Trans Day of Remembrance: Thoughts on the Erasure of Trans Women & Sex Work
Today is observed by many as the Transgender Day of Remembrance. In her article, Undoing Theory Viviane Namaste explains this day as “ an annual occasion to take stock of the violence to which trans people are subjected. Taking place in the United States and internationally, activists organize candlelight vigils, political rallies, and social activities as a way to recognize and denounce this violence” (2009, p. 16). This is a sad day for me, and for so many. This morning, Jlux and I lit a yahrzeit (memorial) candle that will burn for a full day. We said some words and held some silence together to start off our day. We talked a bit afterwards and I want to share some thoughts that emerged from our discussion this morning. I think it is important for us to remember those who have been killed, while also bringing to light the gendered, raced and classed contours of the violence that trans people face.
The fact that many of the people who are murdered are trans women of color who engage in sex work is a very important aspect of TDOR and transgender violence that we often gloss over. It is important to remember that often white ‘western’ queer communities erase the experiences of trans women and people of color. And erase them and erase them and erase them. When it comes to TDOR, trans women who are engaging in sex work consist of a disproportionate amount of murdered trans* people. Namaste cites Mirha-Soleil Ross:
Not only are most of the trans people murdered sex workers but they are nearly 100 per cent male-to-females. And that very crucial aspect is completely erased when people frame the issue as one of ‘‘violence against transgender people.’’ This is … an issue of violence against transsexual women and against male-to-female transvestites who are mostly prostitutes…the fact that MTFs are the ones who are almost exclusively attacked and killed is something that needs to be pointed out. (cited in Namaste 2005b, 92–93)
Namaste notes that “transsexual women age with the unsettling knowledge that many of us—often, most of us—do not live to be forty years old. Every day, transsexual women see our work, lives, community organizing, and even personal relationships criminalized through an invocation of prostitution laws” (p. 29).
This information makes visible the need for us to continue to be in solidarity with the trans women and sex workers in our lives and in the world. We must acknowledge that this violence was caused in part by the unsafe conditions produced by the criminalization of sex work (or certain aspects of sex work *). If our government(s) won’t make sex work safer, we can fight to move things along. The criminalization of sex work, or acts surrounding sex work makes this livelihood one that is very dangerous for some people. We must destigmatize sex work, and acknowledge that those who engage in sex work should be able to make their own informed choices about their work.
There are so many ways to get involved, and so many ways to support trans folks, POC, and sex workers. I think it is important to highlight sex work as part of this because ignoring it means that we don’t have to see it as part of the solution to ending violence against trans people. I hope that some of you will sort through these resources, seek out resources of your own, and think about the different ways you can take action.
Go to this library for resources that address some of the intersections between sex work and colonialism, migration, Indigenous workers, trans sex workers and more!
* In Canada sex work is not illegal, but things like the public communication surrounding it are, which basically defeats the whole purpose and makes things unsafe for sex workers.
Food for thought on TDOR and every day.