Torrey Peters, “Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Found Essay”

Reader: Becca Rohde

Brevity is “a journal of concise literary nonfiction,” with its essays maxing out at 750 words, yet Torrey Peters’s essay “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” which tops out at 1,789 words, can still be found in issue 49. That alone says enough about the piece to get our attention. Why was an essay that runs more than a thousand words past Brevity‘s limit considered for publication? What makes it worth bending the rules for? (What earns it a place in Waveform?) In my opinion this piece brings uncommon weight to an ignored and uncomfortable topic. This essay, this collection of experiences, is a crucial statement in an important conversation, and the word count is just the beginning.

This essay is by no means an easy read. It makes you work to get to the end, and that work is where its depth comes from. You can no longer ignore the narrated crimes. You are forced to look this injustice in the face—a staring contest that leaves you watery eyed.

Peters has presented a collage of deaths from a list of 226 reported murdered trans persons. She quotes the journalistic, reportorial style of the original documents, which are meant simply to provide the facts. She leaves herself and her point of view completely out of the narration. Letting the details, the repeated words, the sheer number of attacks and murders speak for themselves, Peters leaves readers raw and reeling. The information is not sugar coated, it’s not toned down, and we are definitely not handled with kid gloves.

Getting through this essay is difficult; reading words like victim, body, shot, stabbed, attacked, beaten, and murdered over and over and over is not something we are used to—but that’s the point. The repetition and the volume push readers through a range of emotions, from shock to horror to anger to exasperation. This piece is meant to take a lot out of you. It is supposed to be tiring and merciless in its monotony and length. It’s in your face, and I can’t imagine any other form having the same impact. Without this bluntness, it wouldn’t be as thought provoking, it wouldn’t be as compelling. And unfortunately, without its unbiased and unbroken presentation of facts, it wouldn’t be heard, let alone understood and appreciated.

Torrey Peters has crafted a gripping slice of writing that cannot and should not be ignored. While saying that I enjoyed the read is a bit unseemly, I am grateful for this glimpse into a part of society I would not have found on my own.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does the form Peters chose work with the topic of the essay?
  2. What do the repeated words represent or mean? Do they lose their power because they are repeated, or gain momentum as they are repeated?
  3. Why did Peters choose to use an impersonal, journalistic tone? What does it do for the piece?

On the Reader

Becca Rohde received her bachelor’s degree in professional writing from Michigan State University recently. She is a Michigander through and through, currently residing in Brighton, where she spends her days as a creative ad writer.