TDR, Terrorism, and Binary Thinking


Today is the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day began in 1999 as a vigil remembering those who have been murdered because of their gender identity.  It has grown from a vigil in San Francisco remembering the death of Rita Hester the previous year, into a global observation.

Although reported hate crimes have been in decline since 1991, the transgender community is being killed in increasing numbers.    Here is a list of those who have been killed since Nov. 20, 2014. 

My congregation is in the process of becoming a recognized Welcoming Congregation and I forgot this day was coming up.  I won’t forget next year.  This day, these lives lost, during this week of fear and terror, remind me once again of the deadly danger of uncritical binary thinking.  The law of noncontradiction states that something can’t be both “A” and “Not A” at the same time.   We are culturally conditioned to think in binaries: male-female, gay-straight, black-white, Christian-Muslim, theist-atheist.  Yet when it come to matters of human relationship and being human, many things really do exist between and beyond A and NOT A. Many things and many people are both A and NOT A or neither A nor NOT A.

The problem with binary thinking is that one part of the binary is usually considered good and the other not good or even evil.  If male is good, female is less good. If straight is correct, gay is incorrect. If Christian is holy, Muslim is unholy.  There is so much hatred and fear on each side of a binary, that usually both ends of the spectrum are uncomfortable with with anything or more importantly, any person, that exists somewhere in the middle.

It’s time to make concentrated efforts to move past simplistic binary thinking. It not only makes sense for a diverse and pluralistic society, but it seems necessary if we want to slow the seemingly endless cycle of violence, war, and division based on every conceivable difference.  The world is acutely attuned to terrorism and violence this week, and rightly so, yet our transgender neighbors face an ongoing pattern of terror and violence that only seems to get worse, and without a common groundswell of the world community calling for an end to it and for punishment for its perpetrators.

Is non-binary thinking different, more difficult and less comfortable? Perhaps.  Does this make things more grey? More cloudy? It certainly does. But the dozens of transgender murders in the past year and the past week’s terrorist attacks inform us in very clear and stark terms that day-night and light-dark assumptions of certainty no longer serve us.  


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