Delivered as a speech for Canadian Heritage on 16 November 2022.
We usually hold these events for ourselves. Trans Day of Remembrance is a somber occasion we mark with candlelight, elegies, and promises to the future. Every year, hundreds of us breathe our last in Brazil and Turkey and the United States and, yes, here in Canada, and every year those of us who feel safe all being in one place at a known time gather and make our sad pledge: remember the dead and fight like hell for the living. They died unloved and endure one more cruel indignity by way of obituaries and funeral services that don’t acknowledge who they really were, and we place one wholly inadequate bandage on that wound by insisting: they never saw your light, but we did. And we will not forget.
There are a lot of good things to be said about the body positivity movement. Encouraging people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities to feel beautiful and valuable despite not fitting into their society’s narrow mold is a transparently good idea. People deserve to not feel insecure or ashamed of their bodies, especially when the source of that insecurity isn’t much bigger than marketing. There is a darker side to constantly proclaiming that people should accept themselves “just as they are,” however. Some people’s problems with how their bodies are shaped aren’t a matter of trying to live up to an unreachable beauty standard, and shouldn’t be treated as such.
Transgender people face continuous, intense opposition to everything we are and everything we do in much of the world. One of the forms that this aggression takes is proclaiming that trans people shouldn’t want to reshape our bodies to fit with their genders, and should accept our deviant shapes “just as they are,” all couched in the language of body positivity. To undertake aesthetic, medical, or surgical interventions to change appearance is, in this view, to succumb to social pressures that we should instead be resisting. By their logic, a trans man should strive to be content with growing breasts he never wanted, and a trans woman should embrace the androgenic baldness that awaits her if she doesn’t take hormone replacement therapy, because to do otherwise would be insufficiently “positive.”
Sometimes, Christmas comes early. And when one is a trans woman who maintains any kind of public presence, Christmas takes the form of the occasional ingrown toenail in human guise showing up unbidden in one’s online life with bizarrely explicit comments on one’s gender, appearance, or sexual prowess. These can be hurtful or even dangerous, but most of them are just…kind of sad. A skilled tormentor could use comments like this to probe at one’s deepest weaknesses and anxieties and leave a psychological mark that takes months or years to heal, but these people are no such thing. Rather, these people try for “shocking” and come off as juvenile as the average South Park episode, and half as entertaining.
I told myself I wouldn’t write this. I told myself this was a conversation that, quite frankly, no one outside the transgender and especially transfeminine community has any business in having. I told myself that indulging this topic at all is dangerous in a world where the idea that men and trans women have anything socially in common gets people killed. Yet here we are.
To the endless bafflement of people whose sense of ethical behavior does not include driving strangers to self-harm, the transgender community faces intense hostility. What is interesting in our case is that people with extraordinarily different overall ideologies come to equally intense hatred of transgender people in general and trans women in particular, and this makes some words we are tempted to use to encompass all of our detractors a poor fit. This brings is to that famously deadly group, the TERFs.
I was asked to provide facilitation and a keynote address of sorts for “Violence and Trans Women of Colour: The Intersections,” an event hosted by Carleton University’s Carleton Equity Services, Graduate Students’ Association, Carleton University, and CUSA Womyn’s Centre as part of the university’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week. While my remarks during the event did not exactly match what I prepared, the original material is now here for others’ perusal.
Images of people in my culture don’t look like me.
There’s a trivial sense in which that’s not true. My dark, angled eyes, curly hair, curvaceous figure, and diminutive stature all betray my origins. Our beauty queens and pop stars in particular look like me, conspicuously lighter in hue than even our own relatives. As distinctive as I always am in family photos, someone else who looked like me would not have seemed out of place.
But the image of us isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an atheist or a socialist. She isn’t dating outside her race. She isn’t deliberately far away from her parents. She isn’t autistic. She isn’t transgender. She isn’t gay.
CN pretty much every kind of bigoted abuse but mostly racist, instructions to suicide, MRAs/libertarians/edgelords being themselves.
As expected, answering 27 Questions has induced a steady influx of anti-humanist nonsense into my comments queue. I’m better prepared than most to receive this onslaught, because I’ve watched this happen to people far more important and interesting than me for a long time, I’ve read what the various subsets of atheist dirtbag are about, and I feel no need to let them get close enough to get under my skin. They have no surprises for me, and nothing to say that far more articulate bigots haven’t said before. They can whine endlessly about how, in this heat, taking away their freeze-peach is a super mean thing to do, the kind of thing only a crate of hippos would dare make standard policy, and I can look at the other things in my spam folder and derive amusement from the idea that they think I’ll ever take them seriously.
Y’all are dangerous, not interesting. Understanding yourselves is a big step toward becoming better people, and I’m glad I could help.
With that in mind, this comment stuck out at me for how impressively it missed all the points.