I recently had the honour and privilege of speaking at Durham Regional Police Service’s TDOR observance and flag-raising. This year marks the 20th annual observance. I had a number of requests to publish my remarks from yesterday’s event, here they are for you to read. Many thanks to my best friend and mentor, Inspector Cathy Bawden, for inviting me to be part of their observance.
Before I begin my planned remarks for this 20th annual observance of the Trans Day Of Remembrance, I feel that I need to address the elephant in the space.
We are all aware of the resolution passed by the Conservative party on Saturday, seeking to erase gender identity, and thereby, erasing transgender people. The extreme elements of that party would also like to have the government use the notwithstanding clause to erase hard-fought rights over the next few years.
We MUST, we MUST, we MUST, remain vigilant. When the government of the day can erase your rights with the stroke of a pen, as we are witnessing happen with increasing frequency south of the border in the United States, then we must be prepared, and we must stay alert. That is the issue with our rights, they can be taken away. And given the ever rising rate of murder of transgender people globally year upon year, there are numerous issues that need to be addressed, before any sense of safety could ever hope to prevail.
As I reminded people last year:
“The Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to stand up for equal rights as I have been doing for the past 35 years, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered and that we continue to fight for justice.”
Little did I know …
Stay alert folks, because we will need our allies more than ever in the coming months and years.
Now for what I had originally planned …
I’m a writer, and an educator. In both areas, the folks we speak to have one request of us, Tell Me A Story. I will tell you a story today, that I hope will prove useful to you.
I detest labels. I loathe them. Hate them. Cannot stand them. We label people to control them. ALL labels are for control.
Think of the labels you hear assigned to people on a daily basis. We do it ourselves, it’s an automatic thing. Next time you are on transit, notice how fast you have a judgement, and have assigned a label, to every person boarding the bus or train. We all do it. The difference is that some of us have distinguished it and notice when we do it, and can discard the assigned label.
Over this past year, we have seen reported murders of 418 transgender people around the world. Is it accurate? No. It will never be accurate until we dispose of labels. When I look at the statistics tables for the previous ten years, I know where people are mislabeled, where they are misgendered, where they are treated, even in death, as less than human. When you live in this existence, you know that the real numbers are higher. Between three and ten times higher. Reported deaths show over 3,000 for the past decade. We know, by counting those who are no longer present, that number is closer to 20,000.
If we included those who died by suicide in those numbers, you can easily double the numbers reported.
What causes these numbers? I lay the blame squarely on labels.
Let me take you back over 30 years and tell you about a woman who was a friend of our family. Joanne had been in a documentary about sex workers some years before we met, she saved every penny she could, and flew herself to Europe and transitioned to her true self. Joanne returned to Canada, and settled in Toronto. We always had a fun evening in store when she would come over for dinner, and then we would sit around the table playing cards, or a game, or telling jokes and laughing until our sides ached. She was in hairdressing school at the time, and when she graduated and had her licence, she traveled the entire city looking for work.
What got in her way? LABELS.
Tranny. Freak. Half and half. SheMale. LadyBoy. IT.
The boyfriend she lived with demanded she start bringing home money, or he would put her to work on the street. After months of looking, he forced her to work the street. She did not last the night. She overdosed and died. We were in shock. To this day, I remember my Mom, trying not to cry and failing, and all she said was, If only she would have said something, I would have gladly taken her in and she could have lived with us until something came through for her. For the past 20 years, she is always the first face I see on this day.
Labels did that. The labels hung on her by society. When you label anyone, you negate them. You erase their humanity. You eliminate the person, the heart, the mind, the soul. They exist only as a label, and rarely is it something complimentary.
When you label me, you negate me. It’s that simple.
One more quick lesson, I am a teacher after all, and then I will wrap up.
Let’s delve into language, my author side. I am a word nerd, I admit it freely.
Trans people do not have preferred pronouns. We have pronouns. Simple. My pronouns are she and her.
Trans people do not IDENTIFY as a gender. We ARE the gender that we know ourselves to be. Science has shown that the brains of transgender people are a match for their innate gender, not their physical appearance. Who they know themselves to be.
How will we change the increasing number of murders each year? How will we eliminate or prevent violence against trans people in any city or community across this country? By having conversations. By talking with each other instead of talking AT each other. We have spent years building bridges between our communities and our local police. I encourage you to meet them, to sit with them, to talk to them. Cathy and her team are truly amazing, warm, and loving people. Things have changed from the past, and while it is not perfect yet, in every city that I have regular contact with, those meetings, those conversations, they always start with education. That education leads to understanding. Then that understanding leads to Acceptance. And eventually that acceptance will simply become love.
Until we stand together, we shall fall separately.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Maya Angelou. I have used this in my classes, talks, and lectures for years, and I always finish with it. This is where you get to participate.
Her quote reads: “I think that a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”
You have listened to our words today, we have shared our hearts and souls with you, in the hope you will understand, or find acceptance within you.
If you believe that you can be that hero, that person intent on making this a better place for everyone, raise your hand.
Look around you, you have just declared yourselves heroes.
There is ONLY ONE label that matters.
Want to know what it is?
Cathy, if you will join me … I’ll share it with all of you now.
This is my best friend, her name is Cathy, my name is Christine and we have the same label.
HUMAN. The only label that matters.