Dear Sandy (Reposted from July 13, 2010)
I didn’t know you. I don’t know you—my careful internet searches have yielded only scattered accounts of your death. I know little to nothing of your life though I’ve heard you left behind a mother, a sister, other family and many friends. Fear of intruding kept me from your funeral and from catching a glimpse of what you were like, who you were, what you loved, and who loved you. Perhaps it’s better I didn’t break the intimacy of those gathered in your memory. Yet I’m left wondering how I can speak of you in humble tones, acknowledging my own ignorance of your life while at the same time speaking of what I know is true.
You were a black woman. You were a trans woman. And on a Sunday night just a few weeks ago, you were murdered at the corner of S. Halsted and W. 75th.
I want to ask why this happened, but I already know. You were killed because the world is unsafe for sex workers. The world is unsafe for transgender people.
The mainstream media hasn’t pressured law enforcement to make your case a priority, and there just isn’t much public outcry because the sad truth is that racism and classism are principle organizers of American society. The Sun-Times said you were a man dressed in women’s clothing. Other media outlets didn’t even give more than the name and address on your ID. Had you been a pretty little blonde thing from a rich family, your picture would be on the front page, and the person who took your life would be in jail.
I’m angry, disheartened, and disappointed in myself as well. Crimes like this have happened to others before you, and shamefully, I’ve taken little notice. I don’t remember why I wasn’t stirred to action by stories of other instances of anti-trans violence, but hearing about your death has changed me.
Some activists and organizers have spoken up about the economic systems and cultural ignorance that caused your death; I am thankful for their words and actions. During the past few weeks I’ve been stunned first that a crime like this could happen in the city where I live, and secondly that violent crimes targeting trans people are so incredibly common. I’m sorry I was so presumptuous to think that just because I feel safe that you would too.
I can’t stop thinking about you. Pride week came and went, and I couldn’t help thinking, “What’s the point of all this celebration when the threat of violence against trans women is so present right here in this city?” Without an answer, I walk a bit more somberly.
I don’t know how to adequately honor your memory—it’s made all the more difficult by the fact I don’t know you. I’m sorry I didn’t know you and that I let the geographic, racial, and economic distance between us render you invisible in my life.
Though its grossly inadequate, I do promise to try to honor your memory. I’ll educate myself. I’ll work for justice. I’ll voice my disapproval when someone makes negative comments about anyone on the basis of race, economic options, gender identity, body type, or anything else. I’ll try, no matter how messy it gets.
Sandy, you were a person worthy of safety and respect, and though I have little power in this very big world, I promise to take every opportunity I can to learn what it means to be an ally to every kind of person. I hope I’m not alone in that promise.
In memory of Sandy Woulard, 1982-2010
Originally published in Gay Chicago Magazine in July 2010.