On November 28th, 1998 a 34 year old woman named Rita Hester was murdered in her own apartment in Allston, Massachusetts. The public outpouring of grief that followed her murder led to the annual remembrance of transgender men and women who have died during the previous year. And died here, normally means murdered. Brutally murdered in most cases. Initially it was a web based memorial but it is now celebrated in many cities around the world including here in Manchester.
In addition to the many horrific murders are the tragic deaths by suicide. And recent studies are showing that rates of self-harm are very high amongst transgender men and women.
There is much to remember, much to mourn and much to change. But as Paris Lees writes we should also remember to celebrate:
People from minority groups waste so much time feeling inferior, settling for less, pretending to be “normal”. We owe it to those who have died to blossom and never apologise for wanting, seeking and getting what everyone else has. Up and down the country, people from all backgrounds are feeling pain and losing hope. Even if you don’t know any trans people, today is a great reminder of how lucky we all are to simply be here. Life is a beautiful, fickle, temporary thing. Mourn those who are no longer around to enjoy it – and celebrate yours.
This annual day of remembrance is also meant to raise awareness. And it’s working. I’m one of those who hadn’t heard about it before today. Many years ago I noted in passing that a favourite writer was described in the introduction as Jan Morris, whose earlier work was published under her former name James Morris. I simply filed this away as one of those things I hadn’t previously known about grownups and now I did. I had no idea of the potential pain and suffering people would undergo on this journey. No idea of the vilification and violence many would be subject to. I know better now.
Some time last year I went to a conference in Manchester and made sure I got a place in a workshop led by the poet Rachel Mann. I’ve got a thing about poets. Utterly in awe of wordcrafters am I. So much so I can’t speak a word myself in their presence. She read us several of her poems and I’ve just managed to track down a couple that I particularly loved on her blog – Dress, which brings tears to my eyes every time I read it, and Working it out which captures the delicate difficulties of learning to be in our bodies.
Candles of remembrance, candles of hope. Voices of pain and voices of challenge. Let us listen, learn, remember and live.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.