Day of Remembrance

This Applies to YouBy Christine Langill

Imagine being attacked. Imagine being kicked and beaten and having do decide whether to shield your stomach or your face from one blow after another. That is a decision no one should ever have to make.

On Friday, November 19th I attended events of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I viewed the Wall of Remembrance at the Bailey-Howe Library and attended the Candlelight Vigil and Memorial and Speak-out in downtown Burlington. I took part in this event to show my support for a new friend of mine – someone I hope will become a good friend (if I am lucky), and to learn from the experience. I had no way of knowing how the night would affect me.

According to the Transgender Day of Remembrance website, “this day serves to raise public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people, an action the current media does not perform. D.O.R. publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten.

Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. D.O.R. reminds non-transgendered people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends, and lovers. It gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who have died by transgender violence.” I learned that although not every person represented at the D.O.R. identified as transgendered, each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people.

I learned more about what “transgender” means, about the differences between sex and gender, and about how to be a trans ally, but more than these things, I learned about myself. One reason I transferred to UVM was so that I could be free to wear what I want, say what I want, and behave the way I want. Although I found the culture of my previous school restricting, I never feared physical harm there or anywhere else because of something fundamentally part of who I am. Others are not so lucky, and we should all be aware of this unfortunate reality.

On Friday I had phone conversations with both my boyfriend and my father. Each inquired about my plans for the evening. When I first mentioned the event to my father, there was silence. I asked, “Do you know what transgender means?” He responded, “Well, no. I guess not really.” Although I am still learning myself, I did my best to explain to him, and told him more about the event.

He said sarcastically, “Oh, that’s something I wouldn’t want to miss.” Although I was not particularly surprised by the response of my very conservative father, I was, however, surprised by the reaction of my boyfriend. He seemed uncomfortable, and even (only half-jokingly, I think) asked me, “So are you gonna go and become a man, now?” He was kidding, but I did not find it funny and I told him so. If this sounds like a response you might have made yourself in this situation, think about that. To echo the words I saw on a t-shirt on Friday, “Fear is understandable. Ignorance is unacceptable.”

I will be completely honest; although I consider myself open-minded and liberal, initially I was a little uncomfortable about participating in this event. Walking down the Church street with my candle, I wondered if anyone might mistake me for a transgendered person. I wondered if I would run into friends who would act uncomfortable around me the next day after witnessing me in that situation.

I wondered if I had a “right” to be there, as a non-transgendered person. After hearing the responses of my father and boyfriend, and after considering my own honest reactions, I realized I definitely did have a place there. My biggest problem was wondering if friends would react differently to me? I’m lucky.

Those worries are a luxury when many of these people worry about their own safety and about the safety of their loved ones on a daily basis. I realized that even in a place like Burlington, Vermont, known for liberal views and open-mindedness, there is still a lot of progress to be made, and I can be some small part of it. You can, too. Next year I will bring my friends to the Day of Remembrance. I hope to see all of you there, supporting your brothers, sisters, parents, friends, and classmates.