The Limits of Virtual Memory: Nationalisms, State Violence, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In November of 1999, one year after the brutal murder of Rita Hester, a black transsexual woman in Boston, Massachusetts, transgender activists in Boston and San Francisco organized a candlelight vigil in Hester's memory to raise awareness of anti-trans violence. Hester's murder came just six weeks after Matthew Shepherd was killed in Wyoming, a murder case that lit up the U.S. news media and drew international attention. In contrast, Hester's death was overlooked in most mainstream media, and local news sources - even those self-identified as gay - repeatedly referred to Hester as "he” and insisted on using her birth name, putting "Rita” in quotes. Such media representation, along with minimal police response to Hester's case, prompted the initial memorial on the first anniversary of her death. Alongside the vigil, the individuals behind Gender Education and Advocacy (GEA), a national Internet-based non-profit organization, set up a new component on their website, gender.org: "Remembering Our Dead.” The site, which lists information about individuals who have died as a result of anti-trans violence, is intended to call attention to the system of transphobia and to publicly memorialize those lives lost to it. Eight years later, the vigil has grown into an annual, international event. The dual nature of the Day of Remembrance - existing both on the Internet as an ongoing obituary and in "real life” as a collection of local memorial services - makes it an especially rich site for analysis. I am interested here in the Day of Remembrance as a cultural project of public mourning and memorial, a project invested in uniting trans communities through a shared sense of vulnerability and through a seemingly unconstrained mode of communication technology: cyberspace. In this article, I am concerned with the relationships between memorials, nationalisms, and state violences, and how these relationships are at work in the Day of Remembrance specifically. How does a public demonstration of grief also function as a citizen-making project? How might appeals to the state for justice and for human rights reinforce U.S. nationalism, despite the memorial's intent to unite trans people across national borders? Moreover, in what ways is cyberspace cast as the primary tool that enables the memorial project to cross those borders? In pursuing these questions through the specific site of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I wish to argue broadly that the cyber memorial, while appearing to transcend social and cultural differences, in fact is intimately tied to nationalisms and state violences - indeed, it is the very refusal to critically engage with these concepts, and to attend to the ways that national identities and relations of power unevenly affect trans subjectivities and communities, that helps position the memorial as a nationalist project.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages16
JournalInterAlia: A Journal of Queer Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2007

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