After spending three internet and cell phone-free days being spiritually, emotionally and physically fed by my Soulforce family in the mountains of Faber, Virginia, I returned on Sunday and was thrust into the madness of terrorism, death, and real, albeit often misguided, fear. Racism and white supremacy masquerading as safety and security made my soul cry every time my heart beat. I was reminded, once again, of all the ways human beings have misunderstood and mistreated one another and how lifetimes of anguish can take their toll on us in the here and now. Since my return, I’ve been reflecting on a podcast I listened to last year about the onslaught of mass shootings over the last several years. “Too many people have died,” one speaker said. “NO MORE LISTS,” another speaker shouted into the microphone!
Those of us in Trans and Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) communities know all too well this rallying cry for “NO MORE LISTS.” Too many of us are gone or have lost loved ones to senseless violence, and so many more of us have observed the Transgender Day of Remembrance praying for a shorter list of victims to read from each year, only to find those lists growing in staggering numbers. In just the last month alone, Keisha Jenkins from Philadelphia, a cross-dresser from Detroit only identified as Melvin, and Zella Ziona from Gaithersburg, Maryland were shot to death. Zella’s murder was the 21st reported killing of a Trans/GNC person in the U.S. this year alone.
And there’s no way to know how many more people have actually been killed or disappeared because of the isolation perpetuated by marginalization and the inadequate reporting of our true identities as Trans people. An August blogpost from Huff Post Women highlights statistics suggesting that “Currently, the rate of murder by a cis person against a Trans woman is 1 in 12, and for trans women of color that rate rises to 1 in 8. Furthermore, the average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is 35 years.” Terrorism, death and misguided fear, it turns out, are nothing new…
What so many of us have not fully grasped is this: Every life struck down in the ways we see and hear about year-round is a life struck down too soon, and every life lost shatters a little piece of our humanity. The grief so many of us feel, whether it’s because people go into schools and open fire or set off bombs in public places, or because a parent beats a child to death because he “acted too much like a girl”, is the same grief. When an employer shuts the door of opportunity in the face of a genderqueer worker, we can all connect with that distress because jobs, much less jobs that pay a living wage, are hard to come by in this day and age. When a Trans person is shut out by family, or eaten up by the hardships of the world, we can all feel that pain because we know that community and solid relationships are vital to our growing up happier and healthier. The point here is to recognize the significance of being shut out and shut down, no matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like or how you dress.
I see it as part of my role, not just as a minister, but as a human being, to help bind communities together to work to change how we all encounter difference and to seek justice in the world for those of us who are still here. We are all connected, and it is up to us to honor those connections and talk to one another about what our needs are, whether they are legal protections, social engagement, spiritual guidance and uplift or emotional support. Perhaps the questions of our time are not about who gets to carry a gun, or who we get to shut out, but rather, how can we carry one another…so that we all may live a little longer and be understood just a little bit better.
If this question is one that you’re interested in talking about in deeper ways in your communities, say something. Write about it. Make art. Do your homework about the intersections of gender, race and class. Gather for conversation and action, and put the voices of the most marginalized at the center. Remember that change begins with what most needs changing in you. My life depends on this kind of engagement…which means yours does, too.
Reverend Mykal Slack
Reverend Mykal Slack is the Director of Congregational Life at the UU Fellowship of Raleigh in Raleigh, NC. He is also a pastor in the Metropolitan Community Church, serving as the founder and director of 4LYFE, an ecumenical consulting ministry that works with communities of faith and connection to help them create safe and celebratory spaces for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. You can learn more about his life and work on www.believeoutloud.com and his own blog, mendingdrybones.com.