THIS is a guest post from Sarah Hobbs, Co-Chair of the Open Table Network (OTN), written for a vigil for this year’s Trans Day Of Remembrance, which falls on 20th November each year.
This article shows why we need to commemorate TDOR. It gives a glimpse of some of the circumstances in which trans people have died because of anti-trans prejudice and violence this year. It mentions the figure of 350. By the time we put together our vigil the number of reports of deaths between 1st October 2019 and 30th September 2020 had risen to 387 from 35 countries. The video commemorating these names is here on YouTube (10 minutes). By the time the official list was completed, the final figure had risen to 432.
Here is Sarah’s reflection:
Every year, Trans Day of Remembrance is a painful day. As I watch the names roll by, one by one, I mourn. Not just because of the loss of life – although that is both sad and outrageous. Sad because the people around them have been robbed of their life and their presence, but outrageous because so few people who could do something about it, seem to care. Year on year, it feels like trans people’s lives matter less. For all of the countries where acceptance thrives, there are sadly many more where acceptance narrows and shrivels. 432 lives around the world testify to that sad truth. Many of the people who end those lives will never be found or prosecuted for their despicable crimes. But more than that, the saddest thing is the loss of potential.
Each of those people were creative life forces, full of talent and hope. All of them imbued with possibility and all of them, given the chance to release that potential, would have had a knock-on effect that would have changed the world.
We are very familiar with R numbers these days. Too familiar. We know to our cost that if an R number is even 0.1% above 1, the infection grows. As the R number augments, so does its impact. Imagine those 432 people, still in the world now. Imagine those names, imagine those beautiful faces, those amazing souls. Imagine if their potential had been released.
I have the chance, very regularly, to tell my story. I know that every time I do, there are people who change their minds about trans people. Over the course of the last three and a bit years since I transitioned, I have influenced thousands people to think differently about trans people. Imagine 432 additional people in the world with even a conservative R number of ten per year. In three and a bit years over half a million people would have been positively impacted by them alone. Not to mention all of the other amazing skills and the incredible love they would bring to the world. Their loss is not just a sadness, it’s not just a waste for this year, and next year we move onto another list of people and mourn them. In their lifetimes, imagine the millions upon millions their lives alone would have touched. That is the true cost of TDoR this year.
But what of our potential as Christians? We have so much potential, partly because we are amazing human beings with huge amounts that we can contribute, but also because God adds rocket fuel to our potential. We are not acting in our own strength. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 20, that because of God’s power working in us, He is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or even more than that, that we could ever possibly imagine. And I don’t know about you, but in the words of the great philosopher Han Solo, when Luke Skywalker offers him unimaginable wealth says, ‘I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit’. Me too!
What is the point of helping someone release their potential? I think for us, it is so that our lives can influence the world around us. The metaphor for that influence is provided by Jesus for us in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5, verses 13 and 14. Verse 13 tells us that we are the salt of the earth and verse 14 tells us that we are the light of the world.
These images elevate our position and help us to understand how important our influence is and what happens when our potential is cut short – either because someone else cuts it or we do. But both of those images come with a care label. What if the salt loses its saltiness? What if the light is hidden under a bowl? In the case of salt, it’s no longer good for anything. In the same way, the absence of light brings darkness. But despite this amazing opportunity to use my potential to highlight Jesus, the King of Kings, sometimes I really don’t feel like it. Sometimes I want to hide my light away. And why?
Because it is scary to provide salt and light. If, as a trans person, you ever want a reason to explain why being out and proud is sometimes terrifying, today is all the answer you need. People attack and kill some trans people just for living their lives. In the UK, for most of us, that probably won’t mean being killed, the numbers are much lower here. But for many, it means judgement, unkindness and ostracisation, sometimes even from the people we love, let alone strangers. It can mean the indignity of being shouted at in the street, of double looks and of people misgendering you – even when you are in a dress and make-up. There is lots of support too, but for many, the negative noise drowns out the positive. When I decided to transition, I was afraid. I knew that it would mean the end of a long and happy relationship, and I feared it would mean losing my kids and my employment. I feared the loss of many friends. Maybe we can be forgiven for feeling afraid to be salt and light.
Because we don’t realise the power of our own voices. I realised I was trans when I was six. I didn’t know that’s what I was, but I knew I was deeply uncomfortable with being considered male, and that I should never tell anyone that this is how I feel. I figured that they would never ever understand. That message became the tape that played in my mind for years afterwards, reinforced over and over again, to the point where I began to think about every word I would say in case my secret was revealed. I began to believe that who I was was shameful, that I should be embarrassed about myself, and that telling others just infected them with my shame. Of course, no-one should listen to me. I’m sinful and they should never help me and I should never be a stumbling block to them. I thought that asking other Christians to support me meant forcing them into sin too. My own internal transphobia tape disabled my ability to speak out. And even now, I have to push myself hard to speak up and to use my voice.
Because it is not just reinforced by my brain, but by the church too. Many of the trans folk you know will have faced even harder opposition for trying to bring salt into the house of God. For years, every time I told anyone about my gender issues in the church, the response was to help me rid myself of this blight. And if I’m honest, as part of the church, I agreed with them because I had been taught the same. My trans-ness was never ever celebrated, and it was certainly never a part of me that belonged. If you know you are not welcome, it takes a strong person to push their way in anyway. Why would you let this light shine out if it is not wanted?
But despite that, I am still here today, and you are still listening. Naïve perhaps? But we all still hope for change, we hope that things can get better. I think of the 432+ people cheering me on, urging me to make a difference. But where do I start? In the last three years I have learned a lot. The biggest realisation is that I have the most powerful weapon already in my hands. To quote John in the book of Revelation, Chapter 12, verse 11, I can triumph, in part, by the word of my testimony. The power of a story is unfathomable. Our stories are the salt that seasons. Sharing our experiences with people brings authenticity – how we met Jesus, how he has impacted our lives and, more important for me, that he loves me so much as Sarah and that who I am is not an issue to him. That last one took a mammoth effort to break through. But more than that, that our stories are the light that shines. As we display our stories, those of grace and of the love of a heavenly parent, He is glorified. Light spills out – it doesn’t just light us up, it lights the path for other people trying to find their way too. Our stories impact so many people around us.
Some people listening today may not feel ready to tell their story. Their light is just a sliver. Don’t feel guilty about that. My favourite verse in the world is 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse13: ‘No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.’ So, start small. Tell your story to one person you trust. God honours faithfulness and can grow the mustard seed of your faith into a magnificent plant. Let your life’s success be the memorial to the people we remember today. Let God take a little bit of potential and do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Let’s live our lives for those who couldn’t live theirs.