Saturday afternoon I went to a vigil at the arch in Washington Square Park. I went in solidarity with all people; New Yorkers, Parisians, and Beirutis. It was a silent, somber, vigil. I overheard a smattering of people whispering in French. I stayed for an hour; observing, reflecting, and quietly mourning. Their losses and my losses.
I could not stop myself from people watching. It was cool, and sunny. A day for a jacket, gloves, and a scarf. No hat. I stood next to a French man who wore his scarf in a particularly French way; wrapped around his neck with the edges tucked under. Graceful, casual, natty. I made a note of it. I felt a flare of envy. I wanted to be a boy, to look like that man, and then it subsided. Five years ago it would have sent me into a tailspin.
Every loss is connected to every other loss. Whether I am mourning for someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for someone who could not find a way to live authentically in their own body. Whether they were killed by a suicide bomber, by AIDS, or by their own hand.
I went to the vigil on the spur of the moment, wearing the same clothing I had worn to the dog run. Jeans, a flannel shirt, hiking boots, a thin down jacket, a neck gaiter, and gloves. Everything was relatively new; this year’s or last year’s. I make excuses for buying new clothes. I lost weight. I had top surgery. My old clothing was joyless and a couple of sizes too big for me. I project my hopes onto my clothes; I want them to make me feel like I belong here.
I know I am trying to compensate for all the times I was told, or I told myself, that what I wanted was inappropriate, impractical, too masculine, or too expensive. That I was too fat to wear horizontal stripes, large plaids, or anything orange or red. That I was too old to shop in the boy’s department, and too short to shop in the men’s department. That I shouldn’t draw attention to myself. That I was a lost cause.
I can not make up for lost time or lost opportunities. I can only mourn them. I am shopped out. One more shirt, sweater, belt, or pair of jeans, socks, sneakers, or boots will not make me feel whole. It will only drain my bank account. It will not lessen my sadness.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when I was in ACT UP, I attended dozens of funerals and memorials, but I refused to go to candle-light vigils. I didn’t want to stand passively in the dark, holding a candle that refused to stay lit, calling out the names of the dead. Instead, we chained ourselves to the White House. We threw the ashes of our comrades onto the White House lawn. I tried to extinguish my grief with my anger, but I ended up numb.
After the attacks on the World Trade Center, I occasionally felt like a target. Not afraid, just at risk. Sometimes I feel that as a visibly butch/queer person. To me, there is no difference between being a random target or a specific target. Hate is hate. I live in New York. I don’t expect to feel safe.
This week I will go to another vigil, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Last year they read the names of the murdered, from all around the world. Most of the murders took place in the U.S. and Brazil. The organizers did not read the names of the people who committed suicide.
I know one trans man this year who killed himself. I will go to the vigil to say and remember Owen’s name.
Notes: The Gender Identity Project in New York created this short video for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Earlier this year, Jean Carlomusto produced a movie for HBO about Larry Kramer. In Love and Anger has a lot of ACT UP footage in it. It brilliantly captures the anger and desperation of that era. If you didn’t see it, there is an upload of it on You Tube here.