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The trans community endures

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April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot in “The Waste Land.” Eliot didn’t know the half of it.

On April 12, the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members was allowed to go into effect. On April 23, news broke that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would issue a new rule that would make it easier for doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to deny care or coverage to transgender patients. On April 6, transgender man Emmit Davis was assaulted outside his home in Colorado Springs. On April 22, Kyley Vinzant, another member of the Colorado Springs trans community, committed suicide. And on April 28, trans woman Amber Nicole was assaulted leaving a bar in Denver. She was left with a shattered jaw and facial paralysis.

Jack Wolfe, lead facilitator for Building Real Identities Discovering Gender Expression (BRIDGE), a local support group for transgender people ages 18-30, explains that decisions made at the national level, such as the military ban, can have a significant impact on individuals in the local trans community. These political actions are “just another pebble on top of a mountain of weight,” says Wolfe. “It will finally cave in.”

Despite the bleak political landscape, and rising violence, Wolfe is cautiously optimistic. “That’s the nice thing about the trans community. We are one of the most resilient communities within the ‘LGBT,’” says Wolfe, but adds, “It’s definitely hard seeing friends who don’t make it.”

As a 28-year-old trans person, Wolfe’s no stranger to suicide. I first interviewed him for my column almost two years ago, and during that first interview we discussed the death of Brianna Carlisle, a member of Peak Area Gender Expressions (PAGE), BRIDGE’s parent group. “Brianna was one of the first people who was that warm, welcoming face for me at PAGE,” says Wolfe, “When I started BRIDGE, Kyley [Vinzant] had just started transitioning. Being that friendly face for her was important to me.”

For Wolfe, his work as a support group facilitator is a vital community service. “Kyley ended up writing me a personal letter,” he tells me. “‘There’s a reason we look up to you; you’re a positive influence.’ It makes me want to continue on no matter how draining it is, there is a bit of self-sacrifice there for others so they can continue their journey.” 

Trans people often find themselves living on the margins of cisnormative society, and often their only support comes from other trans people, which is why groups like PAGE and BRIDGE are so important. “[Kyley] was harassed all the time,” recalls Wolfe, “she was visibly trans and people made sure she knew.”

On April 30, I found myself at 3 Kings Tavern in Denver thinking about Kyley and the trans community. I was attending a memorial show for Denver punk-scene legend Brittany Strummer, who passed on April 1. The opener for that show was Ersatz Robots, a band made up entirely of trans women. I spoke with their drummer, Josie Cool, about the attack on Amber Nicole two days before. 

“I was two blocks away doing sound for a concert when she was attacked,” she told me, “I walked alone past a busy night club on the way to my car and I was wearing an above-the-knee skirt. It could have been me.” Despite the pall that recent politics, violence and suicide have cast over the trans community, Ersatz Robots played a solid set of endearing, Pavement-esque indie rock. “That kind of representation is incredibly important for our community,” says Cool, “Galen [Mitchell, vocalist and guitarist]’s songs are about being depressed and struggling with your identity and what that means to your relationship with your partner, and former partners, and your parents, and yourself. I think we all feel a deeply personal connection to her words.”

When the headliner, Chicago-based Typesetter, took the stage, their bassist Alex Palermo draped the trans flag over their amp. Toward the end of their high-energy set, guitarist Marc Bannes and Palermo shared their memories of Strummer and prefaced their song “Viva” with an earnest and heartfelt, “Please don’t kill yourself.” I can feel the emotion in their voices as they sing “I never listened / or paid attention / I guess it figures / You’re bored and leaving.”

I’ve spent the last two years documenting the Colorado trans community; my community. It’s a colony, like the Portuguese Man o’ War; a community of independent organisms working together to support each other and survive. When one of those organisms gets hurt, or dies, the entire colony feels the loss, and it leaves a hole. The Trans Lifeline is a suicide hotline run by trans people. You can reach them at 877/565-8860.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Kyley Vinzant's name. We regret the error.

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