Today, in hon­or of Inter­na­tion­al Trans­gen­der Day of Vis­i­bil­i­ty, we hear from S. Bear Bergman. Bergman is an author, sto­ry­teller, and edu­ca­tor work­ing to cre­ate pos­i­tive, cel­e­bra­to­ry rep­re­sen­ta­tions of trans lives. Recent or cur­rent projects include two fab­u­lous children’s sto­ry­books fea­tur­ing trans-iden­ti­fied kid char­ac­ters, a per­for­mance about lov­ing and liv­ing in a queer/​ed Jew­ish fam­i­ly titled Gath­er­ing Light, teach­ing plea­sure-pos­i­tive trans/​genderqueer sex ed, and his sixth book Blood, Mar­riage, Wine & Glit­ter (Arse­nal Pulp, 2013). He is blog­ging here today for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

For a while, just as Trans­gen­der Day of Remem­brance was get­ting estab­lished as an obser­vance, a com­pet­ing move­ment emerged. That com­pet­ing move­ment, well-inten­tioned but wrong-head­ed, had the fol­low­ing idea: 

Trans Day of Remem­brance is a sad and depress­ing sit­u­a­tion. We mope around mourn­ing our mur­dered com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and if that’s our only pub­lic obser­vance it makes non-trans peo­ple think that trans­gen­der lives are only and ever nasty, brutish, and short. Instead, let’s take the day and make it cel­e­bra­to­ry! We’ll have a dance and a film screen­ing and maybe a sexy party!”

Com­mu­ni­ties bat­tled over this, and the source of the bat­tle was people’s feel­ing that mourn­ing and cel­e­bra­tion were oppo­site to one anoth­er. With some time to reflect, I have been able to under­stand that this is a way that my Jew­ish val­ues inform and infuse my under­stand­ing of the world so com­plete­ly that some­times it takes a while for me to notice why I don’t quite grasp some piece of main­stream, Chris­t­ian-inflect­ed, thinking.

Com­ing from a tra­di­tion in which the prayer we say for dead peo­ple men­tions exact­ly noth­ing about death but has to be said every day for a year, and whose mourn­ing rit­u­als involve both pro­found self-abne­ga­tion and con­stant food and fam­i­ly, it’s no won­der I might be slow to under­stand. Jew­ish mourn­ing is com­plex and com­mu­nal; it invites us into a long con­tem­pla­tion of the dead per­son and their place in the world, now emptied.

For the record, I stand philo­soph­i­cal­ly with those who want­ed Trans Day of Remem­brance to remain a sep­a­rate obser­vance, in Novem­ber. I sup­port­ed the cre­ation of a sep­a­rate day to cel­e­brate the lives and achieve­ments of trans­gen­der and trans­sex­u­al peo­ple: Inter­na­tion­al Trans­gen­der Day of Vis­i­bil­i­ty, in March. I don’t think TDOR is a good day for a drag ball or a cross-cam­pus kick­line. It’s a day to remem­ber who we’ve lost: most­ly trans women, and of those most­ly trans women of colour, who have been bru­tal­ly mur­dered because some­one heard some­thing or saw some­thing that out­ed her as trans. But since we don’t usu­al­ly know the peo­ple we’re mourn­ing – nev­er all of them and usu­al­ly not more than one of them – it becomes dif­fi­cult to cel­e­brate. We don’t have a sense of what space they’ve left behind; we can’t cel­e­brate the dead. All we can do is add glit­ter and attempt to look cheerful.

When my Grand­pa died, we sat shi­va for him. I was griev­ing and behaved like griev­ing peo­ple tend to: mer­cu­r­ial and slight­ly irra­tional. I wasn’t hun­gry at all until I was rav­en­ous, I was cry­ing except when I was feel­ing so grate­ful to be with my fam­i­ly and friends. I heard new sto­ries about him and told sto­ries that were new to oth­er peo­ple; I gorged myself on bagels and lox on the back deck with my broth­er well past dark after not hav­ing eat­en all day. I accept­ed and wore the cuf­flinks of his that grand­moth­er gave me, and wore them with sat­is­fac­tion, and rubbed my thumb over them repeat­ed­ly as I tried not to cry. I held hands with my grand­moth­er a lot, and tried to cheer her up enough to get her to eat a lit­tle. We talked about the recent­ly-dead, and how he would have felt about each food or per­son or cir­cum­stance, prac­tic­ing our past tens­es and tak­ing a lot of deep breaths. 

By the end of the week, we were all doing a lit­tle bet­ter. I had told all my favorite sto­ries about him (should we meet in per­son, ask me about my Grand­pa and the kip­pers a week before D‑Day) and missed him both less and more. I had mourned and cel­e­brat­ed, both.

In my most recent book, Blood, Mar­riage, Wine & Glit­ter, there’s a chap­ter about Chanukah and Trans­gen­der Day of Remem­brance, about resis­tance and sad­ness and joy. Since writ­ing the book, I have start­ed to under­stand both why and how both obser­vances are more com­pli­cat­ed than a dichoto­my of this is the hap­py trans obser­vance” and this is the sad trans obser­vance,” even though that’s how they’re sold to the pub­lic. In fact, Remem­brance must include not just the fact that our sis­ters and broth­ers are dead but who they were, what they wished and loved and made, what they left behind and how we are enriched by it. And Vis­i­bil­i­ty must include who is dead and why, and who will miss them and how we are respon­si­ble to those peo­ple they’ve left behind. 

All of these sto­ries are com­pli­cat­ed; our obser­vances must be com­pli­cat­ed to be appro­pri­ate and rel­e­vant to our work. Oth­er­wise, we’re stuck in a happy/​sad dichoto­my that serves noth­ing. This year, on Inter­na­tion­al Trans­gen­der Day of Vis­i­bil­i­ty we have much to cel­e­brate: the emer­gence of Janet Mock and Lav­erne Cox as role mod­els in the nation­al scene, suc­cess­ful court cas­es in sev­er­al US states and Cana­di­an provinces that give young peo­ple the right to par­tic­i­pate in activ­i­ties in their iden­ti­fied gen­der, new artis­tic work by writ­ers and artists from across the gen­der spec­trum and beyond its reach, and much more. And we also have things to mourn, rang­ing from leg­isla­tive defeats to com­mu­ni­ty sui­cides. There has to be room for all of them.

Today, for Inter­na­tion­al Trans­gen­der Day of Vis­i­bil­i­ty, I am hap­py to be out as a queer, trans­sex­u­al Jew, as a hus­band and father and daugh­ter, as a per­son who is work­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ly to increase under­stand­ing and aware­ness about trans­gen­der issues and hopes some­day to do him­self right out of a job. If you’re able, join me in observ­ing ITDV by seek­ing out the cul­tur­al or artis­tic work of trans-iden­ti­fied peo­ple where you live — and mak­ing a note, in Novem­ber, to say the names of our trans­gen­der dead aloud in shul dur­ing the week of Trans­gen­der Day or Remem­brance. It may be that we can sep­a­rate our cel­e­bra­tion from our mourn­ing, but I don’t believe we should.

Read more about S. Bear Bergman here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: Jew­ish GLBT Read­ing List

S. Bear Bergman is an author, sto­ry­teller, edu­ca­tor and the founder and pub­lish­er of children’s book pub­lish­er Flamin­go Ram­pant, which makes fem­i­nist, cul­tur­al­ly-diverse children’s pic­ture books cel­e­brat­ing LGBT2Q+ kids and fam­i­lies. He writes cre­ative non-fic­tion for grown ups, fic­tion for chil­dren, the advice col­umn Ask­ing Bear, and was the co-edi­tor (along with Kate Born­stein) of Gen­der Out­laws: The Next Gen­er­a­tion. These days he spends most of his time mak­ing trans cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy inter­ven­tions any way he can and try­ing to avoid step­ping on Lego.