Dallas mayor, council issue proclamation honoring trans, nonbinary community; but it has taken us a long time to get to where we are, and we have a long way to go

Today, the citizens of Dallas have another reason to be proud of their city’s leadership: They have demonstrated their support and appreciation of this town’s transgender and nonbinary citizens.

Mayor Eric Johnson and members of the Dallas City Council designated today (Monday, May 18) as the Dallas Transgender Day of Visibility in a signed proclamation.

This is in sharp contrast to where we were at his time last year. May 18 was as Trans Visibility Day to mark an incredibly sad occasion; one year ago today, Muhlaysia Booker became another victim in a string of murders targeting black, trans women around this country. The city reacted in shock, horrified by the idea that a lone individual might be targeting these women. Even more disturbing was the idea that these women were so loathed that that it had, somehow, become “open season” on these women.

Muhlaysia Booker’s murder also exposed the lack of any involvement with these women by the rest of the Dallas community. To the public, these trans women were invisible, save for the instances when other citizens witnessed them involved in sex work (prostitution can sometimes be the only means for trans women to earn money to cover even their most basic needs, due to the discrimination they face in the workplace). And they are often pariahs in the mainstream African-American community.

Often, these women don’t frequent LGBTQ-identified spaces like the Oak Lawn gayborhood. They are not employed by queer-owned businesses. This “open” community doesn’t go out of its way to make them feel like they belong. Their marginalized class standing, blended with the subtle racism and transphobia rampant in Dallas queer culture, often leaves them held at a distance.

They are far too often seen as having no value and so are easily dismissed by the rest of us.

But the murders last year in Dallas and in Houston — which began with Muhlaysia Booker on May 18, then continued less than a month later with the June 1 murder of Chynal Lindsey in Dallas, the July 30 murder of Tracy Single in Houston and the Sept. 20 murder of Itali Marlowe in Houston — and near fatal attacks on two other trans women of color in Dallas were a wake-up call for everyone involved in the pursuit of social justice.

So many of us have expanded our concerns beyond just the issues most immediate to ourselves and our personal communities; we share a broader, more all-encompassing goal. But even still, these women — their lives and their safety — have gone unaddressed on our watch.

If I can fully own my inability to see past my class distinction, which has allowed me to racially dismiss the value of these women’s lives, I can begin to, at the very least, no longer contribute to the injustice against them. And at best, I can make it my responsibility to share with them the gains the rest of the LGBTQ community has made.

My mother taught me to always hold a door open for a lady. My activism taught me to always hold a door open for everyone. We cannot make progress as a whole until we acknowledge our failure to work for progress for all of us.

And we cannot dismiss the past. We must be accountable. These women deserve that much. But we have to remember that we cannot speak for them. We must instead use our resources to empower them to speak for themselves and to define their own lives and their own needs.

The rest of us need to recognize how desperately we need what the trans/nonbinary members of our community offer. This generation of trans people, both old and young, are effectively dismantling the standard notions of gender identity. We are witnessing a new era where people can define what masculinity and femininity means to themselves.

But the irony does not escape me that, 50 years after this movement began with transgender individuals fighting back at the Stonewall Inn, trans people are finally achieving recognition. Their gender questioning is the next wave of our struggle.

Cisgender gay men have been getting the lion’s share of attention in our fight over the last 50 years to convince the mainstream world that our lives have the same value as theirs. In so doing, we adopted a hyper-masculine image of what gay men should be like. We repressed any semblance of femininity in ourselves. We internalized the taunts of disapproving parents and schoolyard bullies. We became our own enemy.

Masculine women have also been devalued. They are both mocked and eroticized within their own community. Even today, they are brutalized by the world outside.

This is the first time in modern history that masses of people live openly gay lives. The generation before us lived in secrecy. I have a newly-found respect for that choice. They created a place where people like us could survive in this world. That was their important contribution.

The generation coming up now may view cis gays, lesbians and bisexuals in similar fashion. We are stuck in our gender roles. We presented ourselves in a manner we thought others would respect. We made choices that allowed us to survive, but we gave up parts of ourselves along the way.

Younger people are benefitting from our ability to fit into the mainstream. By living openly gay and lesbian lives, we helped them to expand on their ideas about who they could be. We were good fairy-godparents, even though our occasional straining to stay within our cis gender roles and our “butch-it-up-gurl” gibes at one another cause the eyes of a younger generation to roll back far in their heads frequently.

The trans/nonbinary community, along with the general population of younger adults, have moved way ahead of us in the dialogue around gender. I have chosen to listen up. It is in that conversation that we can finally glimpse the future of this queer world, built by all of us.

Today is a good day, with the Dallas city government having recognized these marginalized trans women of color and having committed resources to keep them safe and treat them equally. Today is a good day; but we can make tomorrow better.