by BJ Colangelo
Each November 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance/Resilience (TDOR) is observed as a way to honor those whose lives have been lost due to acts of anti-transgender violence. Transgender rights activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith started TDOR in 1999 in recognition of the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed the year prior. Ever since, communities around the country gather on this day to host vigils, marches, rallies, and candlelit walks in honor of the countless transgender folx who have been taken from us far too soon.
There are many who believe participating in these events are essential and mandatory for the LGBTQ+ community, namely, for those that fall under the transgender umbrella. I overhead a discussion between a group of young queer folx—many of whom were transgender or non-binary—who expressed concern about their own well emotional well being regarding TDOR. I asked the individuals if I could use their conversation for this piece and they agreed, but asked to remain anonymous.
“Given how many people have threatened to kill me once they find out I’m trans, I don’t know if I will be able to handle it,” one transwoman said.
“Yeah, but you’re still alive. You owe it to your sisters,” her friend replied.
“I think that’s a really unfair emotional burden to put on someone,” she said in defense. “I don’t think compromising my mental wellbeing is honoring anyone.”
For as much as being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has beautiful benefits and an immediate sense of familial bonding for many of us, it doesn’t change the reality that living while queer or trans in a state like Ohio can be extremely difficult. Many of us face dangerous or downright horrific circumstances every single day that can impact our emotional and mental well being.
Navigating micro-aggressions like people making comments toward you while you’re just trying to exist or the parade of stares that can accompany going out in public can (and does) wear a person down over time. Not to mention there are many who have experienced interpersonal violence, or threats of it, simply for being transgender.
Any combination of these sort of lived experiences can make events like TDOR extremely challenging for some individuals, and it is important for us to recognize that it is completely okay to recognize this for oneself. Trauma-informed care tells us that we need to be mindful of our limitations and recognize that those limitations look different for every person. There’s no “right” level of limitation, and it’s more than okay to identify when a situation is not for you.
According to Psychology Today, nearly half of all transgender people experience some form of depression, and the rates of transgender folx who have attempted suicide are nine times higher than the rate of cisgender Americans. This isn’t because being transgender inherently impacts your brain negatively, it is, as Psychology Today continues, as a “response to the discrimination, stigma, lack of acceptance, and abuse [the community]faces on an unfortunately regular basis.”
It’s hard to exist in a world that isn’t always accepting. Emotional duress and burnout is very real, and it’s okay to notice when you’ve hit your limit of what you can handle.
The validity of your identity is not up for debate if something like TDOR is too much for you to endure. You are not a “bad” member of the community if you recognize such a somber event may be triggering for you. You do not owe anyone the compromising of your mental wellbeing at any time for any reason.
TDOR is an extremely important annual event, but there are plenty of other ways one can honor the lives that we’ve lost without putting yourself in an emotionally unsafe environment. Supporting philanthropic endeavors throughout the year are a great place to start, but there’s nothing like living your life to the fullest in honor of those who were denied the opportunity.
If you are emotionally capable of attending your local—and hopefully virtual—TDOR ceremonies, I encourage you to go. But please know that if there is no “correct” way to be a member of the community, and emotional protection is just as important as physical safety.
No matter what you choose, you are still loved.
BJ Colangelo is a recovering child beauty queen that fancies herself the lovechild of Christopher Sarandon in “Fright Night” and Susan Sarandon in “The Hunger”. BJ is a social emotional theatre teaching artist and a professional horror film journalist and theorist. She writes about horror, wrestling, sex, kicking pancreatic cancer’s ass, and being a fat queer all over the Internet. Her work has been featured in publications like Blumhouse, Medium, Playboy, Vulture, Birth. Movies. Death., Autostraddle, and The Daily Dot, and has contributed essays to the books When Animals Attack!, Creepy Bitches, and Hidden Horror 101. Follow her on Twitter.