Reid Vanderburgh MA, LMFT

Trans Day of Remembrance

The Trans Day of Remembrance was created to honor and memorialize those trans people who have been killed just for being themselves. Honoring the dead keeps us mindful of the need for further work. However, we also need inspiration to keep our hopes high as we continue that work. I would like to expand our day of remembrance to include some of the success stories among us, such as:

Judy Lively, Physician-in-Chief of Kaiser of Diablo Valley Area in California, who transitioned successfully on the job in the early 2000s. Her disclosure process included a series of meetings and presentations for approximately 550 physicians. She and her wife Karen, a Kaiser nurse, remain happily married. Their daughter Jenny refers to Judy at “mum.”

Jamison Green, a transman who founded FTM International in the late 1980s.  James was the first trans person who was not a healthcare professional to be admitted to full membership of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, now WPATH. Among many other forms of activism, James has been working for years to incrementally change the Standards of Care to more accurately reflect the experience of transition. He has been happily married for twelve years.

Beyond trans people speaking up for themselves is the importance of allies, and coalitions.

What does it mean to be an ally? About ten years ago, my friend Rhonda was waiting in line at the DMV. Most of the other people in the room were 40-something women, as is Rhonda. Rhonda was distracted that day, so it took her awhile to sense tension in the room. Coming into awareness, she noticed that the woman ahead of her in line was trans; the other women in the room had reacted negatively to her presence. Rhonda felt she had to say something, not liking the way the other women were reacting. She spontaneously tapped the transwoman on the shoulder and said, “That’s a really pretty dress you have on.”

What does it mean to be an ally? Some years ago, my friend Andrew was having some trouble honing down his dissertation topic. He was studying toward a Ph.D in Human Services, and knew he wanted to do something that was related to studying the intersection of identities in some way. Andrew is a 30-something gay man who’s never had any desire to transition to female. He called me, and we brainstormed for quite some time. Andrew had an epiphany that day. In 2005, he successfully defended his dissertation, titled “Transmen and Masculinity.” Curious, I asked him if others had assumed he was a transman, and he shrugged and said, “They still do. That’s the beauty of it – it’s an object lesson in assumptions.”

I stress the importance of allies because a time-tested tactic in keeping a people down is to prevent for formation of alliances. Divide and conquer, united we stand. On the sociological level, this means various communities forming coalition with each other. On the individual level, this means stepping up in life situations, taking some form of visible action, as Rhonda and Andrew did.

As we contemplate stories of “out” transpeople and allies, contemplate also their courage, stepping out into the limelight, accepting the risk. Long-time activist and singer-songwriter Holly Near wrote a song in the 1970s, the chorus of which is: “It could have been me, but instead it was you, so I’ll keep doing the work you were doing as if I were two.” The work is defending our own right to be, or someone else’s. The work involves participation in our own lives.

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