By Riley Hanna
In honor of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Feminist Student Union (FSU) and the Queer Student Union (QSU) hosted a candlelight vigil to pay respects to the 319 people who fell victim to transphobic violence over the past year.
The president of the Feminist Student Union, Margeaux Reed ’19, gave the opening speech at the event. In her speech, she addressed the history and purpose of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“Through this commemoration, this Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers, sisters, and siblings who might otherwise be publicly forgotten or ignored,” Reed said. “This is a moment to create space together to grapple with the real and tangible effect of hate in our society, a hate that disproportionately affects our community.”
She further reminded the audience of their role in addressing this violence. She read a quote from Sarah Lamble, a professor at Birkbeck School of Law in London who focuses on LGBTQ+ issues, which was directed to all of the cisgender audience members, whose gender expression aligns with their sex assigned at birth.
“None of us are innocent. We must envision practices of remembrance that situate our own positions within structures of power that authorize violence in the first place,” Reed quoted. “Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead — we must transform the practices of the living.”
Reed further encouraged audience members to do their part by giving directly to trans folk and marginalized groups to help them cover costs of rent, medical expenses, etc.
Shaan Ghosh ’22 read an original poem at the vigil, entitled “Pantomimesis,” about his experience throughout his life as a trans male. He explained what the title of the poem means.
“It’s two words mashed together, pantomime and mimesis,” Ghosh said.
Pantomime is defined as “the art or technique of conveying emotions, actions, feelings, etc., by gestures without speech.” Mimesis means a sort of representation or imitation. Ghosh explained what the combining of these two words symbolize to him.
“I think is a kind of reference to gender, and how trans people’s genders are perceived,” Ghosh said. “To a lot of people it straddles the line between an imitation of gender, and so that performance of gender being something in between an imitation, a reflection, and a performance.”
At the vigil, Ghosh prefaced reading his poem with a speech.
“Every year around this time, I begin to feel more transient than transcendent, worry that this world doesn’t really want me around as more than a shiny thing to admire temporarily and then discard,” Ghosh said in his speech. “This will drive you mad. It drove me mad. It is part of why trans people have a suicidality (sic) rate of 40 percent.”
He also encouraged audience members to frequently check in with their trans-identifying friends and ask how they are doing and if they need anything.
“You are lucky,” Ghosh said. “Activism is a distant goal, and all too easy to get wrong. You are lucky because you have trans people in your lives. Find out how they are doing and what it is they need that you could help provide. Take a genuine interest in their wellbeing. The same goes for your friends of color, with disabilities, religious minorities, those who can’t afford to see their families over this upcoming, or any break. And don’t abandon them. They’ve faced enough of that from the world already.”
Those in attendance were given candles to hold while Reed and members of the QSU read off the names off the people who have lost their lives. While not every person who died identified as transgender, every victim mentioned was killed due to transphobic violence.
After the vigil, attendees were invited to debrief and decompress in the QSU office. There, Ghosh expressed his disappointment in the fact that the vast majority of victims were black trans women was not mentioned during the vigil. In fact, before the vigil, Ghosh reached out to the QSU expressing that he thought it was important that this fact is explicitly mentioned, and was told that the short historical context that opened the vigil would include it.
The fact that the majority of victims were black trans women implies that not only were the victims killed due to transphobia, but due to a combination of racism and misogyny. While the event raised awareness for everyone, clearly there is still much to be understood and learned.