The day after Pride there was a memorial in the Transgender Memorial Garden for Castilla. I didn’t know her, but I had seen her. I don’t know her last name. It was never spoken at the memorial. The many times I heard stories about her I never heard it. Sometimes she lived in the park near my house. Sometimes she accompanied her friends on their first trip to a beauty supply store. Sometimes the police cut holes in her tent. Sometimes she did jobs to make a little cash. Sometimes she lived in the trans flat. Sometimes she was beaten so hard she had to be hospitalized.
When Sayer started things off he talked about the garden. “It was started by Jarek and Miss Leon” he said “and a whole passel of queers.”
Last names don’t mean much amongst a family whose surname is Queer. Legal IDs are more of a hindrance than a help, and they so rarely tell the real story. They so rarely say who we are.
Castilla came here from Guatemala. She was legal. She had done everything she was supposed to do, but when she tried to go home to her mother she was blocked by the government because her documents had been destroyed between shelters, between tents, between meals, between jobs. Lost. And so she was thrown away. Lost.
This isn’t a post about immigration. It’s not a screed about the lack of safe and welcoming shelters for trans people. It’s not about the lack of treatment for addiction and mental illness for people who sleep behind buildings and not in them.
And it’s about *all* of that.
This year’s Pride Festival brought 300,000 people to downtown St. Louis. Entire corporations and the whole roster of politicians and local celebrities were there. It was the first time my niece got to come to the city and go to Pride and she cried watching the parade. She was overwhelmed. She had never seen so many people who were kind toward her queerness. It was life affirming and beautiful. Necessary.
There were, perhaps, 40 people at the memorial garden. Somebody’s Black Lives Matter yard sign blew from the cooler where it was propped against my legs as a late afternoon thunderstorm threatened. Two local clergy persons delivered messages through a borrowed bullhorn from handwritten pages and notes on their phones. Friends told stories. Activists told anger.
Chanting, the chanting I have grown to love, began with three or four and swelled to all of us. “No Justice, No Peace” Call and response. The kind that carries you like a good sermon from a fiery preacher. NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE.
We called to each other like so many other times some of us have called to the world, voices rising above the garden that we planted just for this purpose. And quietly, then mournfully rising to a wail, a fellow family member cried, collapsed and yelled through tears. Crying the pain in a scream that silenced the chant. We stood in silence and let those around them comfort. We held that space. And then the chorus started to sing “We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.” The storm got loud. The rain started. The perfect coda.
In the end we looked around at each other. Fellow queers we know by first name – even those of us we don’t know well. We hugged told each other we appreciated each other.
In these ways, both fabulous parades and homemade funerals, we’ve got each other. Both are important. After all, Pride was a child born to the Queer family after a long labor of just this kind of grief and anger. This kind of homemade love. But I can’t help but think that if the corporations, politicians and celebrities would show up for Castilla we wouldn’t need a borrowed bullhorn or a fundraiser to save a sister from a pauper’s grave. We need to show up for both.
The trans community will send Castilla back home to her mom, who Sayer had to inform today that her child had died.
In every way the city around us, the state around that, the country around that failed her. We all failed her because this is our watch.
She was a trans woman. She was important even if you’ve never heard of her. She was a human being even if she had no place to go.
Her name was Castilla. She mattered.