Earlier this month, Mercedes Successful became the latest trans woman of color murdered in the United States. After her body was found in a store parking lot in Haines City, Florida on Sunday, the media dead-named and misgendered the 32-year-old performer and pageant queen.
According to several media outlets that have followed Successful’s story, she is the 12th trans person killed in this country this year. But, since many murders of trans people go unreported, this is an unofficial number.
In some cases, they’re not counted because media or families refuse to acknowledge that a deceased person was trans. But there’s another factor many don’t consider: suicide.
In February, Veronica Banks Cano was discovered dead in a San Antonio, Texas, hotel room. While her death remains under investigation, many have concluded she was murdered. Yet her name has disappeared from the latest tallies of trans deaths.
That same month, Lucia Anderson of Chicago, Illinois, committed suicide after ingesting pong pong seeds purchased from Thailand. The seeds grew from a plant called “the suicide tree” and are known to be administered in suicides and murders India. Like Cano, Anderson was a Black trans woman who was forgotten in most news coverage.
Since she wasn’t murdered by someone else, so she doesn’t deserve the same media attention, right? Wrong.
Anderson’s suicide was also a murder. She is not here to explain why her life ended at 22 years, but there are possible reasons. She felt worthless, depressed and unwanted. She lived in a world that demonstrates its hate through every channel and she became consumed with an inconvenient disturbance: she wasn’t supposed to be here.
Society’s transphobia and white supremacy battered those thoughts into her and murdered her. These same thoughts and processes lead to suicide. It is never random. For transgender people — especially trans people of color — in America, suicide stems from systemic pain.
In 2011, the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality collaborated on a report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey titled Injustice at Every Turn. It revealed that 41 percent of transgender people had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Among Black transgender people, it was nearly 50 percent. As we await the full findings of last year’s U.S. Trans Survey, it’s disappointing to continue repeating these alarming numbers and see little action.
The importance of a murdered trans person’s life isn’t supposed to be up for debate. Whether homicide or suicide, it is murder. Both tragedies state the obvious. Both tragedies contribute to the ongoing American and international genocide of trans people.
When you think about 19-year-old Melonie Rose from Laurel, Maryland, know her suicide was a murder. Know that her body continued to experience violence when her family buried her in a suit.
When you remember 18-year-old Blake Brockington, call his suicide a murder. Know that his troubles didn’t cease after he became homecoming king.
The average age of these victims is 19.6 years. What more information do we need?
Ever since I realized I was a trans woman, keeping a tally of who we’ve lost has become as routine as my daily tasks. A year from now, we will be tallying the trans murders yet to come. And they will continue as long as white supremacy runs rampant, as long as our terrorists attempt to snatch our agency, as long as self-appointed allies try to speak over us.
This historic quotation from labor and community organizer Mother Jones summarizes where we are and need to go further: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”
I first encountered these words on a painting of CeCe McDonald. We must pray, or remember, our taken people more than ever. We must keep our fire for transformative change and liberation lit. For many years, it has been scary and dangerous. As we mourn and press on, I hope those who remain violently complacent recognize they can no longer ask us to remain calm.