Fierce, fierce love

The Pride Center of VT invited me to speak at yesterday’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. The following is what I read:

 

FIERCE, FIERCE LOVE

I want to begin by invoking hope, and because I’m a poet, that means reading a poem:

when the watermelon come ripe
and cicadas drum the fields

when cicadas drum the fields
and we break the rind

when we break the rind
and eat the fruit in chunks

when we eat the fruit in chunks
and juice streaks our shirts

when juice streaks our shirts
let hope trace our tongues

We gather here this afternoon to grieve the dead, to celebrate the living, to condemn hate violence and injustice. This event marks the anniversary of the death of African American trans woman Rita Hester, who was killed in November 1998 in Boston, Massachusetts. At the time, her death was met with resounding disrespect and neglect. Fed up with the on-going toll of anti-trans hate violence, activist Gwen Smith organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance.

And so here we are this afternoon, another 295 people, the majority of them trans feminine people of color, dead in the last year due to anti-trans violence. They lived all over the world—in 31 countries from Japan to Brazil, Italy to India, France to Mexico. In the United States 23 trans and gender nonconforming people were murdered from Austin, TX to Cleveland, OH to right here in Burlington where Amos Beede was killed in May. I hold them with fierce love. They left behind friends and families, partners and communities. There is no way to measure and name the enormity of these losses.

Fierce love means feeling our grief while staying big, staying whole. Let us mourn the dead, keen or wail, sit in silence or belt it out in song, however grief works for you. Let us feel our hearts break and grow, and grasp the sadness. Let us fill our bodies to their very edges while we mourn.

We know hate violence kills—violence spawned of transphobia, ableism, sexism, racism, poverty, xenophobia homophobia, anti-semitism. We need to mourn and to use that sorrow to sharpen our desire to change the world, to call for an end to hate violence. Let us send those who have died fierce, fierce love.

I also know that sometimes hate violence leaves us wounded and gasping, ungrounded and scared but still alive. I suspect there is more than a little of this exact kind of survival here this afternoon. Many of us come from communities that live with daily hate violence: violence that we ourselves have endured and survived, violence directed at people we care about, violence that we hear about in the media or is passed on word of mouth, violence that numbs us, terrifies us, enrages us, constricts what we know as possible in the world.

And there has been so much violence this year. I am remembering the mass shooting of queer and trans people of color at a gay night club in Orlando. Remembering all the bathroom bills passed this year that force trans people to use the restrooms that match our genders assigned at birth. Remembering the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police brutality against Black people and how that brutality continues unabated. Remembering the Indigenous resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline and how the police have responded with tear gas, bulldozers, and attack dogs. Remembering the bigotry of Donald Trump—that white rich cisgender man who has recently been elected president—how he has threatened to ban Muslim immigrants from the US and overturn Row v. Wade. I remember all these violences because they’re all connected. It’s an overwhelming amount of violence Many of us are scared and exhausted. We so need to keen and wail, to remember and mourn the dead.

At the same time, we also need to support, celebrate, and fight like hell for the living. I hold this room with a fierce love.

Fierce love means demanding justice. Means rebellion. Means ending police brutality and poverty, child abuse and school bullying. Means no more homelessness and hunger, no more racial slurs and rape. Means that we will remember the inescapable twine of race and class, sexuality and gender, disability and religion. The folks who we mourn this afternoon died inside this dense weave, died because they were people of color, trans people, homeless people, disabled people, poor people, sex workers, immigrants, women.

I want us to rebel against injustice, hate, untimely loss. Fierce loves means interrupting bullying and harassment. Taking to the streets. Writing blog entries. Talking social justice with our families. Working to ensure each other’s survival and safety. Sharing resources.

I want us to both rage and mourn, knowing that hate violence has long been used against marginalized peoples to make us silent and compliant. We do this side-by-side, inside community, holding onto a radical, and sometimes ragged, hope. If I could sing, I’d sing you a song, but I don’t sing, and really you wouldn’t want me to. So let me invoke hope again.

when the watermelon come ripe
and cicadas drum the fields

when cicadas drum the fields
and we break the rind

when we break the rind
and eat the fruit in chunks

when we eat the fruit in chunks
and juice streaks our shirts

when juice streaks our shirts
let hope trace our tongues and fill our bellies

I want us to send fierce love to all the trans and gender nonconforming people who have died this year, knowing that justice will come. Will come when there are no more nameless deaths, when we don’t have to balance safety against visibility, wondering whether coming out might mean violence. Will come when no one bleeds to death in the streets or their own homes. Will come with food, shelter, respect, love aplenty. Justice will come, rising on our grief, anger, rebellion, hope. Justice will come like rain after a long drought—sweet, clean, cool, necessary. We are holding, sending, living fierce, fierce love.

Jena Schwartz said,

November 21, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

Thank you, Eli.

Susan Sitnson said,

November 22, 2016 @ 10:02 pm

So powerful, Eli. Talk about fierce love and streaking hope. I’ll be sharing this link

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