After a webinar on blogging for social change earlier today, I found myself on the home page of my old blog, AngryBrownButch. Scrolling down the page, I was jarred to read these words from November 18, 2008:
Since writing about Duanna on Friday, I’ve learned about the killings of two more trans women of color in recent months. Ebony Whitaker was murdered in July, also in Memphis. In August, Nakhia Williams was killed in Louisville, Kentucky. GLAAD and the Kentucky Fairness Alliance report that not only was there minimal news coverage of Williams’ murder, but the coverage that did happen was transphobic and disrespectful. And just this past Friday, Teish Cannon, a young Black trans woman living in Syracuse, NY, had her life cut short at the age of 22 because she was trans. Again, the media coverage has been both sparse and disrespectful, identifying Cannon as a man who was killed for being gay, not a woman who was killed for being trans.
(It took me maybe ten minutes to type that last paragraph. It made me feel nauseous. I’m not sure how I’m managing not to cry at this point.)
Those words, written just over six years ago, are a terrible echo of words I’ve heard, read and helped write in recent weeks. Not even two months into 2015, at least nine queer or trans people of color have been killed, the majority of them trans women of color. We mourned those nine people on February 14 at a Valentine’s Day Action for Murdered Trans and Queer People of Color in downtown Oakland. Since then, the heartbreaking list of murdered trans women of color has continued to grow at a horrifying rate.
This epidemic of violence against trans women of color does a tremendous amount of collateral damage, beyond the devastating losses of the victims themselves. The toll this violence takes on communities of trans women of color and their allies is immense, immeasurable, and too often as severe as the murders themselves.
Hours after the dismay I felt at reading such similar words on my blog from all those years back, I received a text message from one of my housemates. He asked whether I knew Aubrey. I responded that I did; I’d met her and had gotten to know her through weekly hack nights at the POC-led, gender-diverse makerspace I’m involved in. I asked my roommate why he asked.
As I waited for his reply, I felt my stomach sinking. Aubrey was a young trans woman of color. I knew that with those overlapping oppressions and the other challenges she faced, she didn’t have an easy life. I’d seen my roommate post a question about suicide on Facebook earlier in the day. I knew what he would tell me before I received his next message: Aubrey had taken her own life.
The internet has created some strange new rituals of mourning and coping. After more texts consoling each other and planning how to share the awful news with others who knew Aubrey, I looked for her on Facebook, feeling odd about it but not knowing what else to do. We weren’t “friends,” so I could only see her public posts.
Towards the top of Aubrey’s wall, posted the day before she died, is an article about Sumaya Dalmar, a young trans woman of color found dead in Toronto on February 22. Below that, an article about how some trans women had created a now-defunct Facebook event declaring the last week of February “Worldwide Don’t Kill a Trans Woman Week.”
Aubrey’s comment on the article about Sumaya Dalmar: a crying emoticon, and the terrible question I’ve heard far too often from trans women of color in recent weeks: “me next?”
My heart is broken tonight, again, this time for Aubrey. I fear the next heartbreak. I feel like my community keeps bracing itself for the next heartbreak. It takes a terrible toll.
Three things keep going through my head:
The words of Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” I will.
The words of Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” With all of the loss that we experience, it’s important to remember that it’s not the fight that creates that loss; the fight keeps us alive, gives us strength, brings us hope in the face of these heartbreaks. And, oh yes, we must love each other and protect each other. We must protect each other. We must love each other.
Finally, the memory of Aubrey the last time I saw her. I can’t say I remember exactly what we talked about that last time she came to hack night; I won’t pretend that I have more than a vague memory, most likely an amalgamation of that and all the other times I’d seen her in the space. We were only acquaintances, not close. But we were still kin. We were still community. I remember her smile, her laugh, her awkwardness, her earnest enthusiasm. I remember looking forward to seeing her again.
I’ll fight like hell for the living, and for you, Aubrey.