Transgender Day of Remembrance: The light of authenticity

Stephanie Mott. Photo by Robin Dorner.

by Stephanie Mott
Special to The Gayly

Rita Hester was a Black transgender woman who was murdered in her Allston, Massachusetts apartment on November 28, 1998. A candlelight vigil was held on December 4. Rita’s death inspired the creation of Transgender Day of Remembrance - a day in which we honor and remember those who have lost their lives in the name of authenticity.

It was 2008 when I first became aware of Transgender Day of Remembrance and learned the story of Rita Hester. I cried for days about this woman whose life held so little value in the eyes of not only her killer, but a society that likes to pretend it believes all human life matters.

I had been living 24/7 as my authentic self for just over a year. I learned that Rita was stabbed in the chest at least 20 times and her murder remains unsolved. When they say freedom isn’t free, they tell the truth. Needless to say, this changed the way I saw my journey.

Back before I gave myself permission to be my authentic self, I would occasionally fortify myself with distilled courage, don the clothing of my woman spirit, and sneak out of my apartment in the wee hours of the morning - stumbling around in the adjacent park and breathing the drunken air of what must have been something like pretending not to pretend.

What was I thinking? I don’t suppose it was all that different than what a lot of trans/gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals think. I have to express myself authentically. There is no other hope for me to be okay.

These days, I wake up in the morning and I fortify myself in a different way as I prepare to meet the day. I suppose it could be described as a strange, imaginary combination of Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote)and Lucy Lawless (Xena, Warrior Princess).

Whether it is fighting the state of Kansas for the inalienable right to define my own gender and have documents that support that, or spending four hours in a car for the incredible opportunity to speak for fifteen minutes before a room filled with psychiatrists at a Wichita hospital.

Whether it is sharing with a TGNC teenager that coming out to their parents might end up with them no longer having a home to live in, or picking up the phone to speak to another journalist about some inconceivable (yet far too common) horror inflicted upon American citizens who are simply trying to be who they truly are.

It is always the same. One must prepare for the day. The looks. The words. The discrimination. The danger. The pain. Because one must not just live in this world. One must survive.

Precious are the moments when the constant vigil of people and surroundings yields to anything that offers the comfort and safety. And they do come. They never last. But they do come.

As the leaves begin to change, the seasons continue their relentless pursuit of a different place to be and a different way to be there.

The massive thunderheads on the horizon contain the stench of the North Carolina scourge known as HB2. Though it is more than possible that we will come to know this scourge as readily by the name of Kansas.

Be that as it may, the light seems different; piercing through the darkness with the clearly present sense that one of these days, those moments of comfort and safety will become far more permanent. It is as if the things that have happened are not in vain.

I think, if you look closely, you can see the outline of Rita’s face looking down from the sky. Hers and countless others who dared to dream, and whose journeys have contained the steadfast unwillingness to rest until there is change. Those who have paid the ultimate price for freedom.

These are the ones who have owned the light of authenticity. It is as powerful a force as can possibly exist. When I think about Transgender Day of Remembrance, I remember those we have lost. I also remember that we are winning. The winds of change have told me so.

I hear the voice of Rita Hester calling from the distance. We are winning, she says. The darkness is yielding to the light. It is authentic light. Nothing in this world can shine so brightly. Carry on.

Copyright 2016 The Gayly – November 13, 2016 @ 1:15 p.m.