This post is a guest contribution by Maria Griffiths.
2014 ended with me, along with much of the United States, mourning the December 28th death of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old trans girl who committed suicide. The case picked up dramatic mainstream media attention—TIME, People, CNN, Fox News, etc.—baring something that had previously been mourned only by friends and community members to the world at large. It was the perfect case for mainstream media to dip into: attractive white teen living with abusive parents commits suicide.
Regardless of how “perfect” it was for mainstream media to pick up, Leelah’s death affected me deeply. As a suicidal trans woman, it helped me feel that I was not alone—which, if your goal is keeping people alive, isn’t exactly a good thing. A few days later, Eylül Cansın committed suicide in Turkey. I was again reminded of what felt like my fate at that point.
I then go on an East Coast tour with the clusterfolk/brasspunk collective Speaker For the Dead. A few days into tour, I see Facebook posts mourning the loss of Emma Nervosa. I never knew Emma, but this was starting to strike closer to home. A week later, we couldn’t secure housing for our second-to-last show, so we drove overnight to get home. We get in around 2am, and I’m about to go to bed when I see Charlotte Loh’s suicide note on Tumblr. That is the fourth (4th) trans woman suicide in the past 21 days.
I don’t think I got much sleep.
A few days later and January still has a week left and I’m admitted to the hospital for suicidal ideation. A man in there (after realizing I’m trans) goes, “did you hear about the trans girl that committed suicide this year?” I respond “which one.”
Trans women don’t exactly have the greatest life expectancy. With eight (8) suicides and a staggering twenty-two (22) murders at least so far this year (date of writing, September 3rd), we’re reminded of this constantly. My year has become a pattern of memorializing and memorizing the deaths of my fellow trans women—quite possibly an act that is ultimately useless, but it’s what I feel like I have to do. We can’t do anything for them now; the least I can offer is a bit of my memory.
At least eighteen (18), or 82%, of the trans women killed this year have been trans women of color (with 9% whose ethnicity was not specified and only 9% of those murdered this year being white). This is a racialized issue, as gender and race are always inseparable. This isn’t an attempt to garner cookies by acknowledging the facts, but rather to cast light on how murderous transmisogyny is directed against TWOC, and acknowledge that when trans women are even allowed a platform at all, their chief spokespeople are often the whitest, both in skin tone and opinion.
You read it in every article your only trans friend posts to Facebook, but it’s hard to know what an accurate number of trans women dead each year is. Many trans women murdered are originally reported as male, only to later be corrected by those that knew the victim. It’s impossible to say how many weren’t corrected.
If you google Emma Nervosa’s name you don’t find any information about a twenty-four (24) year-old trans woman from New York City killing herself on January 7th. Some things are never picked up.
It’s become a regular occurrence to see close friends of mine posting on Facebook about the death of
their friend, partner, companion: living as a trans woman in 2015 means wondering when one of your
friends is going to die. Or when the next friend of yours dies. Or the next. To outsiders this is a sign of
something wrong in the system, of institutionalized transmisogyny. To an insider it’s hard for it to be
about anything other than pain and then numbness. By the time Bri Golec died I wasn’t even sad. It’s
just what happens:
These days, I look at the latest reports of stabbed, shot, beaten trans women, search myself for tears, and I cannot find a thing. I want to mourn and rage. . . [b]ut the grief and anger—even empathy—do not come. I don’t feel anything but numbness and fatigue, and somewhere far below that, fear.
. . .collective trauma is “a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together [. . .] so that ‘I’ continue to exist, though damaged, and ‘you’ continue to exist, though distant and hard to relate to. But ‘we’ no longer exist as linked cells in a larger communal body.” Simply put, if a group of people is traumatized—terrorized—enough, they will cease to feel connected to one another. This disconnection is a defensive response, an attempt to shut off the pain of being associated with the group. As a result, we become withdrawn, isolated inside the story that we are alone and without hope.
–(Kai Cheng Thom)
We’ll never know how many of our sisters die each year: those too scared of the way the world treats trans women to come out, those whose death never makes it to the news, those only ever reported as male.
We’re approaching a point of broader trans visibility, but visibility doesn’t do much good for the trans women of color getting murdered every other week in this country.
So, I remember them, and hope that someday I’ll be able to do something better than just remembering.
Art by TN.