Dear Naomi: we need to say her name
28 Mar 2018
I start this off with an apology. Not with theory. Or with text. Or with some grand introduction stating figures, and statistics, and identities and ideas. I do not think we have time for that. Every time I started to write a sentence like I’ve been taught to do my hand would jolt, or the words would feel stiff. It does not feel right to turn your name into another think piece; into another word or a phrase or an introduction ending in questions that everyone will always take as rhetorical. I’d rather be honest. I’d Rather just start with two words:
I’m sorry from the personal and the plural, that the world continues to fail you/us/those like us/you.
I’m sorry that I am saying this apology when we know the words should be coming from someone else’s mouth, but I needed you to hear them.
I’m sorry that these people will continue to use your name as only ever a statistic, a theory, an abstract, and then when presented with your power fall silence.
I’m sorry for the silence.
I’m sorry that even in your death you are misgendered. Not seen. Humiliated.
I’m sorry that it is only in death that they care.
I’m sorry that they applauded our death drops, but never care when we are dead.
I’m sorry that you warned us; that you told us this would come, and it did.
I’m sorry the world did not keep you safe, and see the treasure you were.
I’m sorry that this has happened before, and is happening now, and will happen again.
I’m sorry that they will celebrate us on stage, in boxes, within magazines, but punish us on the streets.
Naomi, I’m sorry.
On 18 March Naomi Hersi, a 36-year-old black trans women, died of stab wounds in the Heathrow area of London. The next day the world continued to turn.
This killing hits particularly hard, arriving at a time of particularly uncontrollable, relentless and heightened transphobic rhetoric and hate within the mainstream press and public discourse. Trans people in the UK, particularly black trans women and feminine people, have been withstanding violence at a heightened rate, both online and in person, and so this moment feels representative of the very danger we have been screaming about. Yet, as is often the case when violence is perpetrated, what feels more haunting after Naomi’s murder is the deafening silence surrounding it.
“Even in death, we cannot be mourned respectfully”
Newspapers like The Times that have published countless hateful, fear-mongering and sensationalist articles about trans issues, fall predictably silent when violence is levelled at us. No front pages. No news coverage. Most outlets have used small story headlines to report her killing, not to mention often misgendering Naomi in her death, with many transphobic reports talking about Naomi in inauthentic and harmful ways. Even in death, we cannot be mourned respectfully. I feel I should not be shocked in this silence, yet I cannot help feel heartbroken about it. The months spent talking about our access to changing rooms, bathrooms, and swimming pools, or the construction of a make-believe trans bogeyperson under your bed – shift focus from the realities of living as trans women in public in this country.
We exist in close proximity to violence. Every time I talk about needing private transport because I fear being bashed, a trans-exclusionary feminist will tweet me saying “stop pretending”, “stop lying”, and “do you know what we real women go through”. I cannot help but wonder whether these people are Tweeting and talking about Naomi? Do they know how close the shadow of violence stands before us?
We must be clear that transphobia and violence perpetrated against trans people can never be separated from racism. The disposability of black bodies, especially those blended with transness, creates a lack of mourning in the face of our fatality: an expectation rather than a shock. Those that face anti-blackness and transmisogyny are often discarded, not just in wider culture but also within our community. It is not just the press that is silent, but there is also no mention of Naomi on my Twitter or Facebook thread, except for the odd tweet here or there. Where was the public outcry from LGBTQ+ figures that are so quick to call on us? As always, it seems black trans people are only used to prop up a cause, and never given the complexities of full humanity.
“This silence and lack of outcry reaffirms and tells us that we are seen as deserving of this violence”
I cannot help but wonder: if Naomi was a white trans women, with class privileges, would we face a similar silence? We must be clear that even in the past six months, those that have faced the highest scrutiny in the mainstream press – such as my own targeting in the press, or the violent attacks on Munroe Bergdorf – have also been those racialised, and this feels relative to the lack of public mourning for this tragedy. Of course the murder of trans feminine people is unfortunately not new to our experience, however, within a UK context it is a rarity for these deaths to be reported and broadcasted to our knowledge in the ways in which Naomi’s had. It is with this that I feel naive that I expected more rage, more anger, more visibility. I had hoped that those with platforms would say her name, would scream it, would bring attention to the violence and realities of life for black trans feminine people in the UK. This silence and lack of outcry reaffirms and tells us that we are seen as deserving of this violence, and that we cannot be even cared for or mourned in our death.
Naomi’s last tweet before she was murdered was linking us to an article about the violence trans women of colour face, calling it an “epidemic”. I wonder if we have to die for them to listen to us? What could have happened if Naomi, if we, if us, were listened to when we could still tweet, still talk, still be here? Naomi, the trans community, have been screaming that this is our reality – and it should not take a death for people to start hearing our screams.
Naomi described herself as a tennis enthusiast, a music lover and a chocolate addict.
Naomi, I’m sorry that there are no more possibilities for the world to know more about you.
Even these words seem to fail, but I hope they urge me, them, and us to do better.
Rest in Power.