The day — whose tenor resembles that of Tisha B’Av for Jews (about the destruction of the ancient temples in Jerusalem), or April 24 for Armenians (Genocide Remembrance Day) — will probably be with us for a long while. For some of us, it’s a necessary ritual; for others, it’s a grimly meaningful way to draw attention to prejudice, dating violence, risky sex work and a culture and legal framework that too often blame the victims. We can take this occasion to lament each year until a year comes when there’s nothing to lament; we will need it until all of us, all trans people, are safe.
Yet there’s something wrong when our best-known (as such things go) holiday is a day for mourning our dead. (There’s also a Transgender Day of Visibility, in late March, meant to inspire trans activism in general, and a New-York-centric Trans Day of Action, in late June.)
Each Nov. 20, closeted adults, newly out kids and parents and teachers unsure how and whether to accept and nurture those kids, encounter transgender identities largely as a source of death, violence and tragedy.
Those kids and those adults need to see, very specifically, trans fulfillment and trans joy, as well. And in 2019 we can: In Hollywood, with careers like those of the actors Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Nicole Maines (“Supergirl”); in publishing, with new flights of novelistic success by authors like Kacen Callender, Charlie Jane Anders, Rachel Gold, April Daniels, Jordy Rosenberg; and in politics, with trans legislators like Lisa Bunker, in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and Danica Roem, who this month won reelection to the Virginia General Assembly by a margin of 14 percentage points.
Roem has already tweeted about Trans Day of Remembrance this year, spotlighting the Rockville, Md., victim Keyonna Blakeney, who was killed in 2016: “We are not expendable,” Roem declared. “And we are not going away.”
One of my favorite pictures of trans life — not that any one picture would suffice — is an online cartoon called “énouement,” by Samantha Richardson. In it, a sandy-haired woman, presumably Richardson, visits a child or a tween with a boy’s haircut, nearly asleep in a room with a “Dark Crystal” poster, stuffed dinosaurs and “X-Men” comics. “I know how sad you are,” the adult woman says. “I know how you cry yourself to sleep some nights. I know how angry you feel. How scared.”
Then she tells the child about the future, which will include: a mission to Portugal; plenty of dungeons and dragons; a taste for green beans (“if they’re not canned”), falling in love.
“You’re going to be happy in your own strange way,” the woman says, sitting on the child’s bed in the dark. “Even with all that, our secret is just going to keep on hurting until the day comes when it hurts just too much to keep it anymore. But it doesn’t get us. … We finally get to tell them who we are, and they still love us so, so much.”
The next panel shows, instead of that dim bedroom, the Earth seen from space, with bright white sunlight over blue clouds. She concludes: “I don’t have the words to tell you how beautiful it is.”
Of course, the woman is the child, grown up; of course (she says, lifting a green stuffed T. rex), “We still like dinosaurs.” Unlike the dinosaurs, the child survived and flourished. Her trans life was not defined by her ongoing pain, even though the pain was real. As much as we need to see urgent social injustice, as much as we need to commemorate our dead, we need to see more trans stories like that one, where the joy is real, and trans lives are valid, and we can be loved, both before and after we tell the rest of the world about who we are. “Énoument,” a term apparently coined by an anonymous blogger, denotes the feeling of seeing the future, of knowing how things turn out. Trans readers in 2019, especially those who feel isolated or unable to come out, need to see how things can turn out well.
We also need to share stories like “énouement” (and stories like those of the novelists I mentioned earlier: Callender, Gold, Daniels and more) because they are often not only about us and by us, but for us.
So many occasions for mourning, or celebration, or legislation are very properly occasions where everyone and anyone can see. On those occasions, we may tell stories that we urgently need cisgender (non-trans) people to hear: stories about urgent public policy needs, such as safe places for runaways, rules to discourage employment discrimination, access to medication, better law enforcement. In telling those stories we may end up, inadvertently, defining ourselves by our suffering, by those who hate us, by our unmet needs.
But trans joy is real, and trans people need to see it. Jews mourn on Tisha B’Av. But we also celebrate Purim, and Simcha Torah and Sukkot, days of deliverance, achievement and communal nourishment. Trans people (along with everybody else who identifies as LGBTQ) have Pride Week in June, and a lesser-known Visibility Day in March, and that’s certainly something. But to help each other become our best selves, to feel seen, we need to write (and draw and sing and code) not only for visibility to the wider world but also, specifically, for one another: We need to share both our sorrow and our énouement, even our euphoria, the sense of knowing you’re who you’re supposed to be, of feeling at home in your body at long last. I hope we can save a day for that.