Four Reasons NOT to Host a Transgender Day of Remembrance Service

This article was first published at Transfaith and Believe Out Loud. I also reprinted it as an appendix in In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy: An OtherWise Reflection Guide, because it sums up some important points that go against the grain in terms of recognizing this “holiday.”

Four Reasons Not to Host TDOR 
by Chris Paige

1. Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) should be observed first and foremost for and with living transgender people.

If you are not in active relationships with transgender people throughout the year, then TDOR is, literally, a sad place to begin your outreach and advocacy. Remember, TDOR is a day about trauma. It is about acknowledging violent, often gruesome, deaths of transgender people. Your first steps of outreach should be about connecting with and investing in the living, not focusing on our dead.

2. TDOR is not a competitive sport.

Many—if not most—cities have community TDOR services organized and led by local transgender leaders. By creating another separate TDOR service, you may be drawing support away from existing transgender leadership. 

Remember, TDOR services are more like funerals than almost any other kind of “holiday.” You do not need to wait for an invitation to attend a community-led TDOR service. It is often most appropriate for you to go to pay your respects and offer the gift of your presence to the already gathered community than it is to plan your own separate service.

3. Staging a TDOR service without involving transgender people is “trauma tourism.”

If your TDOR service does little to nothing to change the material conditions of the transgender communities you claim to support, then it may actually serve as a kind of emotional exploitation—even if you totally mean well. 

Like the emotional release that comes from watching a horror film, being a spectator to an annual review of the deaths of transgender people may serve as a kind of emotional escapism that lets you feel like you are connected without having to get too close. It can become a distraction that prevents you from channeling that energy and concern into doing something more relevant for (or with) the transgender communities in your area.

4. TDOR is not supposed to be comfortable.

While it is a positive sign of increased awareness that TDOR has become a recognized “holiday” in the canon of liberal causes, we are now at risk of allowing TDOR to become another opportunity for self-segregation—for us to retreat again into insular spaces with familiar people. 

Research into murders of transgender people shows that anti-transgender violence overwhelmingly impacts young Black transgender women. Most churches are not anywhere near the neighborhoods where young Black transgender women congregate. TDOR is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone to connect with those people, communities, and organizations that are better connected—and this advice goes for white transgender people, too!

Of course, there are also lots of good reasons to host a TDOR service, especially if it will be meaningful to transgender people in your congregation, if your local community does not have anyone hosting a TDOR service, and if transgender people in your community are asking you to host a service. But, please do not let TDOR be just another day to make yourself comfortable by going through the motions.

What might you do instead of a hosting a TDOR service?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Rally members of your congregation to go together to a TDOR service led by transgender people in the community. Take the first steps toward building new relationships in your community.
  • Take an offering to support a cause that supports transgender women of color who are still alive. The Minister Bobbie Jean Baker Memorial Fund is one such cause, though you should also take the time to research organizations doing vital work in your local area.
  • Plan an educational event that will help your congregation become more aware and connected in your local community. Invite local transgender leaders to come and talk about their lives and the challenges they face. Compensate them for their time and emotional labor. Support their work throughout the year.

Get your copy of In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy: An OtherWise Reflection Guide to get deep wisdom around themes such as grief, self-care, repentance, and our ancestral traditions. These short meditations provide an entry point for thinking and feeling around themes such as Transgender Day of Remembrance and other tragedies haunting transgender communities.

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