happy birthday

by Kerrigan J. Merz

I was born November 21, 1990 in a small North Carolina town. When I was nine years old, November 20 was christened Transgender Day of Remembrance. I wouldn’t learn of this correlation, or what it would mean in my life, for many years to come. To grow up to be a transgender woman wasn’t even a possibility; I didn’t even know people could do such a thing until I was a teenager.


The South has a way of forcing the truth down deep under politeness. For a girl of fourteen, entering the wrong puberty, I learned quickly what to keep secret. I don’t need to bore you with the details: “growing up trans is rough” is not the most original sentiment. In short, it feels like parts of you are dying, keeping yourself locked up so tight. I thought it would be better when I came out – age twenty-one, I gathered myself a small wardrobe of maxi skirts, and all the tight-fitting sweaters I could find, the only things I could find to maximize my fat body’s latent curves, the gentle Carolina winter my only assistance from the universe.


It was not better. While I had plenty of friends to support me, that dying feeling never felt as present as it did that last year of college. No matter how hard I tried to convey the message to my public that they should think twice about how they pronoun me, hoping that they might get the message and see me as something different than their “bro,” it was in vain. It was terrifying, too, broadcasting that message after dark. The thing about the South – maybe everywhere – is that people are braver from inside their moving trucks. Some nights walking home, that’s all I could think about. “They’ll probably just shout at me again. It’s far too much work to kill me, and they’ve probably got somewhere to be.”


Yet, despite my legitimate fears, I even to this day feel disconnected from what it seems I am supposed to feel on TDoR. Intense empathy? Yes. The worry that gruesome murder could happen to people I love? Absolutely. But a sincere fear for my own life, like I felt from many other trans folks who looked like me? I just can’t connect to it. I see myself too clearly – I grew up to be a white trans woman who works an office job. I am not in danger here, I am the danger. My complicity in being sad on this holiday and doing nothing for the rest of the year is the danger. My inaction in the face of the racism among my white peers, is the danger. A face like mine being the face of this day of mourning – that is the danger.


I worry for all my friends and chosen family, but I cannot be disingenuous. This year is maybe the most hostile in recent memory: we must take care of each other, especially those of us most vulnerable. For myself – and I know what I want for my birthday doesn’t really matter – someday before I die, I want the day before my birthday to be completely unmemorable, because nothing terrible happened.

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