This is the speech that Judy Virago gave on behalf of OuterSpaces at the Transgender Day of Rememberance event in Wellington, November 2017.
Kia ora koutou katoa
My name is Judy Virago. I grew up in Papakura, South Auckland, born to an Irish catholic Community. My grandmother mother was a jewish holocaust survivor who converted. Remembrance was a big part of my life growing up. Today, we stand here together to remember.
I'm a wife, I'm a daughter, I'm a performer, I'm an activist, I'm an educator. And I'm also a board member for a Wellington based organisation called Outerspaces. OuterSpaces is a charitable trust which operates as the parent organisation for four LGBTIQ+ youth groups, based in Wellington. The trust exists to coordinate, fundraise for, and support these groups, to help the volunteers run these groups safely and sustainably, following our mission and values. Because there is no right way to be either cisgender, or transgender and there will always be bodies and identities that do not conform to the cis-trans construct. Gender identity is self determined. I’m not a woman just because because you might think I look enough like one, or sound enough like what you think a woman sounds like, or because surgical interventions have shaped my body. I am a woman because I tell you I am.
So why am I here speaking today? What are we here to remember? We remember that daughters, sons, wives, educators, volunteers, activists, performers and community members like me are murdered or lost to suicide every year. But why would anyone, want to hurt a woman like me? What motivates people to commit acts of violence against some of the cutest people you could possibly meet? What is so challenging about trans people that I need to be here discussing violence against us? Violence, like gender identity, does not occur in a vacuum. There are always going to be intersecting social, cultural, environmental and biological influences that result in a specific act of violence taking place.
There is power in self identification. Trans people represent a direct attack to the very core of some people’s belief systems and their fundamental understanding of sex and gender.
Violence against trans people, like violence against all women, stems from a root of gross misogyny. Crimes of violence against transgender people are often characterized as the actions of men who have been provoked by the victims, deceived by their gender presentation.This argument is simply an extension of the traditional discourse regarding violence against women: that the victim/survivor “asked for it”. This violence is supported by gender stereotypes, problematic attitudes, transphobic jokes and negtive depcitions of us in mainstream media. The acceptance of these attitudes and behaviours in our society is what lays the foundation for physical, verbal, systemic and emotional abuse against us.
But the majority of violence against trans women does not actually happen to women “like me”. I’m a university educated Pakeha from a middle class family. This doesn’t mean that I don’t experience violence, but that there are certain privileges I have been afforded in my lifetime that have protected me and kept me alive.
Trans women around the world are slaughtered weekly, just for being who they are. It’s scary. And it’s not our fault. I refuse to accept this.
By the 30th of October this year, 24 trans women, most of them women of colour, had been killed in the US alone. Rates of violence against trans people are so offensively high that there is even a wikipedia page that records reported unlawful deaths of transgender people by year and location. There are 52 people currently listed on this page for 2017.
We as New Zealanders are very privileged to live as freely as we do in our cities. But public understanding of us is minimal because we are so underrepresented in society. It's easy to tell ourselves that "that kind of thing doesn't happen in New Zealand" because we don't have records of these statistics. What we do know is that trans people are overrepresented in the mental health system and under supported. We know that Right now there are transgender women imprisoned in male facilities right here in New Zealand. We know that the pathways to health care for trans people in New Zealand are full of barriers and that many succumb to suicide before they get the help they need. We know that trans people must put themselves into massive debt to get gender affirming surgeries. We know that trans kids experience high rates of bullying in schools. And we know that 1 in 2 trans people will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
It's traditional to recite the names of the fallen trans siblings we have lost in a year at TDOR ceremonies. Today, I invite you to silently recite the names of your own family, your friends, workmates, neighbors and loved ones. Let us remember the fallen, but also acknowledge the living, and do what we can to create a world that is safe for all of us to live in. While we know a lot about the challenges faced by trans people in New Zealand, we also know that they show impressive levels of resilience, and are more likely to involve themselves in volunteer services.
At Outerspaces we foster this kind of empowering environment to support out young trans folk to make a positive difference in their own lives and their community. Volunteering is a transformative process, and that's what Outerspaces is all about. Of our groups, three are specifically desgined to support trans youth.
Tranzform is a support group for youth* who identify as transgender, fa'afafine, whakawahine, tangata ira tane, intersex, two-spirited , genderqueer, non-gendered, questioning and their allies.
Naming NZ is an organisation to help transgender, gender diverse and intersex youth with updating their identity documents to correctly reflect their sex and gender.
The Wellington Binder Exchange ipurchases, create and share binders for gender diverse young people in the Wellington region. They provide chest binders free of charge for youth aged 18 and under who do not have the ability to access binders themselves.
We have no regular source of funding, and donations allow us to: * Buy food for our support groups * Buy coffees for our one-on-ones/mentoring * Hire out safe spaces for social events, such as pool events ** Identify and secure sustainable funding in the future
As a nation we need to be stepping up on the global stage to denounce violence against queer and trans people. We need committed funding to support queer organisations like Outerspaces, Inside Out and Rainbow Youth. And we need gender identity explicitly recognised and protected under the Human Rights Act.
Today I draw strength from my ancestors who suffered, and from my grandmother who survived. I draw strength from the formidable trans women who paved the way for us, women like Dana DeMilo, Carmen Rupe and Georgina Beyer. I draw strength from the sisters I have lost to murder and suicide and from my surviving sisters who fight to build life for themselves and demand a place in a system that just doesnt yet fully understand them. I draw strength from the young trans folk coming up who get to experience a changed world, the generation who won't remember because they will never have to suffer. And I share that strength, that love, that anger and power with all of you here today.
I'd like to close by sharing a recent statement from trans teen Jazz Jennings. Jazz has lived her life in the spotlight through reality television and faces levels of scrutiny that would be overwhelming for any young person. With a level of grace and maturity that a president should envy, Jazz elegantly tweeted this:
In the face of constant ignorance and hatred I prefer to disregard negative opinions and continue moving forward with love.
As you move through the rest of your day, hold this sentiment with you, move forward with aroha, be an ethical bystander to transphobic language and behaviour, intervene safely and call out bigotry when you see it. Take care of yourselves and each other.