We Will Outlive Them; A Trans and Jewish Rallying Cry
We live in a world that exists, at least in part, to constantly place trans women in peril. All of us know this, and all of us, somewhere deep down, live and work and exist with the reality of our situations; that today might be the day that systematic transphobia, the prison-industrial complex, state-mediated poverty, or just fucking awful luck get us. Our lives are lived in constant defiance of the death that stalks us each day, and all trans women are more powerful for it.
As a White Ashkenazi Jewish trans woman, and also the only White person working at Brave Space Alliance, I sit in this reality in a particularly fraught way. I know that my Whiteness literally keeps me alive; it could not be more evident than in the images of those trans people that we lose each year. 2017 marks the fourth consecutive deadliest year on record for trans people in the United States and most of those killed were once again Black or Brown. Although I endure constant violence, harassment, discrimination, and transphobia, my Whiteness above all else allows me to avoid those instances, intersections, and influences which are most likely to kill me. My position is further complicated by my visible, proud Jewish identity. Whereas in the more recent past I could go unnoticed among the Mayonnaise Masses with a bit of cultural assimilation and an ugly winter sweater, antisemitism is sharply on the rise in the US, and Nazis are once again gaining prominence in public life. As a trans woman, and a Jew, my constant vigilance against the ways that society might try to kill me have grown tenfold since this time last year.
The mid-November weather often leaves me wondering, as my community collectively loses count of how many we’ve lost this year, where we are supposed to find hope for the future of trans women’s lives. What can I, in my precarious position on the knife-edge of White privilege and transmisogyny, do to bring meaning to our collective struggle for resistance, life, and liberation? This year, more so than any before, I turned to my personal heritage to seek this hope. What I found is a bit of history and power that I would humbly submit as a rallying call for trans women everywhere.
In 1939, a group of Jews in the Polish city of Lublin were cornered by a group of SS Officers, backed against barbed wire, and ordered to sing to their own executions. One member of the crowd began singing in Yiddish “Let us reconcile…” but nobody joined him. Then, he began singing a different line, “mir veln zey iberlebn, iberlebn, iberlebn” – “We will outlive them.” The song took off among the group, and soon the whole crowd of Jews began singing and dancing raucously, even as they stared down death from the Nazi soldiers charging to kill them.
The defiance of that phrase, “we will outlive them,” staring down the face of death, stuck with me immediately. Imagine the power of singing, joyfully, in the face of people who presently intend to murder you out of hatred, that you will outlive them. Proclaiming, unapologetically, fiercely, that the memory of your being, and your siblings, and the struggle for liberation that you represent, even as your certain death is upon you. What could be a better rallying cry for an oppressed people in the face of forces that wish to see us dead? We will outlive them. What could possibly be a better battle cry for trans women as we continue to fight back against a society which kills us for simply existing? We will outlive them.
That simple phrase, taken from the storied annals of Yiddish resistance against Nazi genocide, is my message for my community this November. As Trans Day of Remembrance (or, as Brave Space Alliance seeks to reframe it, another celebration of trans resistance and resilience) quickly approaches, I encourage all of us to look into the world, and whenever we feel disempowered, hopeless, or afraid, remember the words sung in that Polish city in 1939. Because we WILL outlive each and every single one of them. The power, love, resilience, and radiance of trans women WILL outlive every single transphobe. The movement for trans liberation WILL outlive every oppressive, deadly, and intentionally harmful institution that this society has placed upon us. Just as the legacies of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera outlived the cisgender White gay men who unceremoniously threw them out of their own liberation movement, so, too, will our legacies outlive those who seek to erase us.
This year, like every year, we will outlive them.
Stephanie Skora (she/her/hers) is a genderqueer trans woman, a femme lesbian, a White Ashkenazi anti-Zionist Jew, a wife, mom, and a person who is all too happy to have a job that allows her to put her opinions on a website and be paid for it. Stephanie is the Director of Policy and Operations for Brave Space Alliance.