Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day for deep reflection, mourning, and regret. It’s also a day to hope, no matter how faintly, for a better future—and things are pretty dim, I gotta tell you.
As I write this, 30 states in the country of my birth are rattling their sabers in the general direction of 10,000 Syrian refugees, declaring them personae non grata and extending a collective middle finger to both the scandalized ghost of Emma Lazarus and basic fucking decency.
This is par for the course with the particularly rabid faction of the conservative element in our country that prides itself on hypocrisy that would make a Bond villain blush, and it’s neither surprising nor especially encouraging for the future of our nation and our species that such sentiments persist in a world that has been soaked to the core with needless bloodshed and human-on-human violence since time immemorial.
It’s especially cutting—and shameful, while we’re being so free with the public shaming—to think that less than a century ago, Americans were doing the same thing to Jewish refugees. NIMBY is the name of the game, and both logic and compassion are distant concerns when compared to fear of the different or unknown.
Humans, it appears, are not so great at loving one another. Even when we know better. Even when we’ve been hurt and ill-used ourselves.
To wit: Homo homini lupus.
Man is a wolf to man.
This sentiment has been with us since the Classical era, appearing in the thoughts of luminaries as varied as Plautus, Hobbes, and Freud—and subverted at least once (by Ovid, who pointed out that a man is ill-served by harming another man, because he is loath to harm himself. Although that’s certainly never stopped us, has it?). And at its core is this notion that we are rapacious and devastating predators of our own kind, possessing as we do the well-honed ability to ignore the fundamental, inalienable commonalities which bind us as humans and focus in on the differences we can use to justify violence in word and deed.
Empathy, that oft-lauded and rarely practiced gift of the higher mind and soul, is having trouble finding cab fare these days.
Which is why, as we arrive at November 20th and the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, we find that at least 81 transpeople have met untimely ends through murderous violence.
And that’s just the ones we KNOW about. Much of the world has no formalized tracking system in place for documenting the violence against transpeople.
Especially disheartening is the fact that the number of transwomen killed in the US this year is MORE THAN DOUBLE the 2014 figure. The vast majority were women of color.
Again and again, we are told “the other” is the threat. Anyone falling outside the cherished White Straight Conservative Christian demographic—a demographic whose shrinking relevancy in modern America is inversely proportionate to its rage at losing its throne of privilege—is to be vilified, shunned, dehumanized, or ignored. That transpeople, like other minorities, can be murdered with such bald-faced impunity, and their deaths met largely with bland equanimity, is an indictment of a country that claims to be a bastion of freedom, love, and equality. Make no mistake: the threat is not people from any religious or cultural or ethnic background; it is not from anyone whose identity fails to conform to heteronormative rigidity, or gender roles.
The threat to us all comes from a mode of thought that allows us to accept violence against others as appropriate response to their otherness, or as a natural result of their association with people who would hide behind a part of their identity to justify their own monstrous acts. ISIS is not Islam. Timothy McVeigh was not Christianity. Kid-killing cops are not the Police.
When we engage in this mode of thought—the most vile type of synecdoche, allowing a part to stand for the whole in order to keep things simple and comforting and digestible—it’s all too easy to cast vast swaths of humanity from our cherished “pack” and reassign them as either enemies or prey. To allow the actions of extremists to cloud our judgement and let us paint real, living, breathing people, as complex and worthy of love and opportunity as ourselves with a broad brush dipped in bile is to surrender our own humanity and embrace the wolf within us.
I’d like to end this post on an encouraging note, and in fairness I must note that things are slowly getting better as trans visibility improves. More mainstream exposure to trans people, our stories, and our struggles means more people can (and hopefully will) see us as fellow human beings, rather than cardboard cutouts and tasteless punchlines used to score cheap political points for cowardly fear-mongers.
We have brave allies in our fight for acceptance and equality, and those of us lucky enough to have them can take comfort in the love and acceptance we personally enjoy from friends and family.
These blessings are a candle in the darkness. But their flame is modest, still, and sheds neither warmth nor light in 81 graves. And outside, the wolves are howling.