An Imperfect 10: India Clarke, Aydian Dowling and the Long Journey to Transgender Equality

I am a skeptic--something I do not admit lightly. Rarely do coincidences bother me or make me think that yes, the universe really does have a "plan." But this week tested that skepticism. I began to consider that our lives, even just the lives of queer people, are indeed guided by a strange hand of fate--one with a dark humor all its own.

Enter India Clarke. The 25-year-old transgender woman had been beaten to death and her body left in a park near a community center in Tampa. The injustice of her murder reverberated beyond her actual death as news media persistently misgendered her and police called her a "man in a dress." She was the 10th confirmed transgender woman murdered since 2015 began.

Enter Aydian Dowling. The 28-year-old transgender man joined the ranks of nine other men as the 10 semifinalists for the Ultimate Men's Health Guy--a contest where the finalist graces the cover of the widely read men's exercise and fitness magazine. His story of discovering his identity, of finding pride in himself and his body, of building a family and fitness following has inspired thousands to vote for him as the magazine's first transgender man to be featured on its cover. His journey to the top 10 has followed similar high-profile figures, such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, as they all have put a human face on the lives of transgender men and women everywhere.

Dowling's smiling face. Clarke's beaten face, unmoving forever. Both stories breaking within days of each other. Both transgender people ranking 10th in their own way--one for the life he celebrates, one for the life she lost.

Nothing ties these stories together beyond a number and a community, but the coincidence that binds them--of time, of number, of identity--illustrates a harsh disparity that should claw at the heart of every queer person today. Transgender rights seem to be on some unseen brink--one foot poised in sunlight, one anchored in darkness. For every Jenner, there seems to be a Mercedes Williamson (the country's ninth murder). For every Dowling, there seems to be a Clarke. The stunning visibility of transgender men and women in today's media is soured by the bloody trail of transgender bodies that continue to be threatened, mutilated and finally destroyed across the country.

I celebrate Dowling's triumphs and hope for his win. I mourn for Clarke and worry for the women that might follow her. But most of all, I feel a dizzying uneasiness of being caught between them. I wonder how some unseen fate has set the stage for 2015 to be the biggest year in transgender rights and yet witnesses the sacrifice of so many young transgender lives in the process. It is all so maliciously unfair that it is hard not to believe something is weighing the scales against us.

But the skeptic in me returns. There are no coincidences. Only people--and the good and evil acts they choose to put into our shared world. The best we can hope is that the best of us--the Jenners, the Coxes, the top-10 scoring Dowlings--continue to speak and live and love and fight until no more transgender men or women become just another statistic.