Nel's New Day

November 19, 2012

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012

Every year, supporters of the transgender community hold vigils on November 20 for those people murdered the year before because of hatred and prejudice toward their gender identities. Begun in 1998 after the murder of Rita Hester in Massachusetts, this day is now called the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The transgender community has gained more acceptance during the last 14 years but is far in gains that gays and lesbians have experienced in the same time.

There is a theory that familiarity is the primary reason that people become less prejudiced toward others. For example, as more people realize that their friends and family members are gay and lesbian, the more they think gays and lesbians deserve equal rights. The same has not happened for trans persons because fewer people know members in this community.

I remember the first person I met who I knew was transgender. After my partner and I retired to the Oregon Coast, we opened a bed and breakfast. We had an amazing diverse clientele from people who visited from other countries and couldn’t speak English to conservatives from around the United States. Because the B&B was listed in several LGBT resources, we also enjoyed meeting the gays and lesbians who stayed with us. When one woman returned to stay with us, she told us, with what must have been great fear and trepidation, that she had once been a man who owned a large business in the Northwest.

Since then I have been privileged to know other trans persons, but I still look back at that time as one of personal growth. There is a huge difference between accepting gender identity in theory and being friends with a trans person.

Currently, I am a member of a project called Over the Rainbow. Sponsored by the American Library Association, OTR annually recommends current books with significant LGBTQ content. The reading that I do for this project also extends my knowledge and understanding. I would like to recommend the following books nominated for this year’s list that have brought me greater perception. The first one is from the perspective of mothers attempting to understand their trans children; in three other books, trans women tell of their experiences; a photographer has created a stunningly elegant book; and the last one is an anthology of true stories about transgender sex and sexuality.

Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children. Ed. by Rachel Pepper. Cleis Press, $16.95. 203p. Thirty-two mothers—diverse in age, ethnic background, class, sexual orientation/gender identity, and national origin—write about their feelings and trials after they discovered that their children, varying in ages from six to sixty, are transgender. Each of these narrators makes clear that that children as young as two or three can identify with a gender that their bodies do not display, and they, like their children, experience “coming out” as they transition from denial through protecting themselves and their children to open acceptance.

Ryka Aoki. Seasonal Velocities: Poems, Stories, and Essays. Trans-Genre Press, $14.95. (138p). Beginning with the pain of “Winter,” the writer works toward a feeling of hope in the last division, “Spring.” As Elliott DeLine wrote, “It is unpretentious, beautiful, and intimate. The experience was like getting to know a wonderful new friend. Ryka Aoki is doing great things for the trans community, and she is doing it with grace and style. Seasonal Velocities is smart, compelling, honest, sometimes zany, and always full of spirit.”

Joy Ladin. Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Genders. University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95. 255p.  The first openly transgender employee of an Orthodox Jewish institution shares her journey from being a traditional male, married with three children, to her new life as a woman. Ladin uses her past experience of writing poetry to create a beautiful memoir about her losses and pain as she transitions after 40 years of gender dysphoria.

Bornstein, Kate. A Queer and Pleasant Danger. Beacon, $25.95. 258p. Subtitled “The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She Is Today,” the book uses Bornstein’s typical witty, acerbic style in her experiences from Al to Kate Bornstein to “do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living.”


Marcus, Jana. Transfigurations. 7 Angels Press, $35.00. 132p. “To be transgendered is to transcend gender boundaries in our society,” Marcus writes in the introduction. These gorgeous black and white photographs feature trans persons, both masculine and feminine, as they change gender identities across cultures and ethnicities to display their pride and diversity. According to the artist, “Transfigurations aims to illuminate who transgender people are, a subject which the mainstream culture has often shadowed in mystery and misunderstood.”


Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love & Relationships beyond the Gender Binary. Ed. by Morty Diamond. Manic D Press, $14.95. 160p. “Twenty-nine transgender, transsexual, two spirit, genderqueer, and intersex writers [discuss] sex, love, and romantic relationships, and how our gender identity shapes and interacts with these parts of our lives,” wrote the book’s editor in his description of this compilation of true narratives. “This book is a love letter to the trans community and beyond, hoping to add truth to the complex trans experience.”

These books give all of us the chance to meet more trans persons.  For those interested in additional information about transgender, check out Matt Kailey’s blog. Jillian T. Weiss also has suggestions for other blogs on the subject.

I ask you to stop for a few minutes tomorrow to think about the people who died because of hatred and rejection for their identities while hoping that we can change the world into a better place.


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