I attended the city of West Hollywood’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance this year. It was held at the Center for Early Education on Alfred Street in WeHo. I was there with my camera on hand. My intent was to highlight the event by either blogging about it, or pitching a story to local media outlets. This was my first TDoR in the too many years that I wanted to attend the event. It was not what I expected. Like at all.
For those of you living under a proverbial rock, the month of November is recognized as Transgender Awareness Month. And November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance–also known as International Transgender Day of Remembrance. The day is observed in several parts of the world—of course, not including a certain Casa Blanca located on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500, currently the temporary residence to one disgusting pig known as Donald J Trump, where they didn’t so much as light a match in honor of trans people, but I digress… the day serves to honor and memorialize trans people who lost their lives because of anti-transgender hatred and prejudice. It also celebrates the lives of those who are living their truth as trans folks.
According to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, 2017 has been a deadly year for trans individuals. At least 25 transgender people have been killed in violent crimes in the U.S. this year, making it the deadliest year for the trans community in recent years.
The city of West Hollywood and its Transgender Advisory Board kicked off November with the raising of the transgender flag. There was also a lighting ceremony of the West Hollywood City Hall in blue, pink and white lights to represent the colors of the transgender flag during November. The city also hosted a number of programing throughout the month.
There was a reception area at a courtyard outside of the entrance of the Center for Early Education’s auditorium, which is where the Transgender Day of Remembrance event took place. I walked in by myself and I was surprised by the two altars that reminded me of Day of the Dead ofrendas (look it up) at the courtyard. The altars had tiny lights illuminating photos of several trans people–both living and those who are no longer with us.
I immediately recognized trans activist Bamby Salcedo of the TransLatina Coalition who was all decked out in an indigenous-inspired costume. She was joined by spiritual leader Alma Rose who was there all the way from New Mexico. They both burned sage around the altars to offer love and blessings to those in attendance, as well as the images in on the altars.
The event inside the auditorium began with Bamby and Alma leading a Native American ceremonial blessing honoring the four directions of north, south, east and west–a tradition that originated with the Aztecs. West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman, Council members Lauren Meister, and Lindsay Horvath made statements in observance of TDoR. There were poetry readings, a musical performance, and of course, there was the readings of the names of transgender people who have died as a result of transgender hate crimes.
The reading of the names was not what I imagined, which is basically me pussy-footing around to say that the reading portion needs to be re-imagined, in my opinion. I pictured something similar to the reading of 911 victims where an individual person takes turns reading an individual name. But instead, a group of people lined up by the stage and they all read the names in unison–except it wasn’t in unison. Like at all. It was lacking any uniformity. Names were shouted out from different directions and it was kind of a mess. It sort of pulled you out of the moment, but then you were pulled back in when the person’s picture was projected over a large screen and a people took turns to say a little about the person’s life with an emphasis on their name.
Then an image went up of a trans boy named Finn Bousquet, age 13, of Fairfield, Iowa, who took his own life on June 23, 2017. You could hear a wave of sniffles coming from the bleachers.—“SAY HIS NAME!!!”
I spoke to Bamby after the reading of the names out at the courtyard. She said this was the first year where they included the altars at the event. She hopes they becomes part of Transgender Day of Remembrance in the future. “We’re sending love and blessings to everyone,” she told me. “I think Transgender Day of Remembrance is always a very sad for many of us, but we’re not only honoring people who have passed, we are also honoring people in our future. As you can see, some of the pictures are of people who are still alive. We want to acknowledge and value trans lives, which is not something that happens often within our society. We want to honor trans lives not just on Trans Day of Remembrance, but every day of our existence.”
After my short interview, things got a little weird. Bamby and Alma started doing “limpias” (spiritual cleansing) next to the altars to anyone who was interested. Somebody standing behind me asked me if I was in line. I was like, “Oh no. I don’t believe in whatever Santeria business was going on at that courtyard.”
And then I thought, fuck it. Why not? Why be above it? Why sell myself short? A spiritual cleanse can’t hurt.
I felt a little foolish when I took my place in line. I was there as a reporter and somehow managed to make myself part of the story. Of course, I wanted Bamby to take a crack at my fukú Americanus (look it up). The force seemed strong with that one.
When my turn came up, I told her all shy-like that I was up for a cleanse if she was down to give me one. I removed my jacket and set my camera down. She took me by the hand and then someone sounded the alarm that they had ten minutes to clear out. Bamby did not let anything like time deter her from cleaning out my stagnant energy.
I was actually a little nervous, to be honest. I had never done anything like it before. I closed my eyes and stood there with my palms open and I felt the heat of her burning sage stick on my face. She put her hand on my forehead, she blew sage smoke on the palms of my hands. She did the same to my feet. She put her warm hand on my chest and then on my stomach. I worried I would start writhing on the floor and speak in tongues, but it was actually very serene being engulfed in burning sage.
I don’t know if it was from the adrenaline rush I got when I stood in front of that altar in the crowded courtyard with my fukú fully exposed, or if Bamby did in fact remove some of my negative demons, but I walked out of the Transgender Day of Remembrance feeling purified. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it was not what I expected. Like at all.
May we never forget all the transgender people who lost their life because they chose to live their truth.
Oh, and PS: The Fight Magazine published some of my photos along with a piece I wrote about the event for THE TRANSACTION section of their print publication, which I’m very happy about. I barely made it down to the wire. The issue should hit the streets on December 1st, so make sure to pick up a copy.