In the reflection of candles, names are read out loud. This will be my third time.
My first time, I attended and didn’t say or do much because I was overwhelmed with sadness. It’s almost impossible not to be.
The second time, I tried to distract myself better by helping run an event and brushing off my rusty Spanish skills to read a few names.
This time, I’m attending again, but since last year, every 20 November, I remember the names that aren’t read as much as the names that are.
I’m lucky as a non-binary identified person to have someone else trans in my immediate family. And also lucky enough to not face the brunt of the discrimination that often befalls trans people. And I also know that the worst of what happens to those who survive violence isn’t likely to happen to me. But last year, Transgender Day of Remembrance hit a little close to home.
My trans family member suffered severe stomach pains over a number of days until he finally relented and visited an emergency room back in the US. At first, the doctors were friendly and polite to him.
But when he had to be scanned and tested, he disclosed his trans status. The doctor didn’t come back into his examination room. The nurses were gruff and short. He was sent home with painkillers and a diagnosis of severe indigestion.
His stomach pains persisted and worsened. He’d gone into the ER on Friday. On Monday, his wife had a routine doctor’s appointment and he went in with her, seeing a doctor who knew he was trans. That doctor diagnosed him with appendicitis. He was admitted for an emergency appendectomy.
The doctor told him that there was absolutely no reason for any doctor to miss a diagnosis of appendicitis.
If it weren’t bad enough to nearly die due to a doctor’s neglect, he also had to come out as trans to the surgeon who did his appendectomy. And because of that, they gave him a pregnancy test.
That in and of itself wouldn’t have been an issue if his health insurance in the US didn’t see a pregnancy test being given to a man and then refuse to pay for his $30,000 surgery because the test threw into question the legitimacy of the whole insurance claim. If he hadn’t been able to get it written off as a clerical error, I’m not quite sure where he would be now.
Even though I’m not very close with him, I think about this situation every 20 November. I think about the fact that his appendix could have exploded and he could have died. I think about how that wouldn’t have been marked down as a hate crime – even though it was.
I think about how he nearly ended up with $30,000 worth of debt purely for being a trans man and how, while that’s not the same as dying, it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at if you don’t have a university education and do have a disability. And it’s that reason he has no recourse to pursue legal action. No money for a lawyer. And it’s too dangerous to be out where he lives.
Violence against trans people and disproprotionately against trans women is on the rise. In March 2013, the Trans Murder Monitoring project reported a total of 1,123 reported killings of trans people 57 countries worldwide from 2009-2012. There is no way for us to know or measure the amount of trans people across the globe, especially in societies whose concepts of gender may differ in ways from our own.
These statistics only show us those who we know for sure died as a result of transphobic hate crimes. They don’t always reflect suicide. And they definitely don’t reflect cases like my trans family member’s death due to medical neglect or discrimination.
Both my family member and I represent individuals who do not face the brunt of violence. We are both white. Though we don’t come from economically privileged backgrounds, neither of us is a trans woman. The fact that, despite the many privileges he has, he still came so close to death makes me wonder those who aren’t as lucky.
200 to 300 murders per year may not seem like that much. And with over 80% of those murders happening in South or Central America according to Trans Respect Versus Transphobia, it may also seem very far from home. But if anyone remembers anything, I want them to remember that these are just the numbers we know.
Lola Olson is a non-binary queer-identified writer, a volunteer for Gendered Intelligence and a mentor to LGBTQ youth. Please support Stonewall Housing, Gendered Intelligence and The Sylvia Rivera Law Project.