It's All Connected

Austen HartkeComment
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
— Lilla Watson & Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s.

Today is February eighth--just barely into the second month of the year--and we've already learned of the murder of two transgender people here in the United States in 2016. It's almost certain that there have been more, since trans people are often misidentified after death, and are therefore not reported accurately. And in the grand scheme of things, when Brazil has now reported over 48 murders of transgender people in this new year, maybe two people in the United States doesn't seem like much. But these two people were individuals--irreplaceable, unique, with lives and dreams and histories all their own. 

Monica Loera was a Latina woman living in Texas, who loved Beyonce, Madonna, and the Dallas Cowboys. It was discovered, after her death, that she had never changed her legal name or gender marker, which led authorities to report her death under the wrong name and pronouns, despite her obviously female gender expression. (Other trans women from Austin, TX have spoken out since Monica's death, giving voice to the fact that, without disposable income and paid leave, it's almost impossible to change those legal documents.) It has also been reported by Monica's roommate that she was engaged in sex work in the area, and that the man who shot and killed her on her own doorstep was probably a client. 

When I look at this story through a wider lens, this is what I see: a transgender woman of color, marginalized by her identity in at least three different ways, who couldn't afford to update her legal documents and was likely struggling to make ends meet--and who was probably forced into sex work because of those circumstances--was shot with a gun by a white man. I see issues of race, class, transphobia, lack of protection for sex workers, and gun violence.

When I learned about the murder of Kayden Clarke by police in Arizona, I cried. Kayden loved dogs, and had a service dog of his own named Samson, who often helped him as he volunteered at HALO, his local animal rescue. Kayden lived with Asperger's syndrome, a kind of autism, and he reported in a frustrated Youtube video in January that his doctor refused to refer him to a gender specialist for hormone treatment until his Asperger's was "fixed," causing Kayden incredible distress. On February fourth, police were called to his home by a friend who was worried he might try to hurt himself. Upon finding Kayden with a kitchen knife, two police officers shot him.

Again, seeing Kayden's story laid out in news clippings makes it easier to see the social issues involved--the state of mental healthcare, access to medical care for trans people, underlying transphobia, and police brutality and use of force.

It's important to note the ways that these issues intersect in the lives and deaths of Monica and Kayden, because our own lives are wrapped up in these same struggles. When we talk about how Black Lives Matter, we talk about the way individual and institutional white supremacy has given one group of people the literal power of life and death over another group. Monica Loera was not black, but she was killed by a white man with a gun, the way so many other people of color have been killed. And when we talk about police training and the increasing militarization of law enforcement, we might remember the way police shot Kayden Clarke without first attempting to use any other means of deescalation. 

I may not know what it's like to be forced into sex work just to pay rent and buy groceries, but I do know the desperation of falling asleep at night wondering if I'll ever get a job, because my legal name and my gender expression didn't match at the interview. Who knows what I might have had to do if I hadn't had a loving family as my safety net. And I may not know what it's like to live on the autism spectrum, but I too had to deal with health professionals who wanted to see an improvement in my anxiety disorder before they would proscribe me the hormones that allowed me to live life as myself.

The point here is that we cannot be single issue activists. Those of us who are trans can not only fight for trans rights while ignoring the rights of people of color, or people with disabilities, or people who have been incarcerated, or people who live in poverty. Those of us who are not trans, but who deal with mental health issues, or the effects of sexism or racism, or who worry about the state of gun control in our country, cannot be blind to trans issues. These issues ARE our issues. And we cannot fight for justice simply because we think we should, or because we feel like we're called to help those who are "less fortunate." We must fight because we realize that we are all bound up together. Because we realize that none of us are free until we're all free.

We must fight because there will never be another Monica in the world, and there will never be another Kayden. We must remember the dead, and fight like hell for the living.