Commentary  We, who did not die, salute you

On remembrance and resistance

I am not going to cry this November 20, the annual Day of Trans Remembrance.  It’s not that I do not mourn the passing of so many of my transgender siblings – the memory of their passing, their stories of brutality and violence and despair experienced at the hands of an oppressive, colonial, transmisogynistic society by and large determined to wipe out our transgender expression, our transgressive identities, our transcendent lives.  There are certain names, launched to dubious fame by the sensational reporting that followed their deaths, written indelibly in the walls of my memory. Gwen Araujo.  Lawrence King.  Sylvia Rivera.   Brandon Teena.  There are hundreds, thousands more people, ignored by the media, who died in relative silence; they were not deemed worthy of remembrance in the mainstream public’s consciousness.  Some of them, I met, spoke to, knew not long enough.  I do mourn them.  I don’t forget.

But I have spent too many tears over the past decade.  I’ve spent too long wondering, thinking about, fearing transgender deaths – other people’s and my own.  According to some (not entirely unproblematic) statistics, the average life expectancy of trans* people in North America is 23 years.  There is not a week gone by since the beginning of my own transition that I don’t experience some form of harassment or assault – and I, capable of passing when I choose, ensconced in the upper middle class world of McGill, have it easy by trans* standards.

The echo chamber of the queer community’s collective memory resounds with the telling of violence and death.  It often seems that in the queer community, if you have not directly known a trans* person who has been killed or committed suicide, then certainly one of your friends or acquaintances has.  Yes, it is easy to remember terror and pain and grief – those things come to claim us trans* people and our blood and chosen families, no matter what day it is.

Sometimes it is too easy to sink into fear, to think about those who suffered and died, to imagine ourselves in their place.  This, I believe, is an end goal and great victory of transmisogyny and queerphobia: to keep us trapped within our own nightmares, in the memories that tell us we have no future.  To break free, to deny cisgender supremacy this victory, I propose we move beyond weeping, beyond sweetly mournful circles of candles in the dark of the November night, beyond remembrance of death.

I want to remember hope – the hope it takes to walk out the door, every day. I want to remember the courage of youth like Gwen Araujo and Brandon Teena, who lived and died as the people they wanted to be, and the courage of activists like Sylvia Rivera, transwomen of colour who fought for our future.  I want to honour the agency it takes to die on one’s own terms.

And I want to remember, too, the ones who did not die.  We, who have not died.  We, the suicides that failed, the self-harm and abuse and sexual assault that we survived, we the transitioned and transitioning and pre-transition, and every other stage of transformation and being that our people can imagine.  I want to remember our strength and our rage, our capacity for loving each other and fighting back.  I want us to remember Stonewall  and every other riot, to remember that we can bring this cis-supremacist society to its knees.

I have cried many times remembering trans* folks who have died, the people I have lost, the sacrifices I’ve made.  I’ve wondered and will wonder again: why me?  Why am I alive, when so many others are not, and for how long?  But not on this year on the Day of Trans Remembrance.   This year, I will not cry.  I will light my candle against the dark of the November night and send a message to the fallen: Your memory is grief, and more than grief.  Your memory is loss, and more than loss.  Your memory is joy.  Your memory is strength.  Your memory is combat.  Your memory is life, and love.

Ryan Kai Cheng Thom is a trans* writer and artist.  Their column is an homage to the enduring power and love of the community. Contact them at