Seven years ago, with frostbitten hands, I completed the first ritual.
We congregated outside the University Hall in the vicious Wisconsin winds for the annual vigil in honor of the Trans Day of Remembrance. Freezing, and trying desperately to keep the flame alive, we fought the unrelenting force of the Midwestern climate until we finished reading through a list of all reported victims of anti-trans homicide.
In my head, I made a prayer for the next life of every name I heard. For the first time, I had permission to mourn the victims of the patriarchy’s gender terrorism that infests communities around the globe.
I never experienced such a transformative moment since leaving Wisconsin.
In my first year back in the DC area, I did a cursory Google search for TDOR events. Knowing fully well that these events are not often advertised, I still turned to the internet for I did not yet know the community & TDOR was not a tradition I could give up.
I found an event in Columbia Heights. After an hour in the metro, I walked fifteen blocks towards the community center only to find a police car parked on every corner.
Vulnerable and intimidated, I resolved to make my prayers that evening. So I went inside.
I’ve never seen so many trans people in one room. Unfortunately, I learned rather quickly that this moment would not be one of open vulnerability, but of further institutional violence.
That night, I learned to never show an inch of trust to a politician regardless of their race. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Black woman, revealed herself to be nothing more than a puppet of white supremacist, patriarchal violence.
The event was hosted by random government officials with two guests of honor: the mayor, and the chief of police.
Many in the room recognized their presence as progress. Finally, the local government recognizes the trans community! But TDOR is not the time to take the mic, it’s a time to grant us safety to mourn. An appearance in our space means shit if you’re still killing us.
There were about sixteen trans people murdered by US police officers that year. Some of them at the hands of the very police officers represented at the event. One brave protester got up and protested the fuckery of this whole fucking show.
A little hope sprung in my naive mind. “Finally, maybe together we can kick the police officer out of this space,” I thought myself to be an adult at the time. I was unaware of how young I truly was.
Friends, this memory is painful to write, I’ve had to take several breaks before getting to this point.
It wasn’t that anything violent happened, although the protestor was grabbed, pushed, and shoved. It’s that...the audience had so much hatred for a Black trans sex worker, that they were practically giving the police permission to do whatever they want with her.
With what was being yelled, shouted, and thrown by the audience, and having learned from my time in Wisconsin that Black folks can be killed for anything, by anyone, anywhere, I was fearing the unwritable.
The cloak had fallen and I learned a painful truth. The false promise of protection white supremacy offers can turn a group of mourning trans people into a Klan rally.
Luckily, the police decided to leave from the stage, but not the vicinity.
The mayor got on the podium and yelled at the protester, putting her in her place. She waxed poetic about the police, and the audience cheered. I was shattered, thoroughly.
Since then I never continued the tradition, I’ve always been a little detached from the radical trans community in DC. Not for ideological reasons, just that I’m far away in Northern Virginia (which does not have a radical trans community). As for the trans folks who were calling for violence against their own? Fuck those racist traitors.
The next year, chronically lonely, I sat by myself in a dark room with a candle, and I read the names of every trans person who was killed (and their homicides reported) across the globe. I made a prayer for each and every one of them.
What a disaster for my psyche. Mourning should never be done alone.
Today, I’m taking an easier approach. I lit a candle and placed it next to me, staying clear of the list of names, and let the sound of the wooden wick be the prayer to those lost.
God will get the idea.