When I was 23, I worked for a school district in my hometown as a Teacher’s Assistant. I was pretty good at my job. My sister, who was 16, at the time, attended the same school district. I frequently took care of her. She was a troubled kid, which isn’t surprising, since over the previous 10 years, she had partly been raised by me. It was always easy for the school district to contact me when she caused problems in school, since they always knew where I was. One day, I was called to the Principal’s office at a grade school I was working at. They were informing me that, yet again, my sister needed me. My default thoughts were that she had stolen something, skipped school or yelled at a teacher. That’s why they usually called, anyway. I was wrong.
I rode my bike across town, a three mile ride, in a very short time, to get to my sister’s High School. She was sitting in the nurse’s office, arguing with the school’s Vice Principal. Her yells were full of emotion, she was sobbing and clutching her hand to her chest. “You’re not going to tell my parents!” Most of the time, she didn’t care what our parents heard about what she did. They were usually unable to do anything about it. Dad worked too much and mother was so ill by then that she barely did anything beyond self-care and, even then, she needed help for her dialysis. I had more control over my sister’s behavior than they did. So why did it matter if Mom and Dad knew that she’d been in another fight and why wasn’t she protesting them calling me? She hated when I showed up at her school for disciplinary problems. She viewed me as something of a parental figure and so she rebelled against me, too.
As it turns out, she wasn’t just in a fight, she’d been trapped and beaten up because someone saw her staring at another girl. My sister has always been bisexual, she’s known since puberty. Her sex life started when she was 14 and most of her partners were girls. I was aware of it from the beginning. She was terrified of our parents knowing. Their Mormon dogma condemned such things and she didn’t want to be seen as an abomination. Furthermore, my parents already pinned every other problem she had on sexual abuse, she didn’t need innate parts of herself blamed on the same thing. Thus, her sexuality was a secret that I helped her keep. That’s why, when I showed up at her school, she fell into my arms, sobbing, and asking me to tell them not to tell dad.
My role that day was to save her from something. Something that I had to protect her from for years. That moment, holding her in my arms and trying to calm her, helped define how I approached the world’s views on human sexuality. Over time, I became more and more aware of sexual diversity. I shed many of the ideas that I was raised with which dichotomized sexuality. I ignored the claims people made which demonized sexual variation. I learned that there are at least 100 different variations in human sexuality, most of which are linked to physical causes like chromosomal differences, hormone changes, hormonal environments during development and even medical conditions like androgen insensitivity. It was astonishing, to me, that the rest of the world wasn’t clued in on these things and it was horrifying that, because of the lack of knowledge, people were constantly getting hurt. More so than people like my sister, people who had more obvious sexual variations were being discriminated against and even killed.
If it was hard to console my sister for the wrong that was done to her, how hard would it be to face the loss of her at the hands of people with the same hatred as their motive? It is difficult to imagine that more hate could exist than what did that to her, but it does. While my sister isn’t transgender, it was her experience that led me on a path which brought my attention to troubles faced by sexual minorities, like the transgendered. The Transgender Day of Remembrance is devoted to transgender people who have died, many at the hands of hatred. It is a call to the World to raise awareness about the plight of transgender people. In mourning their loss, there is a hope that one can plant the seeds of social growth that may lead to change. There is opportunity, in this day, to teach people that transgender people, or anyone in the GBLT community, deserves to have a life free of hatred; to be treated as equal and just as worthy as anyone to have a normal life. This day is meant for the World to work toward a goal of a future where losing people to hate-driven violence is a sad echo of the past and not a modern danger.
I ask that you, valued reader, take a moment on November 20 to remember those who face discrimination due to their sexuality. Take a moment to remember those who have been killed at the hands of hatred as a result. Then, make an effort to raise awareness for others. Even if you’re just passing on a link to this page, or you make a comment to a friend, it is at least something. On November 20, remember, then take a step to make a difference. Thank you.
(The Transgender Day of Remembrance is acknowledged by EW-SWOP and SWOP as an important day to acknowledge in order to help work toward changing perspectives in human sexuality. As such, this message is written with that in mind and with the encouragement that those who support sex worker outreach and awareness also please support the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Thank you.)