fluid individuals dared to come forward. Many know from childhood on who they truly are. I’ve known since I was four years old.
And you know what? No one can define who I am. My identity isn’t bound to what is stated in my original birth certificate. I know better. Because this body is my home and I know it intimately because I’ve lived in it for forty-five years already.
Times are changing – albeit slowly. No matter what though, I’ll continue to live life to the fullest, being true to myself and reaching out to make – hopefully – a little bit of difference.
This is for all those who have suffered and left us far too early.
You will never be forgotten.