Speech by Loree Cook-Daniels at the 2012 Milwaukee Transgender Day of Remembrance. Theme: how trans people provoke fear in others because we show them the boxes they were told to fit in do not have to be prisons for life.
Tonight we’ve gathered, as we’ve had so many years before, to remember and honor those we have lost to fear.
Yes, fear. For that is the ultimate reason why so many transgender people and SOFFAs – Significant Others, Friends, Families and Allies – have died at others’ hands. It’s also why so many of us have died at our own hands. I know; I lost my first life partner of 17 years to suicide on April 21, 2000, just as I’ve lost so many due to suicide and homicide before and since.
What is it that makes our gentle people call forth so much fear that some are willing to potentially throw away their own lives by taking ours? The answer is very simple and very, very old: we are the latest in a millennia-long history of individuals whose very existence says to others, “you may be more than you currently think you are.” Some of us have been visible religious figures and leaders: Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatmas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. Most of us, however, have through the millennia done our critical world-changing work simply by going through the world being who we are: the inventors and artists; the witches and heretics of the Middle Ages; the pioneers who, because we refused to hear the chorus of “no’s” all around us, became the first woman, the first Black person, the first Muslim, the first person with Down’s Syndrome, to do something no one else of our kind had done before. Transgender people and SOFFAs are but some of the currently most visible versions of what humankind has always needed: individuals who remind everyone else that the boxes they were told to fit into do not have to be their prisons for life. We can be more than what we were told we could be. We can be all of who we are, no matter how much opposition we face from those who are afraid to step outside the small boxes they were handed by others.
And as all of us can attest, stepping outside the boxes we were assigned at birth is difficult. It takes courage, or at least desperation. There are costs. But there is also the joy of knowing yourself to be, and to own, who you really are, not who you were told to be.
And that’s what scares so many people. For if we can be more than what we were told we were, who are they? What parts of themselves have they, perhaps unnecessarily, been forced to give up? Where have they compromised themselves? How much more could they be if they only had the courage to give up what they were told they are? These questions are, because they are potentially world-changing, also profoundly frightening. They are questions many people do not want to face. And so they seek to make us, their living embodiment, disappear.
But OUR LIVES MATTER. Each one of our lives is precious. Each one of us brings a unique set of experiences, skills, and outlooks to the rest of the world. Most importantly, we bring to everyone else a living example of being more, of growing into who you really are, of walking through the world being as whole and real as we possibly can be.
But being that vision of wholeness is not easy in a world that preaches conformity and smallness. And that is why it is critical – not only to transgender people and SOFFAs, but to all people – that our community learn to appreciate, nurture, and grow the people and practices that support and celebrate us. Let’s take a moment now to share with each other what we acknowledged tonight on our papers:
<click here — TDOR 2012 Hope Worksheet — for a copy of the handout everyone received at the event> (pause for group input)
OUR LIVES MATTER. As we go back into the world tonight, let us go fortified with the knowledge that just by existing, we are doing critically important work, and that we are not alone. Those who have gone before us are still here with us, cheering us on, loving us, sending us courage and caring. We have friends, we have colleagues, we have multitudes of supporters we can’t always see. Go forth sustained in love and appreciation. Go forth knowing, OUR LIVES MATTER.
Loree Cook-Daniels closed the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Transgender Day of Remembrance Event on November 19, 2012