Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"terror" in Orlando

The first I heard of it was "mass shooting at a nightclub." I wondered if it was a gay club. Then I told myself, "Knock it off. Straight people can get killed too you know." Well, not this time.

I saw the news headlines: "Terror in Orlando." Of course, it's only terror when a Muslim person does it. Or when it's a big enough story to make the news. When transgender people are killed individually, one by one, month by month, that's not terror. When a gay or lesbian teen is harassed into committing suicide, that's not terror. No decent white American Christian has ever terrorized anyone.

I see that I'm not the only one to remember the Upstairs Lounge fire. "Until the weekend’s horrific shooting, the largest massacre of gay people was an arson attack on a bar in New Orleans on June 24, 1973." No one was ever charged. The story goes that funeral parlors refused to accept the bodies of dead queers, and most churches refused to perform memorial services.

Do you think things are different now? On Monday I stayed off of Facebook. I didn't want to see condolences from straight people. I know their sympathy is genuine. But our deaths are the same. And indeed, sympathy is not the same as grief. I don't need to read more about the people who died, not right now. I don't need to learn their names in order to grieve. This is grief. There's no need to make it stronger.

It makes things no better if our deaths are politicized. It doesn't make things much better if some express sympathy while others, just recently, expressed their intention of harming transgender people or their approval of countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. And of course there are people who are happy to get on Twitter today and celebrate the death of gays. I don't want to say that their voices are more important.

No, what I mean is that we were already dying. We were already a target. But this time it made the news.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

in the midst

Sunday was Valentine's Day. So my boyfriend and I went to a restaurant we hadn't tried before. On the way over a friend texted me. I asked "Do you want to go see Janet Mock and Alexis De Veaux speak at Tulane on Tuesday evening?" and he said yes. I was looking forward to it. It was a good day.

Monday morning my 21-year-old cat suddenly started acting wobbly. Soon he was unable to walk in a straight line. By the end of the day he couldn't stand up. I literally thought "First Scalia died and now my cat is dying."

Tuesday morning. My boyfriend and I talked about having the cat put to sleep. I picked up the phone to call the vet but I couldn't do it. Instead I called my boyfriend back and asked him to make the call. So he did, and then he said "They said I can bring him in tonight."

Things I wanted: I wanted to see Mock and De Veaux. I wanted to spend time with my friend, who was still sad over a breakup. (I felt like I couldn't cancel with the excuse of being sad over my cat.)

Things I did not want: I did not really want to go with my cat to the vet and watch him die. I knew it had to be done. I couldn't bring myself to call the vet, but once the appointment was made I knew it was the right thing to do. So at 5:30pm I said goodbye to him and left him to wait for my boyfriend to get home from work.

It's always nice to be in a group of trans people (and allies.) It's always nice. I haven't been in a big group like that since Laverne Cox spoke at Tulane a couple years ago. I knew of De Veaux from reading Home Girls back in the day, but I hadn't followed any of her work since then. And of course it was great to see Mock. They had a long and wonderful conversation.

Can I say that all of us in that room felt the shadow of death? As De Veaux put it, "It's not news that the po-po have been killing us." I was living with the death of an old and well-cared-for cat. That's not at all the same thing as deaths caused by injustice. And yet. We have some things in common. We still ask why.

We who are still here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Give Us Our Roses While We're Still Here"

A couple weeks ago I marched in BreakOUT's trans march. BreakOUT! is a local trans youth organization, primarily trans youth of color. You can see the original "Give Us Our Roses" poster on their website.

As I was walking along, listening to the chants, I suddenly remembered when people used to say "Silence = Death" and I realized that the same thing is happening now. When people's lives are in danger, they take to the streets. It's a chance to find out whether or not the majority cares when gay men die of AIDS or trans women of color are murdered.

In fact, after the march was over I did see someone wearing a "Silence = Death" T-shirt. I thought about going over to talk to him but then realized I couldn't do it. By which I mean, I had been crying before and I felt myself getting choked up again. So I just went home.

Apparently only one trans person, Penny Proud, was murdered in New Orleans this year. There were other deaths though. One white trans woman killed herself in November -- someone I didn't know personally, although many of my friends did. I don't know how many others. What I do know is that I hear black people say "I've been to so many funerals." The only time I hear white people say that is when they're talking about AIDS.

Is it only death that gets people to feel sympathy? (I'm thinking of all the tragic deaths we see in movies, from Waterloo Bridge to The Dallas Buyers Club.) That is what kills us: so often our lives don't attract sympathy. It's as if the only thing we can do right is to die. "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it." Many times I've heard Transgender Day of Remembrance described as an opportunity to inform cis people that we don't deserve to die. And we don't. But is that the only moral appeal we have?

Perhaps people admire those who are willing to die for what they believe in, like Harvey Milk. Can we also live for what we believe in? Is that worth more than dying? When do we achieve admiration for our survival? I guess in order for that to happen, people would have to acknowledge just how heroic our survival is. Give us our roses while we're still here.

(Once or twice people have called me "brave." I hate that. But collectively we are brave.)