Diamond Stephens had an “incredible personality.” Cathalina Christina Jones had a presence that was “big and bold” in her love for dance and travel. Sasha Garden was a “firecracker,” Shantee Tucker had a “beautiful spirit and fun aura,” and Londonn Moore “made everyone laugh all the time.” Viccky Gutierrez’s “warm smile would give anyone comfort.”
Those named above, described by grieving loved ones, are but a few of the 22 transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States which the Human Rights Campaign reports have been killed in confirmed hate crimes this year.
As we mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) today, we remember these victims and the hundreds of other trans people who suffer lethal violence worldwide. But memorializing is not enough. We must let their “dangerous memories” speak loudly, and by doing so be orient us towards a world where trans equality is our reality.
The concept of “dangerous memories” was first proposed in relation to Jesus by the German theologian Johann Baptist Metz, who found Christian theology inadequate after witnessing the Holocaust. Metz firmly rejected claims that “history is written by the victors,” arguing instead that history is defined by the “dangerous memories” of history’s victims. Cultivated within oppressed communities, these memories are subversive and liberating. Communities remember the suffering they experienced by recalling these dangerous memories, and they do this by remembering within a framework of creativity and opportunity which affirms that a new reality beyond death is possible. Dangerous memories are sparks for the fires of justice to move forward (For an introductory explainer on “dangerous memories” , click here for a post from Daily Theology.)
The murders of Diamond, Cathalina, and of so many trans people are dangerous memories that we recall today with candlelit vigils and prayer services. So, too, are their lives. Like the dangerous memories of Christ’s death and life that we celebrate in the Paschal Mystery, TDOR is a moment of both deep grief and anticipatory hope. Our faith is in the promise from God that the hate which struck down Sasha and Shantee is not final and that a new reality is possible. In choosing to live authentically, often at great cost, trans and gender non-conforming folks like Londonn and Viccky have embodied the “already/not yet” nature of our salvation. Courageous authenticity is a sign of God’s reign in our world, and yet we do not live in a society where such authenticity is celebrated. Indeed, courage is needed precisely because being authentic risks so much. God’s promise does not easily quicken or lessen the suffering to which victims are subjected.
This Transgender Day of Remembrance, let our memorials be subversive by recalling victims as dangerous memories. Let them define not only how past history is written but how we will define history in the future. For those of us who remain, especially cisgender (non-transgender) allies, let us ask ourselves how in the next year we will actively seek a world in which people of all gender identities are not only safe and free, but celebrated. Here are some ideas to get started:
- For more resources on gender identity such as what the Catholic Church does (and does not) teach on it, how to make faith communities more trans-inclusive, and more, visit www.newwaysministry.org/transgender.
- To read more news and analyses related to Catholic trans issues, click the “Transgender” category on the right-hand side of this page.
- If you would like to host a workshop on gender identity in the Catholic Church for your local Catholic institution, click here for more information.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 20, 2018