What makes a person strong? Are we conditioned in the struggles we pursue or those we are tested with? Is strength bestowed upon us by fate, or through self-perseverance? If so, or even if not, then who do we grant to be the protagonists of the world? Do you need to be the great Achilles, slaying Hector in the name of his beloved Patroclus or fight an evil fire breathing dragon to be declared the valiant hero on the world's stage? If so, are people born into strength? Not the strength displayed in strongmen shows underneath a vibrant big top, but instead, the grit seen in the most vulnerable people within our society. This story begins at an unknown time, one that reaches past any human ability to remember, because no historian can pinpoint the origin of hate. This story is about the trans community, which has a long and complicated history. Maybe it is best to begin this year.
This begins on the very first day of our new year in a taxi cab, its driver, 25-year-old Dustin Parker, is shot dead in MacAlester, Oklahoma. February 24th, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz is shot dead in Tao Baja, Puerto Rico. On March 5th, Yampi Mendez Arocho is found dead five hours after an initial assault. Two weeks later, Monika Diamond is killed in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on that day North Carolina lost an active community member. Twenty-eight more names follow on the list of fatal attacks against transgender and gender non-conforming induviduals in 2020 provided by the Human Rights Campaign’s website.
Consider this an open letter in honor of the many lives lost to the hands of hate. The history of documented hate crimes against transgendered individuals is very fleeting in the United States, the first person to be charged with a hate crime against a trans person was Joshua Vallum for the murder of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson in 2017; establishing an incredibly green history of transgender justice and protections. It is simpler to say; we have not done enough.
As a country, we have not only killed many of our own citizens for the crime of being transgender, but we have done the same across seas. In 2015, Scott Pemberton, a United States marine, drowned a Filipina trans woman, Jessica Laude in a hotel bathroom. He was subsequently sentenced to a minimum of 6 years in prison. 6 years was the price of Jessica Laude’s life, and not only was his sentence significantly reduced using the 'trans panic' defense. The trans panic defense is most commonly used to lighten or pardon the perpetrators of murders and assaults against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals under the excuse that their queerness sent the perpetrator into a "manic state of panic" after being presented in a romantic or sexual connotation. Earlier this year, Pemberton was pardoned by the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, ending his sentence, and making an unsaid but proud statement to the world: Jessica Laude’s life did not matter because she was transgender.
Ultimately, the price of Jessica Laude’s life was 5 years in prison. Transgender and gender non-conforming people have infamously been the targets of brutality and humiliation. You see it in comedy movies, late-night TV, on Facebook, Instagram when you watch “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'' with your family: no matter what, transphobia is everywhere in our society. So, it’s now ample time to address the elephant in the living room, the movie set, and the halls of Congress: transphobia.
The United States Supreme Court made a recent ruling that removed transgender health and worker protections, which means “The rule no longer protects gender identity as a form of sex discrimination in health care settings,” allowing transgender and gender non-conforming people to be openly discriminated against in healthcare settings. An open attack on the natural rights of transgendered individuals, one that directly infringes on an American's most coveted values; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This line of hurdles that trans people constantly need to jump over is what compels an essential belief that should be bestowed upon you as the reader. The trans community imbues a kind of strength and grit because the trans community has not only had a life of struggle bestowed upon them, but the community takes that struggle in stride.
While 2020 was an atrocious year for the trans community's rights, there has been massive steps forward as well. As the first community housing for black trans people opened in Woodhaven, NY, and the 2020 election resulted in the most transgender individuals in our legislature in history, this includes the first transgender senator, Sarah McBride, representing Delaware, and Mauree Turner becoming the first non-binary person to ever be elected to the legislature. As a community, people are working day and night to remove the hurdles that have made the community trip, and fall, and suffer for an insurmountable measure of time. The queer community owes more to the transgender subsection of their community, as a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson, threw the first brick at the Stonewall Inn, and even then, she was found dead in the Hudson River after a pride parade in 1992, her cause of death never fully identified.
So, no, you do not need to slay a dragon or avenge your dead lover to be declared the protagonist, you just need to have the audacity to be transgender.