Columbus Trans Day of Remembrance brings visibility, restores humanity to those taken
This year’s event will take place on Saturday with an in-person ceremony at King Avenue United Methodist Church and an accompanying livestream
Felicia DeRosa is blessed with an excess of spoons.
DeRosa, an artist, teacher and activist, learned this terminology from her students, the idea being that a person only has a certain number of “spoons” to navigate the stresses of the day.
“So let's say it takes me 10 spoons to get ready, get out of the house and drive to work. And it takes me five spoons to do my job for the day. And then another four to deal with rush hour traffic and get home,” DeRosa said. “And, oh, I have to go to some event where I’m going to be around a lot of strangers in a small space, and that’s going to take five spoons for me. And at the end of the day, [someone asks], ‘Oh, are you free to do this thing?’ And it’s like, ‘You know what, I’m out of spoons right now. Let me get back to you later.’ It’s this idea that we have a finite amount of spoons, and when you feel like you can’t take anymore, whether you don’t have the energy or you’re emotionally drained, whatever it is, your response is, ‘I’m out of spoons,’ and that’s saying you need time for self-care.”
The importance of knowing when to step back has become increasingly important amid an ongoing pandemic, where internal stresses are already running high for most folks, DeRosa said, which is why she shouldered more of the logistics involved with this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance, which takes place on Saturday, Nov. 20.
"When it came time to plan this year's event, it was a little more of a challenge because people are spent," she said, pointing not only to the pandemic but the exhaustion brought about by the 18-month push for social justice sparked by the resurgent Black lives matter movement. "So it was like, if you can come speak, if you can come [perform] music, we'll handle the rest. ... I wanted to help serve my community."
The event, which begins at 6 p.m., will be held in-person at King Avenue United Methodist Church, as well as online, with a livestream accessible via both the T Talks Facebook page and the Columbus Trans Pride page. (DeRosa is part of the five- or six-person team involved with both groups that helped coordinate the day.)
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DeRosa said the ceremony is both solemn (it originated as a way to memorialize the trans lives taken by violence and centers on a reading of the names of the dead) and uplifting, with organizers structuring events so as to not send attendees tear-streaked into the streets. “We try to find that balance where people finish feeling hopeful, I guess is the word, and perhaps a little inspired,” DeRosa said. “As hard as things are, we’re still making progress, and if we stick together and weather this storm, we can make it to a better day where we won’t have to gather and mourn the members of our community.”
For DeRosa, the importance of Trans Day of Remembrance is rooted, in part, in visibility, which she traced to the history of the movement for queer social justice.
“The original Stonewall riot was sparked by trans people, and it was a situation where the trans community looks at it now as like, we started the ball rolling, and the rest of the community said, ‘OK, we got this. We’ll come back for you later.’ And they never did. And we were left behind,” DeRosa said. “So in the last 20 years or so, the trans community has started making a stronger effort to be more visible, to come out of the shadows.
"Trans Day of Remembrance is important to me because it affirms our visibility, and it draws attention to the fact that people are constantly trying to erase us in one way or another. State and federal agencies try to erase us politically, by [restricting] our rights or not granting us access to medical care. And then you have people who claim to be of a religious background who basically weaponize religion and use it as a tool to prevent trans people from being able to participate in society, where we get thrown out of our homes and certain spiritual places, or barred from certain jobs. We’re not even allowed to use the restroom that makes sense for us. And it’s all of these things we’re fighting against.”
While DeRosa was not tasked with collecting the names of the dead this year, she’s been involved in the task numerous times in the seven years that she’s helped organize the event, which can be a traumatic experience, particularly in reading the details related to each case. One such murder described by DeRosa veered into mutilation, with the killer not just ending a life but “attempting to completely obliterate this person from the face of the Earth.”
In reading the names of those taken, many of whom are trans women of color, DeRosa said each is able to reestablish a presence, and to reclaim a degree of who they were in life.
“Because what happens with a lot of trans people who get murdered is that they get dead-named and misgendered posthumously, and you might not even know a trans person has been killed if their family decides after they’re dead that they’re not going to honor their chosen identity or their chosen name,” DeRosa said. “And so we try to give them a voice, so that they’re not erased entirely. We try to say, ‘This is who this person was,’ and restore their humanity so that they’re not seen as a statistic. Because if people see us as an abstract, as a statistic, then why are they going to care about our issues?”
DeRosa said there are times when she wishes she didn’t have to be out in front these issues — “All I'm looking to do is to be able to be left alone enough to live the life that that makes sense to me, whatever that is,” she said — but at the same time she owes a debt to the child she once was, who grew up feeling alone and neglected.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t have a queer community I didn’t have a trans community. I didn’t know anyone who was struggling with the things I was struggling with. I thought I was the only one, and that took me to some dark places in my life,” DeRosa said. “So because I experienced that, I wanted to become the type of person who could help be part of the change for the better, to leave the world a little bit better than how it was when I came into it.”
DeRosa can’t do it alone, though, and she said it was incumbent not on the queer community, but also on allies to stand up and refuse to be silent in order to help bring about the needed change.
“Our allies need to show up, roll up their sleeves and do the work in spaces where we’re not allowed. And then in other cases, they need to open the door and then yield the floor and let us represent ourselves,” DeRosa said. “And then for me and the other folks that I run with, we’ve decided that the work needs to get done, and if there isn’t anyone else available to do it then we’ve got you.”