Their names are read off one by one. And each name is followed by a mid-toned chime that climbs up the plaster and into the church rafters. Some of them have stories, and some of them do not. Some are statistics from entire countries, and some from whole continents. When they are totaled, the number reaches 127.
127 people were reported murdered in the last twelve months for being transgendered. Countless more went unreported. Many estimate that a trans person is murdered every single day of the year. The church pews go silent, the candles go dark. This is a funeral, we are told.
I glance up and down the aisles. A few dozen blond bobs loom over the lines of pews. Trans women in smart suits and curly hair sit breathless and ready for prayer. These are the mothers of my movement, I know. Many of them came out after I did, but I know I live in gratitude to their trials and courage.
Outside, an autumn cold presses against the church. The streets of white suburbia are quiet and clean, brightened by house lamps in symmetrical yellows. For a minute, I think of the transgender community that I know- the Chicago one, the one that hangs loosely from curbs and struts, eyes to shoes, through dark thankless streets.
The church is asked to stand. It’s time to go downstairs and eat spaghetti. I look for people my age, and I find less than a handful. Everyone else is over the age of thirty-five.
Something has gone missing here. Something is not right.
When I think of transgender struggle, I picture the fierce queens of Stonewall, trans women of color with fists raises and teeth gritted. I hear the urgent cries of Compton. I feel the fists on Brandon Teena. I don’t think of warm quiet churches in suburbia.
But Transgender Day of Remembrance seems to be the one thing we all agree on in this community. Yes, it’s sad that transgender people are murdered every year.
Something has changed. Something has been pacified.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, I ask myself why it is that my community only comes together for this mass anonymous funeral. If I knew it already, I’ve re-learned something really important in the last few months: the act of remembering is often incredibly painful and always absolutely crucial. But more than that, the act of remembering is as much about honoring the past as it is re-directing the future. In our efforts to mourn our dead, I hope we will commit to change circumstance for the living.
The moment is right now. And it’s in Chicago. And when history looks back at this, it will say: it started in Chicago. From quiet back alleys, to 24-hour diners, to offices, and health clinics and LGBT centers and trains and most of all, from the streets you take home, something is changing.
We will not live funeral-to-funeral. We will not keep time with church bells or mark the passing years by extinguished candles. As I walk the autumn streets alone at night, I feel a distinct change. And it is not the weather, which is still too cold, even for November. It is that I am less afraid than I have ever been. I am more visible, but I am less afraid.
In honor of our dead, in gratitude to those who have gone before, I issue a call to my community today: live. It is the same call that has been made before by community leaders to come out of the closet. But I do not have the gall to ask you for that because I know that the world sometimes wishes to extinct you. But what I do ask for is the commitment, at least to yourself, to be the best version of you that you know possible. You must stay alive. And however, you can do that, please do. Let the rest come after. This is the way we honor the dead.