Yesterday I attended the funeral of someone I didn’t know. Before you accuse me of auditioning for some new production of Harold and Maude: The Musical, I’ll attempt to explain.
A combination of factors in the past 20 years – being in a relationship for seven years with a gender-nonconforming person, exploring my own non-cis gender identity, meeting plenty of folks under the broad lesbian/queer/bisexual/trans/gay/intersex umbrella, and living for more than a decade in a state and city where it’s fairly safe to be open as someone who fits into one or more of those categories – has led to my having a friendship with one trans woman and acquaintance-hood with a couple dozen trans people and their partners.
Horrifically, the all-too-frequent murder of trans women hit home for us the first week in January: the creator of the Miss Trans New England Pageant, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, was killed by her husband in their home in North Adams, Massachusetts. I met Christa only once, fleetingly, on Pride Day a few years ago when she and a couple of other trans women needed to use the bathroom in the building where I work. Some floors of the building have retail shops and eateries, and thus it’s a bit of a town square. I’d stopped into my office for something; I walked by the bathrooms and let them in with my key. (Ironically, these are among the few non-gender-marked restrooms in the downtown area, but because of vandalism and someone dying of an overdose, management has made them available to employees only.)
Having barely met Christa, I felt strange about going to her memorial service – but as soon as I’d finished reading a long, comprehensive (and unfortunately, repetitive and disorganized) article in the local newspaper about her life and death, I knew I’d attend. I immediately recognized that her funeral was a political event. By this I don’t mean that I planned to show up with picket signs, ready to chant slogans with her loved ones.
From what I’ve gathered, Christa was not a “political” person in the sense I use that term – someone who’s involved in grassroots and/ or electoral organizing. But plenty of us, by virtue of existing as who we are and insisting that we have the right to be that person in a public way, are political. At this point, especially in this country but also in many, many others, being an out trans person is political, whether we like it or not. Trans folks can’t even go to the freakin’ bathroom in peace in the United States, without Right wingnuts turning it into a problem – it’s insane, and it’s political.
As some of the speakers at Christa’s January 27 service said, not everyone finds beauty pageants appealing; over the decades, they’ve been a point of contention for those of us feminists who question emphasizing women’s physical appearance rather than our brains and strength. But Christa clearly fought a long, hard battle to be the woman she was, and her pageants and pride marches helped many other trans people, including people of color, to not only come out of their closets, but also to publicly, proudly celebrate who they were with dignity. She obtained great venues and media coverage for her events; she educated many cis-gender (non-trans) folks, creating allies; she gave trans people strength and a voice.
I wanted to honor that work, and also support an embattled community, especially given the Destroyer-in-Chief in the White House. T-rump and his Repugnican puppeteers would be only too glad to, at the very least, shove every trans and queer person back into the closet. I’m not even going to imagine what some would like to do to us. Horribly, I don’t need to imagine – it happened to Christa, brutally killed by the last man she married.
I needed to be at that memorial service to say to my friends, I’m sorry you lost y/our sister; I’m sorry you and we have to go through this all the fucking time. To say that I too am so incredibly tired and sad and afraid when I hear and read about yet another trans woman – another woman – who’s been murdered by her male partner. That I too have lived through bullying simply for being who I am, that I’ve felt the crushing grief of losing someone unexpectedly, a loved one who was far too young to die. I can’t take away the sorrow and pain, but I can share it with you.
Sending love to all of those who loved Christa. May there be no more murders.