(Note: this here contains frank discussions of transphobic violence)
Bealocwealm hafadh freone frecan forth onsended
Giedd sculon singan gleomenn sorgiende on Meduselde
(Terrible death has sent a brave warrior away from us;
The minstrels will sing sad songs in the mead-hall)
My name is Gretchen Natalie White, and I’m a lot of things.
I’m 25, a college dropout, Army wash-out, I make a living doing blue-collar type labor and I do some writing in my off time. I like languages; I know a good bit of German, a little Dutch, I can puzzle out a surprising amount of Norwegian, and I can read Beowulf in the original Old English, which is pretty cool. I’m not gonna give you a list of all the languages I plan on studying because we ain’t got that kinda time.
My favorite book is The Lord of the Rings–no big surprise. I’ve read it backwards and forwards more times than I know. It’s my dad’s favorite book, too; you can blame him.
Balrogs don’t have wings.
I like guns and swords. I like cats. I like gardening. I could go on and on, but I won’t–I have a pretty normal life, I guess. You get the point.
I’m a couple other things, too: I’m a transgender woman. I’m pissed off. I’m afraid.
Her name was Ally Steinfeld.
Here’s the thing: A lot of us, a lot of trans people, get kinda numb to death and suffering after a while. You just sorta . . . learn to deal. We bury the dead, we comfort the living, and we keep going.
As of right now, there have been 22 trans people murdered in the United States this year. That figure is skewed low; it doesn’t include all the people whose identities were ignored after death. Doesn’t include all the people who died on the streets because they were driven out of their jobs and homes. Doesn’t include all the people driven to suicide by the constant assault and harassment. Doesn’t include a lot of things.
There’s a lot more of us out there than you might think–a hell of a lot more than you might think, if you’re cis–but we’re a pretty close-knit community. We all follow each other’s blogs and watch each other’s videos; everybody knows somebody, or knows somebody who knows somebody. News gets around quick.
So far, I haven’t had to deal with seeing a friend’s name get turned into a hashtag, haven’t had to endure that grief, but I’m a rarity. It’s a shared cultural experience that I’ve been spared from by dumb luck. I know it’s gonna happen one of these days. I’m terrified to think of who it might be. Every day I get up with the knowledge that I have a high chance of being assaulted or killed that day, but even that doesn’t trouble me as much as the thought of it happening to someone I love.
I first came out and started living genuinely in the early spring of 2016. It was an experience. Like the old saying goes, you find out who your friends are. But it was liberating; I felt free, I felt happy, I felt myself for the first time I could remember.
The good feeling didn’t last. Being constantly disrespected, being the butt of every joke, being virulently–violently–hated by legions of complete strangers; it wears on a body. To a lot of us–I’d say most of us, by a good wide margin–it wears on you a whole lot more than being out of sync with your body ever did.
So, the initial liberatory euphoria gave way to a long, dark process of hardening, numbing. You become an Underground Man, a pariah, a vargr, and you find other people who are like you and gang together to figure out how you’re gonna square with that. And no matter how warm and wholesome and full of love that community is, something inside you dies a little bit.
My heart breaks, my soul weeps every time I hear about one of my siblings buying a farm, but I ran out of tears pretty quickly. After the Pulse shooting, I read The Conquest of Bread and Leslie Feinberg and joined the Pink Pistols. When the police murdered Scout Schultz in cold blood, I read The State And Revolution and did a lot of push-ups. There are benefits–when people I’m close to lose their jobs, families, friends, homes, kids, have to endure disrespect and assault, I can usually be emotionally available–but grieving is something you need to do, in whatever way you do; you gotta process your shit. The hurt doesn’t pass you over, it just piles on.
Her name was Ally Steinfeld. She was seventeen years old. She was just learning to be herself, and she told her family and friends. She told her friends, who gouged her eyes out. Who stabbed her in the genitals. Stuffed her desecrated body in a garbage bag. Set it on fire. Hid her dishonored bones in a chicken coop. She was seventeen years old.
Her name was Ally Steinfeld.
I don’t know why this one got to me the way it did, considering that we’ve all heard this story a hundred times, but it sure did. I was at work when the news started going across my Facebook feed, checking my messages while I snuck a cigarette, and I cried. Bit later, I hid in the bathroom and cried some more. When I came home, I cried. I don’t know why this one finally got me, but it did, and I’ve been grieving these past few days, mourning the little sister I’ll never know.
Maybe that is why it hurt so much, the fact that we’ve all heard this story a hundred times. This story blew up in a way that they usually don’t, and a lot of my cis friends saw it and reacted to it. But most of them, they just said, “Oh, what a terrible tragedy,” and moved on. They didn’t feel it, didn’t really see it, not for what and how it really is in any case.
One thing I’ve noticed, as a general thing, is that Americans are full of a frustrating and completely unjustified optimism. A lot of people seem just unable to believe that a crisis is possible in our society. A whole lot of cis people just don’t believe us, even though I could talk your ear off with facts and figures and studies that back up all of the anecdotes. And those who do believe us, who claim to be our allies, they still don’t get it. They don’t grasp the gravity of the situation. They give you a pat on the head and say, “Oh, that’s terrible, terrible,” and go about their business, not at all processing what it’s like to live life with the Mark of Cane on your forehead, no matter how many Buzzfeed articles they read.
Her name was Ally Steinfeld, and she was a child. They carved out her eyes; the eyes, the face, are the seat of expressed identity, and they hate us for our identity. They always go for the face.
They mutilated her genitals. Of course they did; according to cis people, your gender lives in your crotch, and that’s why they hate us. They always do that, too.
They threw her away, like trash, because to them she was trash. To them we’re less than human, and hunting us is good sport. The story is always the same.
And when I say “always,” I do mean always. This is not an isolated incident, nor a rare one. The grisly details aren’t a surprise to us because we’ve heard this story a hundred times. The brutality visited upon us is old hat. It’s been going on for ages, it’s happening now, and it’ll happen again, it’ll keep on happening as long as you all keep seeing us as outsiders.
Make no mistake: These are not isolated, unrelated “terrible terrible tragedies,” no, this is systematic violence. And the thing about systematic violence is that we all have blood on our hands. So, as long as you keep disrespecting us, as long as you keep repeating that trans kids “can’t really know,” as long as you keep spreading dumbass ridiculous-ass boldface lies about trans women “tricking” straight men or “intruding on women’s spaces,” and as long as you let all that happen around: You are helping maintain a world where people (not “crazy people,” not “sick people” or “evil people,” no, those are cop-outs; just people) think it’s alright for them to hold a little girl down and carve her eyes out of her head.