“Taja DeJesus was a friend of mine—not the kind of friend to justify how central she feels in my brain right now, but close enough that if I close my eyes I can imagine her voice in my head, a kind of frantic laugh, and words tumbling out so fast that the emotion translated way before context. We didn’t have much in common. She was often homeless and extremely religious; on Facebook she sent me a message saying, “Cyd, I honor you, my angelic brother,” and photos of pages from the Bible. At the time I laughed about it but didn’t reply. I work 40 hours a week on top of running a porn company; even my tarot cards are dusty. I’m white-skinned and a trans man who has access to a lot of choices in my life. She was a Latina trans woman with very few.
Two hours after I heard Taja was murdered in San Francisco there was an emergency meeting to respond publicly. The room was filled with people, many of whom knew Taja, some of whom didn’t but understood the death of a trans woman as a political situation. Almost everyone was trans, most were people of color. In the conversation that happened there was a tension that existed even sometimes within the same individuals, of wanting to spell out the specifics and deconstruct the situation vs. the pain of speaking—of transitioning from saying is to was.
That people were able to shift a conversation from tears to a negotiation of asks was a testament of how many times they’d done this task before. The sharp discomfort I felt in trying to find something constructive in a moment of grief was based on the relative privilege I own in not having had most of the people who’ve died in my life been so directly linked to governmental neglect.
Over a weekend and a day, a coalition organized out a three and a half hour political funeral on the steps of City Hall and inside the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ meeting. Over 400 people witnessed trans women of color speaking about what it was like to live with constant barriers in their way—to employment, housing, healthy relationships, familial support, documentation, immigration, walking home without fear of harassment escalating into physical violence from passersby or police. A young woman, Vanessa Warri, told the audience that she fully expected that her name would be on the list of dead women one day.
Since writing this essay in mid-February, I have updated it twice to include more names. Last week a young trans girl took her own life. I had met her in December at a political rally. She spoke to the gathered crowd about how trapped she felt in an unfriendly world, about the painful decisions she’d made because there was no other choice. In a picture taken of her on that day, her hand-scrawled sign reads: “My Parents Call Me Filth. Am I not Human Too?”
It feels like too much, too much grief shared by too few. I start to feel paralyzed and panicky. At the clinic where I work, I talk to trans women every day who struggle to get their basic needs met, and now it feels overwhelming, like if I can’t find one person housing or help another person work through feeling alone, then next week may be too late. I know this feeling is unhelpful, even though I have to honor it as real. The trans women in my life feel anxiety waking up, waiting to discover who will be the next gone.
Are you sad? I hope so. Are you angry? You need to be. We need you to share this work.”
Read the rest of my piece in The Rumpus HERE