My partner told me to post a thing here. It's been a while and I've been lurking, so here's a speech I did.
Last year at this event, I read a speech about names. Trans* spoken word poet Miles Walser writes in a poem called Nebraska about the murder of Brandon Teena that “They don’t remember our names until they read them on our tombstones.
My speech was sparked by a New York Times article about a woman named Lorena Escalera who died when someone sent her building on fire. The article lingered on the fact that she “was known to invite men for visits to her apartment,” that investigators found “wigs, women’s shoes, hair spray, and handbags” in her house, and that she was “called” Lorena. Because a woman with women’s shoes and makeup in her apartment is a huge reach for the New York Times. Still, this article was more respectful than some others I’ve seen. Anything about Chelsea Manning comes to mind.
This article struck me at the time because I saw my own fears played out in Lorena’s story. As a transgender person, I too worry about the potential of violence in my life. However, when I was listening to the list of names being read, I had a moment of realization.
I couldn’t identify any of the names on that list that might belong to one of my transgender brothers. The names I could identify belonged to my sisters, particularly my sisters of color.
The words “unidentified woman, unidentified woman, unidentified woman,” echoed over the reflection pond, over and over.
I can stand here and be open because I am a man. I am white and I can afford to attend an institute of higher learning. I have support from my friends and peers. It’s mostly safe for me. It isn’t safe for many of my transgender siblings.
Reading this year’s list brought tears to my eyes and wrenched my stomach. I felt physically sick reading about the violence perpetrated against people like me. Some were my brothers, some my sisters. Some were probably my nonbinary siblings whose identities are never acknowledged. Children as young as thirteen. Some were from places I cannot pronounce, some were from right here in the United States. Even though our stories have kinship, their lives were all so foreign to me.
This year, every time I read the words “unidentified woman,” I had a face in my mind. The woman I love who, when I am gripped by fear of going out at night, reminds me statistically that she’s a more likely target. Even then, we’re white, so we’re probably safe. To me, every “unidentified woman” had her face. Would they put her name in scare quotes? Would they comment on her lipstick? Would her life be reduced to a list of the things they can find in her closet?
It shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize this. I shouldn’t need to see her face on every victim to come to this understanding.
Misogyny, racism, and transphobia all intersect on this list. This is our time to mourn, but this is also a call to action.
I call on my cisgender brothers and sisters to show me that I can have faith in your communities. You are all students, educators who shape the minds of those around them. I call on you to use your advantages to shape the society we live in.
I call on my transgender brothers to show our sisters that we are not disappearing and we are not silent. Too often we disappear and leave our sisters and nonbinary siblings to do the work. We must support them. If it is safe for you, I call on you to exist and use your advantages to shape the society we live in.
And I call on all of us. We all should be aware of these intersections. I call on myself to not forget my privilege and to use it to work in spaces that others cannot. I call on you, future doctors, activists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, scientists. I call on you, future parents, neighbors, spouses, and friends. I call on my fellow educators. We all must work to make our spaces safer. We must all work so that one day we do not need this time to mourn. Do not forget our names.