(given at Cornell's Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil, 18 November 2014)
My name is Meredith Talusan. I am a PhD student in Comparative Literature here at Cornell and I live at a coop on campus called Telluride House. I wear this hat because I was the victim of transphobia from one of my housemates and I knitted one of their comments on it, to pose the question of whether what has been said to me as a trans woman is acceptable in our learning environment. It says, “You Lost Your Dick.” Though I complained about my situation more than a month ago, the majority of my housemates and the administration of my House have chosen not to take action against my violator. I wear this hat because you need to know that transgender discrimination is not only happening now but is happening here, on our campus, and that people who look the other way in the face of transphobia study and live among us.
I transitioned in 2002, the same year Gwen Araujo was murdered in California for being trans. I went to her vigil, where I mourned the death of a fellow trans woman for the first time. Back then, even my close friends “warned” people who might be interested in me that I’m trans. I regularly heard some of those same friends call me “he” when they thought I wasn’t listening, or talk about my body as though I were some specimen in a lab. And back then, I accepted this treatment because I didn’t know to expect better. Gwen herself was consistently misgendered during the trial of her murderers, and blamed for having sex with them without disclosing her trans status.
When I first came to Cornell, these experiences taught me that though I am not ashamed of being trans, I needed to keep my life private to protect myself from being discriminated against and dehumanized. It was only after several years of silence that I became aware that keeping my privacy comes at the cost of making it harder for me to fight for the rights of trans people like me. I realized that hiding my status promotes the belief that who I am is someone to be ashamed of. I am not ashamed. I am proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished. I live my life with honor and dignity. This is why I choose to be public about my trans identity, even though I have been harassed and discriminated against at Cornell and elsewhere because of it, and that even people close to me have allowed that discrimination to stand.
I speak to you today, publicly, without shame, because after more than a decade of living as my true gender, I not only know in my mind there is nothing wrong with me for being trans, but I feel it with every fiber of my being. And for any of you who is or thinks they might be transgender, and experiences shame or doubt or fear because of it, I want you to feel not only that you’re not alone. I hope that by being here in front of you and telling my story, I can deliver the message that there is nothing wrong with any of us. And that if we’re made to feel ashamed or afraid, it’s because there’s something wrong with the world.
I also want to remind us what we’re fighting for, the right to be treated as human beings like everyone else. And even as we mourn the members of our community who suffered the worst fate, we also have to remember that they did so because they had the courage to fight for who they are, despite a world that wants to deny their existence, a world where their fellow human beings have not only taken their lives, but where many other human beings choose to stand by while trans people every day are harassed, insulted, refused jobs, denied healthcare, ostracized, deemed unlovable, beaten, or killed.
On this Trasngedner Day of Remembrance, I want us to remember not just to mourn but also to fight. I want to remind us that those we remember are not only victims but also warriors, who chose to brave the battlefield of virulent hate to fight not just for who they are, but for all of us, for our right to live as our true selves and for our humanity. And I want us not only to weep but to also fight for them and for ourselves. We fight because our humanity will not be extinguished. We fight because there is nothing wrong with us. We fight because there is something wrong with a world that threatens us because of who we are. This is what we need to know. This is what we need to remember. This is what we need to fight for.