We Need to Care About Trans Lives, Not Just Trans Deaths
This year, Wriply Bennet felt like she was always mourning in a church or attending a vigil with her transgender sisters. August brought a murder a week. So when the self-taught painter and illustrator was invited to participate in an art project celebrating trans lives across the country, she agreed.
“It’s important that we have a voice. I think that it’s time for the media to stop reporting our stories for us and for us to be in control of our stories. I think it’s time for the media to know that trans women, at least 23 or 24 trans women of color, were murdered this year. You know, when I tell people that, no one knows?” Bennet says in an interview with Care2. “They’re like, ‘I didn’t even know that was happening. I can’t believe that. Why wasn’t it reported?’ And I’m like, ‘It was reported. It just wasn’t reported in media you follow.’ They don’t understand this is happening all over America.”
Contrary to most coverage, trans lives are more than the buzz around Caitlyn Jenner or the violence and discrimination people perpetrate on them. Even today, when we remember those murdered during this Transgender Day of Remembrance, the vitality of the surviving transgender population shines through.
Oakland, California’s Micah Bazant hoped to harness that power by co-founding the Trans Day of Resilience, which brings together transgender and gender non-conforming artists with groups nationwide doing trans justice advocacy.
“We all know just as humans we need to grieve; we need to feel what’s painful. And we also need to do things that will sustain us. If we’re always just angry, then we crash,” says Bazant, who uses the pronoun “they.” “We also need to celebrate how fabulous we are, and we are so fabulous. We need to lift up our resilience and we need to heal…”
“This is really a visionary project. And I think that a lot of the artists involved in the project don’t identify just as men or women. We have more complicated gender identities, including myself, and because of that I think that we’re especially good at imagining possibilities that we’re told shouldn’t exist.”
They continue to say that the project focuses on lifting up women of color’s leadership in particular. Because they experience the overlap of racism, sexism and transphobia, they know best about how they can dismantle those systems.
“I lived unapologetically and I was a very visible trans person. I still am,” says Bennet, an Ohio native and woman of color herself. As an artist, she chose to work with prominent Black Lives Matter and trans activist Elle Hearns for the Day of Resilience. A lot of Bennet’s work actually centers around Hearns and India Clarke, a 25-year-old murdered this summer in Florida.
“I want to start a campaign around [the theme] ‘She could’ve been me,’” Bennet explains. “It could be all of the trans girls that we’ve lost paired with an activist who’s doing the work of who’s directly affected by their loss.”
She picked Clarke because she captured Hearns’ essence. She hopes that her art can open up conversation about the dangers all trans women face.
“Because when you’re reading her story and you’re hearing about the way she was lost, who took her life,” Bennet says, “We deal with these people every day. That could’ve been some stranger who I ran into on the bus, or that could’ve been my friend that I was arguing with [who killed me.]”
Another activist artists are featuring is Jennicet Gutierrez. The undocumented Latina activist interrupted President Obama during a speech this summer to demand an end to the deportation and detainment of LGBT people. Her voice inspired the government to release new detainment guidelines for transgender immigrants a week later.
“There is no pride in how LGBTQ immigrants are treated in this country,”writes Gutierrez in the Washington Blade, “and there can be no celebration with an administration that has the ability to keep us detained and in danger or release us to freedom.”
“The ideal world would be a world that’s fair and just to all. That I wouldn’t have to disclose every single thing about me and my gender persona to get a grasp of who I am. And I wouldn’t have to worry about catching the bus to work or to home, and somebody following me. That I wouldn’t fear attacks from people I don’t know, potentially people that I do know,” says Bennet.”The Day of Resilience isn’t just a day; it’s about making this a year of resilience.”
If you want to participate in the Day of Resilience, visit the campaign’s website for a schedule of events near you and share the images and conversations it inspires.
Photo Credit: B. Parker via Trans Day of Resiliance