Last year, the Michigan Daily didn’t run anything about Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Even though I incited a bit of a flame war with my letter to the editor, nothing was published again this year.  I’m not too surprised, although I will say that I didn’t send them the essay that I’d written about TDoR that I did last year.  Still..they are a newspaper and there were events held on campus.  I am incredibly incensed at the fact that, in the face of a group of people who are largely invisible, but who have made their presence felt on this campus, the newspaper did nothing.  It really speaks strongly to how goddamn invisible we really are as transgender folk.  My original article is reprinted below.

I didn’t know 16-year-old Ian Benson of Holland, MI, but one of my best friends did.  He took his own life just two weeks ago.  In some ways, I see a lot of myself in Ian.  I see every transperson in Ian.  I guess I feel like Ian is my brother, just like all transpeople are, in some way, my siblings.  Sadly, we’re brought together by discrimination and violence against us.  I was never one for claiming any kind of community with the people who fall under the “T” in “LGBT,” whose challenges to the binary gender system are as diverse as the people themselves.  Not until this year, at least, when something began to awaken in me.

I’ve been out to myself since my junior year of high school.  I, too, was 16.  By some stroke of luck, by some force of will, I’ve made it this far.  It hasn’t been easy.  Sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is so hard I can’t do it without being coaxed and cajoled by my roommate.  Now I’m almost 21, I’m out to everybody who asks.  That includes my friends, my family, my coworkers, my classmates, and my professors.  The reception has been warm.  Things are okay.  I would almost go so far as to say I’m otherwise a happy, normal guy: classes, friends, parties, work, dating, and road trips to Chicago in my beat-up car.

But I can’t live in a bubble, and going outside of the circle of friends, family and colleagues who I know are willing to support me is to go out into a world that is, if not hostile, largely ignorant.  It’s manifested as misunderstandings with profs and GSIs before you could pick a name on CTools, to being harangued in the bathrooms on campus.  I can point to events where I have felt physically threatened, but I always thought this was just par for the course.

There is no reason this should be par for the course.  Life may not be fair, but it also doesn’t have to be too difficult to keep living on account of a social identity you claim.  There’s no reason for anybody to have to think twice about doing something because they’re worried they’ll be attacked for who they are.  There is no reason living in fear and self-hate should be par for the course and make a bright, sweet 16-year-old take his own life.

The health and happiness of all people can be influenced by what we do as individuals.  I used to be quiet about the things I thought were wrong with the world, but now it’s time for me to step up.  It’s time for all of us to step up.  I’m ashamed of myself that it took the suicide of a young man who was truly valued, and not so unlike me, to get me to really step up, but enough is enough.  We have seen enough heartbreak.  We have known enough pain.

The only way that we can prevent more deaths in the larger community and the communities around ours is to come out against intolerance and ignorance.  Nowadays, fewer and fewer transpeople fall victim to direct violence, but a negative environment can be enough to make someone want to give up.  That’s sort of good, I guess – I can walk home from my friends’ houses at night without having to worry too much.  But it’s also bad.  How do you prosecute someone for hate crimes who never actually committed a crime, per se?

The only thing I can think of is work to create a community where you don’t have to worry about that.  I’m finally fully prepared to stand up for what is right.  I’m finally fully prepared to face the ramifications.  History has taught us that social justice does not come easy, or without a price.  But as we remember those who have been killed or driven to an awful choice this week, we must also remember that deaths can be prevented.  And moving forward, it’s also up to all of us to make sure Ian Benson did not die in vain.

We will not be silent.

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