Trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

The Trans Day of Resilience, celebrated today, November 20th, though young in its political mobility, is an urgently visible resistance to mortality-laced rhetoric around Trans life. This effort, nationally organized by Forward Together, curates and commissions work from Trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) artists and writers and distributes this work through extensive and intentional community outreach. This year the organization brought together writers and visual artists to collaborate on poster/poetry collaborations that exist digitally, in print, with audio and video components. This is not unintentional; these voices are not a happenstance. This collective of Trans and GNC creators of color (myself, humbly included) are able to fortify an archive of Trans celebration that speaks to the community’s multitudes. 

It is never that our work is without mourning, but like so many disenfranchised communities within and parallel to the Trans community, death is an unfortunate mainstay. So how do we transmute our grief? Never let it exist without also bringing joy. That we are able to mourn, still means that we are here. 

We gather, symbolically and otherwise, this time of year to recognize the Trans community. Trans Day of Remembrance is a nationally recognized movement urging Trans and gender non-conforming people into the center of care or awareness. There is a new kind of tragedy, however, that forms by locating this day so strictly as memorial. Shifting the title from Remembrance to Resilience is a necessary dismantling of how the celebration of Trans life looks. 

An unfortunate truth of contemporary culture is that Trans lives exist more readily as memory or statistic, as a factual documentation of our deaths. Over the last decade piecemeal representations of Trans life have burgeoned their way into popular iconography, yet are rarely tempered without tragedy or bio-deterministic exceptionalism. But for every Laverne Cox & Caitlyn Jenner there are countless unseen and systemically vulnerable Trans people across this nation and, more importantly, the globe. 

The antagonism of Trans & gender non-conforming people can feel impossible to detangle from society. This is marked by the epidemic of Trans murders, especially devastating Black and Brown Trans people of color. This is marked by the abandoning of federal protections for Trans/GNC people. This is marked by limited access to healthcare and criminalization by the state. But even down to the micro-, interpersonal space of our language, we are constantly gendering etiquette (“ma’am” and “sir”), parameters of identity (women vs. femme) etc. Each of these is a small death and a large price to pay daily for any semblance of visibility. 

So let us consider the cost of being seen. The cost of living Trans as unapologetically as possible. What does it mean to present a reality, as the world calls it a myth, a mental illness, an oversensitivity? What happens to the body when every truth it tells is denied by someone with the power to kill it? That’s the work of resilience though: to Be, regardless. The antagonism of subjectivity. To project truth against any undermining backdrop. 

Enter the work of Resilience. To be Trans, here in Amerikkka, means to be elastic. To traverse the pulling apart and remaking of your identity each day and nearly with every interaction. It is why intimate partners are the highest killers of Trans Women of Color. It’s how to go (or not go) home to your family. It’s deciding if you need to, want to, or are safe to disclose. It’s finding ways to celebrate yourself beyond the gawks and threats of violence. We, as Trans people at every place in our journeys, are worth more than memory. Our present and our lives are the most deserving part of our narrative.

This effort, however, can rarely be individual. Community for Trans/GNC folks is the only substantial means of survival. How much easier is it to see your self as real when surrounded by the most dynamic of mirrors? The truths we have are so multi-varied, the imperative exists for us to coalesces and collect and collaborate. Our archives will only be cared for by us, and still we must continue to push ourselves to leave more room for the next. Everything we create must be for a future freedom. We, our own kind of blueprint revolution. Yet what to make of the outside eyes, those outside of the community who are still unquestionably urgent to our survival? 

We have asked the public, the cisgendered, the straight, to remember us. Though now swollen by civil tradition and corporate funding, the Trans Day of Remembrance, the original #TDOR, doesn’t linguistically do enough to call to action. The act of remembering, in itself requires the knowledge of something beforehand. It is not that Trans people are unknown; it is that we are treated as unknowable. We are still being spoken about as “things that need to make sense.” Even the typically morose and funereal tone to which many gatherings commit, further embeds a preeminent death to Trans narratives. There are too many cultures that mourn through celebration; why must we relegate ourselves to the melancholy? This is not to say we have nothing to mourn. There are too many names. There are too many names. There are too many names. But what does this do for the Trans folk still fighting to live? 

As recently as this week, several states made history electing their first Trans lawmakers. Earlier this year, The LGBT Establishment rallied around Transgender military personnel, despite typical silence for the epidemic of Trans deaths nationally. It’s hard to know what works. It’s hard to see these hyper-visible yet still only symbolic gestures for ONE kind of Trans future. Moreover, each of these gestures “forward” has liminal power to undermine or counteract the systems these institutions have predicated. But the world of politics is mirrored and embedded in art and most definitely in poetry. What is the “Poetry Establishment’s” responsibility? How do we transcend the conversation from spotlight and special issue activism? Or how do we subvert its need? How do we move beyond the reactionary? Better what happens past resilience?

Because language can’t help but fail us, even the language of resilience speaks to a constant need to adapt and navigate. What happens when Trans lives can just be? Celebrating resilience is urgent for the now and we must never not hope for more. We must manifest joy past resilience, where the only mourning we need comes with time and our peace is an everyday occurrence.  


Originally Published: November 20th, 2017

Literary and performance artist jayy dodd is a blxk trans femme and is the author of the poetry collections The Black Condition ft. Narcissus (Nightboat Books, forthcoming 2019) and Mannish Tongues (Platypus Press, 2017), and the chapbook [sugar in the tank] (Pizza Pi Press, 2016). Their work has been featured in Teen Vogue and Entropy. They are the...