Last year, guest editor Christopher Soto announced that Poetry, one of the biggest poetry magazines in North America, would publish an issue exclusively featuring transgender writers before the 2018 Trans Day of Remembrance. However, controversy soon arose when Soto tweeted a dismissive critique of trans poetry — since deleted but quoted here. Soto alleged he had read “thousands” of poems by trans writers, who, he argued limited themselves to a narrow set of themes.
The tweet appeared to question the right of trans poets to speak on these pertinent themes. And instead of attempting to rectify the problem, Poetry chose the cowardly route. It cancelled the issue without an explanation or apology, a fact that was discussed by many trans and gender non-conforming writers and ultimately led to the creation of the hashtag #BeyondSpecialIssue.
This is just one instance of many that occur again and again in regards to the presentation of trans people’s work. There is a want for it, but when an issue arises, when things don’t go according to plan or seem too complicated, the whole project is doomed to poor reception or being shut down. Trans experience in media is still mediated by the cisgender people in power, and they work hard to uphold the longstanding cisgender tradition of excluding trans people from opportunities — even though the visibility and widespread appeal of these creative projects would offer a world of possibility to trans people.
Art is a practice crucial to the continued existence of trans people. One special issue alone won’t cut it — and it didn’t make the cut itself. Poet and performance artist jayy dodd, who replied to Soto on Twitter, was right to say it is “scary & dangerous” to speak so reductively about what are clearly important themes in the creative work of trans people. It’s work that unequivocally needs to be produced and shared, that needs to be read, that needs to be remembered and needs space #BeyondSpecialIssue.
“Trans is strong! Trans is beautiful! Trans is here!”
Standing near the back of the Glad Day Bookshop, I was struck by Heath V Salazar’s performance at the 2018 Naked Heart Festival’s We Will Not Be Erased reading. The reading — part of Glad Day’s annual LGBTQ literary festival — was emphatically named after the hashtag that sprung up after the current administration in the United States announced their attempt to define transgender people out of existence.
I was still coming down after the high of performing my own poetry only minutes before as Salazar’s performance that brought the audience into a celebratory frenzy. Regardless of gender identity, the call was heard and taken up: everyone in the room shouted it back at Salazar. Trans is strong. Trans is beautiful. Trans is here.
In that moment, I wasn’t thinking of this day, designated as one of trans awareness; I was focused on the people around me, the space I was in and the voices I heard. At that reading, a handful of all the trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming artists from the GTA provided proof that we create work about us and for those like us, regardless of how cisgender people implicitly and deliberately aim to stop us from such acts of creation. The continued effort of writers like Salazar, Charlie C Petch, Arielle Twist, Mandy Goodhandy, Lee Airton, Sanchari Sur and myself shows ourselves and others we will continue to thrive outside of the space and time allotted to us that night.
As of 2017, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is officially recognized by the government of Ontario. It was started in the United States in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honour the life of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was murdered in Boston. But memory is complicated; remembrance more so. For me, this day is one of both mourning and celebration. I want to recall the trans people who have been killed by systematic transphobia and racism. I want to celebrate those still living, working and remembering.
Acts of celebration — of shouting your appreciation into the world, of making space for trans people — has become more commonplace in regards to this day. But it is still not enough. Hester, like too many Black trans women and trans women of colour, was murdered. Her life, celebrated after her passing, is, like many like her, at risk of being martyred and amalgamated into a single story about Black trans women and trans women of colour.
For me, TDoR is like so many other days that aim to highlight the struggles and successes of marginalized people: its effort, despite being a yearly one, isn’t lasting. TDoR is so often a cop-out for cisgender people who feel, once they have used a hashtag or shared an informational post, that they have done enough. They haven’t. They aren’t listening. They aren’t here for us.
My day of remembrance is every day. When my trans friends and family suffer, when they succeed, I see that. I remember. I remember that they are here. Even those who have left — be it my life, this city, or this world — are here. They exist when we speak of them, when we celebrate them and when we honour them.
For me, that entails more than just using a hashtag, attending poetry readings and performances, or expressing disgust and anger with governments that aim to erase lived experiences — though all of this may be a show of support, there needs to be someone present behind the sentiment. So I show up for the trans people in my life. Every day. On their doorstep, quite literally, if need be. Whenever I have the time and the energy, I’ll be there — no applications, microphones, or protest signs needed, not this time. Just my willingness to support, understand, and be concrete proof that yes, someone does care. Someone does remember.
I can’t say it enough: trans people are here, and they are now. Their work, their voices and their lives reverberate in Toronto and beyond. Trans is here, and it is here to stay.