November 20 was Trans Day of Remembrance, so that what I want to write about for this mid-week “explainer.”
I’m not going to do the usual list of statistics, how many trans people have been murdered; you can look that up, and if you’re not already familiar with the numbers, I hope you will. But I don’t want this post to be traumatizing for trans readers and I don’t want it to be an impersonal recitation of data. And surely you don’t need me to explain why it’s important to remember those lost to violence.
Instead I want to “explain,” as it were, an experience I had, as a cisgender person who cares about trans and non-binary people, at a Trans Day of Remembrance vigil many years ago.
At the time I was working in the LGBTQIA2+ community, so I knew many of the attendees by face or name. I stood in the park after sunset, lit my candle from my neighbor’s candle, then passed my flame to my other neighbor, to light their candle. I listened to the speaker list the names of local trans people who died by violence that year. We all stood in a circle, in silence. It was a simple and beautiful ritual.
And then we all walked back to our cars. I saw someone I recognized from my work, whom I hadn’t spent time with for a while, and I greeted them by name. They waved at me desultorily, and I decided their lack of enthusiasm was due to the solemnity of the night.
Couple weeks later, I see that person again and discover they had transitioned to different pronouns and a different name.
I had deadnamed this person at Trans Day of Remembrance.
*Facepalm* doesn’t begin to express how I felt.
“I’m really sorry about that,” I said. “It won’t happen again.”
They were incredibly gracious, waved it away as just one of those things that can happen, which I appreciated, but I did not receive it as permission to keep making the same mistake.
Fortunately, I have a very convenient memory; once a person transitions and tells me their name, my brain erases their deadname. I remember that person’s name now, but I don’t remember the name I called them on that Trans Day of Remembrance. This is a memory style I highly recommend cultivating.
This is a story about being an ally, advocate, and accomplice in creating a better world for people who face daily discrimination and threats of violence.
I still sometimes misgender people, using the wrong pronoun when I’m talking about them in the third person. I know my job is to catch myself and correct myself.
Stay safe and see you next time.