What I Said at TDOR (or, most of what I said)

As our people have for far too long, we gather here as trans persons, with family, friends and allies, in a spirit of remembrancea communal collecting of sacred moments in which we name, remember, honor and grieve those members of our trans family we have lost to the violence of misunderstanding, fear, intolerance, and hatred.

We do not remember alone. And we do not gather alone: we collect together in the midst of and surrounded by a great cloud of witnessesthe spirits of those who have gone before us for generations, the spirits of all our fallen, and the ever-growing great spirit of our shared longing … longing for a day when we no longer come together to mourn but to gather freely, without threat, without fear or trepidation and celebrate openly, as a matter of human course, the beautiful and abundant diversity of personhood and gifted-ness we offer each other and our world. More…

We abide, squarely and soundly, on the strong, courage-making shoulders of our ancestorseunuchs, Hijras, two spirits and gender-bending, gender-expanding trans folks of all kinds who dared to be and live authentically who they were. We are an ancient people, spanning time and culture—made stronger, wiser, more resilient by those whose footsteps lead the way before us…and by the communities of love, affirmation and support we build together.

We gather knowing that these are troubling times. Throughout history, our common lot has been difficult. We know the days and months ahead will be trying. But we also know—because we are indeed an ancient people—we are survivors. We have always existed, as we do now, on the margins, at the intersections of multiple oppressions: institutionalized racism and systemic white supremacy; genderism and systemic misogyny; classism and economic exploitation; ableism; anti-immigration policies—all these and more, the unholy offspring of nationalistic colonialism married to unfettered market capitalism.
All this has been and still is our inheritance in these not-so-united, United States…and, sadly, we know many of our kin do their best to live fully authentic lives in circumstances even worse than our own.

And, so…we gather as we have for too many years to grieve both our fallen kindred and the conditions that make us all so vulnerable. And, if you’re at all like me these days, you wonder like I do how our conditions can get any worse. It seems as if every step we make forward is met by a groundswell of resistance that pushes us past where we began. We are all aware—some of us painfully so—that the oppressive forces embedded in our white, androcentric elitist patriarchy have been rising like waves in the stormy waters of a man-made sea of us-and-them-insecurity. We’ve been watching and listening and we know the forces we face because we, as a people, have been here before, throughout history.

As diverse gender expansive people, as queer folks, we know how deeply the seeds of division have been planted because we have always lived at the intersections of desert and community, forest and neighborhood, haves and have-nots.  Far too many of us trans kindred live and move and have our being in one threatening, thorny thicket-forest inside of another—one soul-trapping, body-shaming, skin-scratching, freedom-killing briar patch after another. Far too many of us lose our way in the tangle. We struggle to grow as the vines choking out the social realities of interdependence and interconnection go untended. If even one of us is lost in the effort to break out into the light of a new day, it is one too many.
This year, at least 27 of us were lost in this country alone—we know there are more who have gone from us uncounted because they were mis-named and mis-gendered. More of us are lost each year, at home and throughout the world. And, so we remember—we remember our persistent is-ness of being is fragile, our audacity of authenticity is threatened, our unbridled determination to survive and seek some sense of thriving comes at great risk. We remember the tender lives lost in our risking. Remembering is good. Remembering is important.
But there is a hard truth beneath our remembering, one I simply cannot, in good conscience, ignore the call to speak.  So, I ask you to bear with me for a moment and hear the truth we too often fail to name.

Now, more than ever, we are called to recognize and then understand that remembering is good and necessary…but it is not and never has been enough. That we are here this evening drives home the point: our very lives depend upon us hearing the cry together and in unity to be more than annual mourners of our fallen, to do more than gather in once a year, sing songs and light candles. As important and vital to our lives as this is, the fact that we continue to have to do this is proof that it is not now and never has been enough.

The difficult truth is, that the forces that come together to kill us, illegalize us, and oppress us are the very same forces human beings have been struggling against since we moved from communal interdependence to empires based on amassing, controlling and exploiting resources—especially, the resources of human bodies, creativity, talent and labor. The hard truth is that societies based on hoarding and valuing power-giving resources over human beings have been killing us and bartering our liberty throughout our history.

And, the even harder, deeper truth is this:  it’s not so much individual people who are the enemies of a free humanity—it’s not cis folks, or hetero folks, or Christians or Muslims, it’s not them over there, or those folks over here…it’s just not—the enemy of an authentic, living human freedom are the value systems, structures and institutions that arise among us out of insecurity-based fear. Our enemies are not each other but the normative human tendencies that those with power exploit in us to keep us all divided: fear, insecurity, distrust, competition and egocentric self-preservation—these are our enemies; these and the ways these forces are enacted against us and among us.
(Friends) there are layers of truth here. The most troubling to me—and really to our movement for justice—is that these same forces of fear and insecurity, the chemical building blocks of racism, misogyny, classism, and all the other death-dealing “isms” that poison our culture, are the self same forces that divide us as well. We, as trans folks, queer folks, allies and families, are thwarted in our efforts by the same divisiveness that threatens all of us as members of the human family. This is hard to hear, but deep down, we all know it is true. In our singular struggles to survive, we have lost our way: we have failed to hear the call to truly unite as the very people prepared and equipped to lead all of us deeper into a true, thriving human community…which is exactly what the powerful want us to do.

They want to keep us spinning just trying to stay alive because we are weaker and easier to subjugate when we are divided.

In the work for our own individual freedom to be, the power-holding minority wants us to forget that a free individual can only exist in a free community. The difficult but utterly beautiful truth is that none of us is an island. I know, perceive and understand myself to be a self precisely because I exist with other selves. My freedom to be depends upon your freedom to be. Yours depends upon mine.
More, freedom, once won, demands responsibility—we are responsible one to another, for ensuring that a just community comes into being and is encouraged to grow: for none of us is free until all of us are free. This is the way of the whole of creation. The whole depends on the parts. The reality is, none of us can truly know who we were are, can truly be and become who we are, without all the other selves in community with us—we need one another to reflect for and with us, encourage and challenge us, love and nurture us, and hold us accountable to being who we say we are and being about what we say we’re about.

Interdependence, interconnectedness and relationality are the underpinnings of nature itself—of, in fact, the entire cosmos. The ideas of self-sufficiency and self-reliance are myths. We as trans people know this in our very skins: we know it because we understand our own bodies are built on interconnected systems that give our inner selves a fleshy home—and that sometimes, we need to re-imagine and re-shape those systems so that we can be more fully who we are. The same is true for us as a human body consisting of different but connected, interdependent persons. Now, more than ever, our interdependent parts are in great peril—all of us, collectively, are in danger. We remember the cost of that now. But remembering is not all we are called to do.

We are called to do more than sentimental annual gatherings. We are called to learn to do the hard work necessary for our personal and collective growth and survival so we are able to move toward our common thriving. We are called to take seriously the fact that we all need each other. Our lives and the lives of those who come after us depend on our ability to learn to grow in interdependent relationality. Acting together, in unity, is the only way that change will come. The change we need begins with us, individually, and then moves outward from there. We are called to learn to listen to one another, to share our stories and really hear the stories of others—we’re called to learn to work together for a greater justice, rather than focusing only on the matters that concern us personally. We are called to be in conversation, to seek  to share space with each other, so those conversations can grow us and guide us in the more difficult dialogue and work necessary to real, meaningful and lasting justice. We are called to the deep work of collective healing so that the change we seek is possible.

We have work to do. That work can only begin in earnest if we are willing to work through our own discomfort and learn to grow together, in relationship, and in community—where each of our lives and concerns have equal value and where we live out an understanding that our personal thriving depends on our communal thriving. It is not easy work.
But the work of bringing the ethic of love into our world, in practice, is never easy. And, really, we are the most prepared to do it:  we who have learned to love while living in the hatred others hold for us; we who have learned to build communities of nurture, support, and affirmation in the wastelands of marginalization; we who have learned to find the quenching water of compassion in the dry desert; we who have walked a thousand inward miles to reach the homeland of a self make real in the world; we who have learned in our very skin and bones, every day of our lives, that courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness and determination to do what is before us, even in our fearfulness. We who are resilient. We who are resourceful. We who resist the tyranny of hate and legalized oppression with grace and dignity and unwavering audacity of personhood.
We who are an ancient people.
Who better to hear the call of liberation and do the work to lead us all into the light of a new day? More, how can we expect others to hear the call and do what we, ourselves, cannot seem to do? How can we expect the more privileged among us to recognize and address their standing if we are not willing to look at and name our own relative privilege? How can we expect larger numbers of white folks—especially those who also feel unseen, unheard, and erased—to recognize the reality of white supremacy if we are not willing to do that hard interior work ourselves? How can we expect cis-gender folks to understand the real harm of gender oppression if our queer cis-siblings are not willing to do the work of awakening? How can we expect hetero-normative, cis-gender folks to stand in the gap for us if we can’t fill the gap for each other?

If we are not willing, in large numbers, to put our queer white bodies in the gap, how can we expect those around us to do the same? How can we expect those who do not share our lot to do the work of justice with us if we, ourselves, cannot figure out a way forward together? How can we create a just world if we continue to recycle the same systems of our own oppression—how can we realize a meaningful vision of a liberated humanity if we continue to recapitulate the tools, tactics, and structures of institutions that devalue the tenets of human flourishing? If not us—we who are most prepared, by experience, to envision and lead a movement toward radical love and justice—then who will lead us? If not us, we whose very existence is in danger, then who?

So…let us mourn and remember. But then, in this remembering, let us be transformed by love, by the spirit of thriving, to go forth and transform the world. Let us celebrate our fallen and ourselves by working for a world where every self has a place, has value—a world where the good of the many is built upon care for the good of the few, and the reality of a collective thriving is measured by the thriving of each of us, in communal relationship, one to another.

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About liammichael

I am a gender theorist, writer, trans activist, advocate, theological rabble-rouser, and educator. I also work directly with trans and LGBTQ persons through support groups, workshops, mentoring and community-building. My work is informed and shaped by a deep concern for addressing the layers of intersectionality facing us in creating a just peace in a truly just world. I am a writer. And, I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. I do not, however, serve a church: my church has no walls, no roof. I work with, consult, and engage with public, secular, and faith groups seeking to be affirming, accommodating, and celebratory of LGBQ and trans persons. This space is a small part of the work.
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