Orange is The New Black and its New Black Trans Narrative

Trans narratives are hot.

Across the globe, media makers are turning to the transgender community for fodder for films, photo exhibits, stage plays, magazine articles, etc. In fact, if you aren’t talking about trans people, then you are missing out on what is an incredibly powerful media moment where our lives have become the catalyst for mainstream discussions of gender, sexuality, and even race.

Riding the wave of this trans trend is the new Netflix series, Orange is The New Black. Based on the book of the same name, the show tells the story of Piper Kerman and the colorful inmates she meets during her one year sentence at a women’s prison. Written and directed by women with a majority women cast, OITNB is breaking new ground in a number of ways but is mainly doing so by ushering in a new and powerful representation of black trans identity through the character of Sophia Burset.

Although OITNB treads the line of racial stereotype, the show is redeemed by the ways in which it depicts female sexuality. For the most part, all of the women in the prison are represented as having control of their sexuality despite their reality of incarceration. Whether they are sneaking into chapels to fuck, risking solitary confinement for a mind shattering screwdriver induced orgasm, or rejecting the advances of lovestruck but dangerous cellmates, the women are consistently shown with some semblance of sexual agency. The character of Sophia is no different.

For instance, in a predictable “trans” moment from the series, Sophia is advised to offer sexual favors to a sexually abusive guard in return for him sneaking in her life saving hormones. Though she briefly considers the exchange in a well written moment of desperation that toys with audience expectations, Sophia ultimately rejects the offer to seek out alternative means of trans survival. This powerful plot twist is extremely notable in a climate that assumes that trans women of color are innately prone to sex work as the only avenue of survival.

Sophia’s choice to rely on strategy and intellect instead of her body to get what she needs, is not the limit of her sexual agency. As a trans woman who is married to a cisgender woman, the portrayal of their relationship explodes overarching myths that have positioned trans women of color as sexually undesirable outside of pornographic imagery. At the same time, their union also calls attention to the nuances of marriage equality in relation to trans individuals who are victims of the prison industrial complex–an issue that has yet to gain traction in the marriage equality debate.

Perhaps the most compelling act that the presence of Sophia’s wife performs, is a challenge to the widespread notion that black people are more homophobic and transphobic than any other racial group. While we know this isn’t true, it is unfortunately rare to see mainstream images of black queerness based on acceptance and tolerance. Even the black inmates housed with Sophia, fully recognize and respect her as a woman and are shown supporting her hair salon or voting for her to become block president. This might seem as a minor plot point to some but to witness black cis women and trans women support one another is indeed a radical representation of the possibilities of black solidarity. And it is amazing.

Carrying the burden of representation as being the first show to include a black transgender actor as a cast lead does not make OITNB cutting edge. No.
What makes it work–what makes it memorable–what makes it powerful, is that, it offers an image of black trans womanhood that is complex, messy, imperfect and, above all, human. Hopefully, work by allies who are fascinated by the trans narrative, will follow suit.

How Thinking Like a Social Entrpreneur Can Shift the Transgender Movement

With the high rates of unemployment, homelessness and overall poverty plaguing the transgender community, it is now important more than ever for traditional non-profits to shift their sights towards a group of change makers that are the best equipped to tackle these complex problems: social entrepreneurs.

Social entrepreneurs are impact driven change agents that develop business models, products and deliver services that address the needs of the most vulnerable world citizens. Not limited by traditional funding sources, social entrepreneurs seek out support from both the public and private sector to build their enterprises. They also rely on the financial returns of their services for long-term sustainability, making it very clear the importance of profit as being key to large scale change. In a way, social entrepreneurs are committing a form of social alchemy by taking on capitalism and transforming the way it works–and they are making it work for good.

Here are four ways that non-profits focused on transgender advocacy can utilize the core of social entrepreneurial thinking to make a lasting impact for all members of the trans community:

1. Don’t just rely on asks–Finance it yourself
Like other non-profits, transgender advocacy organizations are stuck in the constant cycle of fundraising based on the form of “asks” with the hopes of meeting their yearly budgets. While some might enjoy this somewhat masochistic form of acquiring money, it limits the amount of funds available to build capacity so that you can grow. To challenge this, non-profits must take on a broader approach to financing their organizations needs by emphasizing the social impact their work makes rather than how much money they need to make a social impact. This can be done by placing a high value on earned income as a necessary part of your organizations mission, with strategic branding, for example, serving as a powerful way to generate revenue for your organization.

A perfect example of this can be seen with the Dallas based organization, Black Transmen, Inc. A resource for black trans men in the face of the dearth of services available, Black Transmen Inc., offers fee based products such as a yearly retreat, apparel, and even a Black Trans Pageantry System, which requires an affordable entry fee for contestants, to financially sustain the organization while simultaneously promoting its mission of healthy development through transition. As a social enterprise focused on transgender advocacy, Black Transmen, Inc. challenges negative assumptions that black trans people are invisible while creating a brand that represents our community as compassionate businessmen and socially driven activists.

2. Make partnerships with organizations that might not have the same mission in order to leverage their resources
Social entrepreneurs believe that without collaboration, a true lasting impact cannot be made in the world. They realize that different sorts of people offer different sources of expertise and resources that when pooled together, can strengthen areas of business that show signs of weakness. Transgender advocacy organizations must begin to look beyond the expected partnerships with other LGBT organizations and start to form strategic partnerships in alternative sectors. This can take many forms, such as seeking out corporate partnerships for funding; forging academic partnerships with local schools/colleges that can provide access to research tools; or working with public interests groups to accelerate policy change.

It can also be the simple act of banding together with organizations focused on different avenues of social change. This could mean partnering with a reproductive justice initiative or an organization focused on racial equality. Ultimately, such partnerships shift the activist narrative to recognize the multiple issues that affect trans individuals.

3. Create programs that empower
Since the goal of transgender advocacy organizations is to eliminate all types of anti-trans discrimination, than it is important for leaders to create programs that seek to empower members of the trans community, so that they can in turn become leaders themselves. For example, the trans economic empowerment fellowship program, Who We Know, works with talented trans people of color to provide them with the necessary resources to create economic opportunity for the extended community.

Other trans organizations must follow suit and develop programs that empower trans people to take initiative within their communities. This not only improves on the work that your organization does, but it also helps to impact the trans community on a wider scale.

4. Be daring
The most important factor in engaging a social entrepreneurial mindset, is to be daring and creative when it comes to solving our most difficult problems. With the growing visibility of trans people across the globe, it is now important more than ever for advocacy organizations to take the necessary risks that can innovate our activism and move us beyond outdated charitable modes of thinking as a pathway to equality. Our movement severely needs it.

We Have Always Resisted

When defining the reproductive justice movement, many advocates trace its roots to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and the growth of reproductive health organizations that began to emerge. Taking up issues such as access to safe abortions, ending sterilization, and the right to motherhood, the boom in institutional activism across races, helped to usher in an ongoing national conversation about the structural restraints enforced on women’s bodies.

For reproductive justice advocates of color, the strategic act of centering Roe v. Wade can be useful in that it provides a documented history of resistance against a medical industry driven by pharmaceutical genocide. However, because this framework privileges a concept of “woman” concerned primarily with abortion access, it advances a dangerous narrative that erases the multiple ways that generations of trans women of color have also organized around similar issues of reproductive oppression. Specifically, the right of an individual to exercise control and fight for the safety of their bodies despite their gender and sexuality.

Becoming mindful of the historical activism of trans women of color prior to Roe v. Wade, offers the potential for making a significant impact when organizing for reproductive rights. Their experience of injustice might extend far beyond safe access to abortions, still, it is deeply connected to the multiple oppressions non trans women of color experience. By recognizing this, we can begin to move reproductive justice conversations forward in a way that provides opportunity for inclusion rather than the continued fragmentation of womanhood currently plaguing the movement. The legacy of trans women of color activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, provide excellent points of reference for this suggestion.

To combat the public mistreatment and overall violence against trans women, the year 1970 witnessed Johnson and Rivera launch a collective shelter for women of the community–most of whom were youth and sex workers–called Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) House. Drawing from their own experiences of the violent risks associated with sex for survival, the main goal of STAR House was to offer housing and community support to ensure that other trans women didn’t have to “hustle” in order to live a complete life. Although it was a short lived program, STAR House holds a significant place in reproductive justice history as being the first grassroots initiative to promote the sexual health and safety of queer and trans youth of color.

More than this, Johnson and Rivera’s work reveals a primary way in which the reproductive oppressions of trans women of color directly link to the realities of non trans women of color. Specifically, it shows that no matter how one physically occupies the identity of a woman, the threat of economic hardship as a product of structural racism and misogyny, inevitability regulates their sexuality and how they engage their bodies in sex.

It also points to the historical similarities of community mobilizing that exists amongst all women of color–a topic that deserves more critical analysis but continues to remain woefully under discussed. Just as Black lesbians, Chican@s, and Indigenous women created activist spaces concerned with the specific health needs of the women in their community prior to Roe, the founding of STAR House as a space for trans women created by trans women, treads the same social justice path.

Provided that reproductive justice is indeed about all women having the right to make healthy and informed decisions about their bodies, advocates who continue to ignore the historical contributions of trans women of color, are complicit in reproducing the very oppressions the movement seeks to destroy. It is urgent that we foster a reproductive justice framework that includes recognizing the shared relationships of resistance between all gender identities–as it is our most powerful avenue in creating significant social change.


This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a blog series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.

Why Centering Race in Transgender Advocacy is Key To Equality for All

Since the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1998, the violent deaths of trans women of color, have unfortunately come to dominate the yearly event designed to remember and celebrate the lives of those that are victims of transphobic murders. This year is no different as events around the country are set out to mourn recently deceased trans women of color, such as Brandy Martell, Coko Williams, Paige Clay and Deoni Jones–all black women whose only crime was daring to live openly.

Notwithstanding the recent advancements in the transgender movement, including the precedent set in extending employee protection rights to all members of the community, the deaths of these women continue to highlight the severe reality of injustice that trans people of color endure in the face of systemic racism. Thus making it very clear that the goal of eradicating gender oppression as a necessary step in the transgender movement, is one that is failing to keep trans people of color alive.

I do not need to stress the importance of Transgender Day of Remembrance as a viable act of visibility and resistance. However, it is not enough for us to simply mourn these victims–we have to take the necessary steps to destroy the racist institutional barriers that perpetuate their deaths–and not leave the burden of responsibility on communities of color. Instead, predominately white led transgender advocacy organizations, which undoubtedly have the greatest access to resources financial and otherwise, must begin to seriously consider the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community by developing and enforcing policy that takes an intersectional approach to the identities of trans women of color.

For one, a cogent understanding of the historical structural barriers that prohibit economic advancement for all people of color, must form the basis of our advocacy. We cannot successfully implement laws and policy without focusing attention on the reality that the economic insecurity experienced by trans women of color, is a product of systematic and cyclical poverty. In so doing, we can then begin to thoughtfully create employment programs that are specifically targeted at trans people of color and our right to economic justice.

It also means understanding that unlike white counterparts, as trans people of color suffer the stresses of racism, we are more susceptible to physical ailments such as high blood pressure, mental illness, depression, apathy, etc. It is therefore important to build energy not only around the need to access healthcare under the guise of hormones and transition related surgeries but we must also give attention to culturally competent and affordable healthcare that considers racial oppression and the state of dis-ease it fosters. Our health is our greatest defense in keeping trans of color communities alive and thriving.

Further, by centralizing race, transgender advocates can begin to chip away at the educational disparities experienced by trans youth of color. The fear of harassment not only due to gender non-conformity but racial discrimination as well, has forced many trans youth of color to suffer through bullying as an expected consequence or drop out of school altogether, ultimately furthering the gap in economic advancement. In creating safe spaces for trans of color youth–specifically girls–we have to cultivate an environment that honors and values their race as well as their gender orientation.

While many white transgender folks can celebrate the recent gains of the movement, we cannot forget that transgender people of color have limited access to those gains. If striving for the equal recognition of all transgender people is our goal, then the steps that ensure the longevity of trans people of color, cannot remain secondary to our mission.

Let us celebrate this on November 20th.

Finding Strength in Fragility

I remember begrudgingly accompanying my aging grandmother to our routine food stamp interviews. Feeling embarrassed, I would sometimes disguise myself because in my neighborhood, no kid on food stamps wanted to be seen going to get food stamps, even though many of us ate because of them. She never seemed to mind and wasn’t ashamed because of it.

The office was usually crowded, filled with long lines and uncomfortable plastic chairs that my grandmother’s arthritic body never quite settled comfortably into. This made it my job to do the waiting but it didn’t bother me because I wanted to make the experience the least physically stressful for her as possible. At points when the waiting seemed endless, I would rush out to the car to meet with her, rub her swollen hands and munch on the snacks that I never saw her make but deeply appreciated when they appeared.

I often think back to our trips to the office and how we supported each other through the defeating experience, and I am reminded of how our relationship–as grandparent and grandchild–positively shaped the ways in which we practiced the act of love. Though we never discussed it, I knew that she, too, feared being seen. I might have had to shield myself from the shameful eyes of my classmates but it was her who carried the bigger burden of having to defend her right to access welfare as an unmarried black woman to the sneering eyes of the larger judgmental society. The intimacy that surfaced during our trips, however, helped to alleviate some of this pressure.

According to pro-marriage proponents, being raised by a single parent–let alone a single grandparent–cultivates an endless cycle of pathological dysfunction for the entire community involved. But for those of us who are products of non-traditional family structures, we know firsthand that such thinking is flawed because it doesn’t explore how our families engage in emotional, mental and physical acts of love and support. Despite this, there continues to be a wealth of resources given to studies that brand single parents and their children as inevitable failures.

One such study conducted by scholars at Princeton and Columbia Universities, called “The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study,” follows in this vein. Taking a cue from the infamous 1965 Moynihan Report, which blamed black poverty on households led by women, the Fragile Families study concludes that the increase of social impairment, specifically in communities of color, can be attributed to the growth of unwed parents and their children. The data implies that “fragile families” can be fixed with a focus on keeping birth parents together but there are multiple problems with this perspective since it doesn’t recognize that everyone hasn’t had the same access to the rights of a family.

Within the U.S. fabric of history, exists a legacy of policy and legislation designed to intentionally break up poor families and families of color. For example, black people haven’t always had the right to identify as a family due to our historical status as property from enslavement. Even my grandmother’s parents struggled to stay together during a time where Jim Crow laws robbed black families of basic rights, while other groups continue to fight for the right to be a family in the midst of a history of flawed immigration and deportation laws that repeatedly devalues their presence. The recent veto of the TRUST Act by California governor Jerry Brown, exemplifies the powerful influence of this legacy.

Another problem with the study’s pro-marriage stance is the idea that marriage is always beneficial for families, no matter the circumstances. From personal experience, I know this isn’t always true, as my grandmother chose to be single as a process of self-care. She willingly separated from an abusive husband with the hopes of creating some form of familial normalcy for her and her children. Like many women who leave their partnerships to escape potential harm, she understood that single parenting was a better and safer option and in my eyes, this is not a sign of weakness but a bold act of courage and marker of strength.

The new family that my grandmother created was not without it’s problems, but no family is. To make up for the lack of partner income, she worked long hard hours for little pay at the local post office and from what my aunts and uncles tell me, always did her best to maintain a positive sense of kinship–perhaps money was tight but love and care were abundant.

Balancing child rearing with full time work was not easy for my grandmother, and neither is it for other single parents. The Fragile Families study reports that mothers in this type of situation are at an economic disadvantage compared to those that are married but it doesn’t discuss the racism that excludes certain types of mothers from access to high paying jobs. For many single parents, this is a stressful reality that hinders the development of healthy relationships much more than the type of job itself. My grandmother might have been able to survive a blue-collar job to provide for her family but the little room of advancement such a position offered, only worked to heighten the stresses of poverty.

It has been almost 10 years since my grandmother transitioned into the spirit world and not a day passes that I am not grateful for her love. Her tireless attention to my healthy development pushes me to think about my own potential as a parent–whether I decide to have children with a partner or not. Being that I exist in the world as a transgender man, whatever family I decide to create will not come without unsolicited criticisms of what constitutes a “strong” family since the idea of marriage equality continues to be mysteriously excluded from pro-marriage rhetoric. Love knows no gender and the existence of alternative family structures that challenge the idea that only cisgender fathers can lead healthy families, is surely revolutionary.

If scholars are serious about producing research that attempts to influence policy change for all families, we cannot continue to “blame the victim.” Instead, research must account for the multiple social disparities that both produce and inadvertently sustain all types of families. Indeed, there is strength in “fragile” families and it is up to us to recognize it.

My grandmother and other loving single parents deserve it.

Why Isis King’s Ad Matters for Trans Folks of Color

We are living in an incredible moment.

With the explosion of transgender representation taking shape in the past few years, women of color are arguably the most visible and are taking the lead in elevating affirmative trans discourse.

Popular activists such as Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, for example, exemplify what TransGriot blogger Monica Roberts  defines as The New Black Transwoman–a nod to Alain Locke’s concept of the New Negro, which sought to challenge stereotypes of blackness through intellectual self-representation.

Included in this group of pioneering transwomen is model-actress Isis King, of Top Model fame whose recent American Apparel advertisement of the Legalize Gay campaign has both made history and sparked a wave of discussion regarding “appropriate” transgender representation. Despite the accusations lodged by activist Ashley Love and misinformed supporters that the ad misgenders Isis King–an argument I completely disagree with and choose not to engage–it is, nevertheless, monumental for multiple reasons.

At the same time that black transwomen are becoming so visible in the media as intellectually driven activists, they still dominate the transgender woman as victim narrative, which many trans and non-trans advocates alike are guilty of perpetuating. This victim ideology has reduced the experiences of transwomen to that of being fearful of their own existence as their identity has been likened to that of an inevitable death sentence. However, with the visibility that comes with being in a highly circulated campaign that has the potential to reach millions, Isis strategically challenges this offensive narrative by presenting herself as a fearless agent of her own representation. Her presence in the campaign introduces an alternative image to a mainstream audience that is used to only seeing black transwomen in news outlet photographs that highlight their deaths.

In addition to the nefarious representations of victimhood that accompany trans of color identity, the unemployment rate for us is overwhelmingly high. If anything, Isis is helping to pave the way for more trans people of color to seek and acquire employment in the modeling industry where we have been previously excluded or relegated to hypersexualized imagery. Furthermore, it is rare to see a woman of color, especially a black woman, exist in the mainstream as a symbol of beauty without having to flash her backside or gyrate in a music video. As black women of all gender expressions continue to be marginalized from the dominant standards of what makes a woman attractive, the visibility of Isis allows for a refreshing, albeit controversial, challenge to this history.

Finally, Isis’ ad matters because whether or not trans folks can agree on if it is a suitable representation, it is an important move that continues to shift the public discourse of trans identity away from privileging white bodies. Her visibility serves as a reminder to all trans folks of color that we are here, we are leaders, we are allies and we are indeed beautiful.

Upcoming Transgender Speaker Series in San Francisco

This weekend kicks off a two part speaker series of transgender filmmakers at the GLBT Historical Society  in San Francisco, CA.

I will be part of Monday’s panel showing a clip of my work and discussing my new film, PASSION. Below is more information about the event and I hope to see you there!

 

GLBT History Museum LogoGLBT Historical Society Logo

San Francisco – The GLBT History Museum will present ”Trans Forming Film: Transgender Filmmaking Past and Future,” a special two-part program of personal viewpoints from transgender independent filmmakers on Sunday, July 1, and Monday, July 2.

“Last year, a big-budget transgender-themed film made the headlines when Albert Nobbs with Glenn Close was nominated for Academy Awards,” said Lee Callahan, an organizer of the program who also serves as a docent at the museum. “But if we really want insights into transgender lives, independent films made by transgender directors can tell us so much more. The filmmakers on these two panels — many of whom have had their work screened at the Frameline International LGBT Film Festival — will offer an extended conversation about how images of transgender people in films have changed over time and will bring us up to date on what’s happening currently in independent trans film.”

The panels will include both established and emerging filmmakers, who will discuss their individual approaches to transgender representation and will offer critical perspectives on the ways film has portrayed transgender people. In addition, the participants will show clips from their own works, which reflect documentary, fiction and experimental genres.

Sunday, July 1, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Morty Diamond (Trans Entities, 2008); Susan Stryker (Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, 2005); Texas (Gendernauts, 1999); Shawna Virago (Transsexual Dominatrix, 2011).

Monday, July 2, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Sam Berliner (Genderbusters, 2010); Ewan Duarte (Spiral Transition, 2010); Aneesh Sheth (My Inner Turmoil, 2012); Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler (Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen, 2008).

 

Both panels will take place at The GLBT History Museum at 4127 18th St. in San Francisco’s Castro District. Admission is $5.00 (suggested donation). For more information, visit www.glbthistory.org.

 

How my past as a black woman informs my black male feminist perspective today

Although I am not new to masculinity, I am new to being a black man.

I am new to the experience of male privilege and its consequence of authority, as well as the disprivilege of race that marks my black male body as innately suspect. It is the delicate balance between power and criminal that has allowed me to see the machinations of misogyny in an entirely different light. Whereas black cisgender men have generally approached feminist discourse through the academic texts and writings of black women, for me, it is my lived experience as a black female that has shaped the ways in which I embrace and practice black feminism.

Prior to physical transition, I wasn’t naive to the ways in which certain forms of black masculinity contribute to the oppression of women. I grew up in a family of single black women who loved, really loved, black men even though it was their husbands, boyfriends and sometimes brothers who were the perpetrators of emotional and physical abuse.

I watched my mother, my beautiful mother, struggle with the demons of mental illness and drug use. Her sickness, it seemed, gave the men in the neighborhood free range to take advantage of her financially and sexually. Though I’ve never met him to form an opinion, my aunt still declares it was my absent father who literally drove my mother to madness.

I was witness to the sadness my grandmother felt as all three of her sons followed in their father’s alcoholic footsteps. She still smiled through all of the pain but I saw the sadness when my uncle, her child, routinely threatened her in the same ways as did the abusive husband she left years before.

I learned to resent black men.

As I grew and my body changed, so did my interactions with males that I encountered. I suffered the threat of sexual violence as my female body consistently invited unsolicited advances from (black) men despite my masculine presentation.

I became more aware of the ads, music, and propaganda that told me that I was ugly, unattractive, and good enough only as a sexual object for black men. Even though intro courses to race and women’s studies in college began to offer me the critical tools to somewhat reject these images, I still felt shame as it was impossible to escape the reality that sexist images of black women suffocated me.

When I began to date women, I repeatedly encountered the aggressive homophobe who thought their magical black dicks could turn me “straight.” In some instances, I would rebuff their advances with jokes though I was well aware of the possibility of danger in doing so.

I learned to fear black men.

Although my relationship with black men and masculinity was fraught, I still desired to be one; I knew that gender transition would be a necessary part of my life’s journey.

For some transmen, their female past conjures up memories of pain and humiliation, and rightfully so. These feelings are not absent from my journey but I’ve come to embrace my past as a beneficial asset to my practice of a progressive black masculinity.

Primarily, I am very careful with my interactions with women in order to not be perceived as a physical threat. I am always thoughtful of my newfound “bulk” due to hormones and the ways in which my masculine body moves and occupies space. While walking on the streets, I maintain my distance from women. I avoid eye contact unless we are engaging in mutual conversation and even then, I do not stare. The memory of harassment as a woman doesn’t allow me to.

In professional situations, I am always aware of my male privilege. I do not hog the intellectual space and make it a point to deeply value the input of my female collaborators. My goal is not to be the dominant voice of reason but to attempt to exist as an equal colleague. Furthermore, in my work I find it very important to centralize the experiences of women to supplement the work that they are doing for themselves.

Although I identify as a heterosexual male, in my relationship with my partner I strive to avoid replicating the harmful gendered dynamics that are traditionally associated with heterosexuality. I make it a point to share my feelings and evaluate my shortcomings. I am not perfect and sometimes I slip but the emphasis I’ve placed on expressing my feelings has provided a deviation from conventional notions of black masculinity. This gesture does not negate my manhood; rather it permits me to love and perform gender in a much healthier way.

Additionally, I do not use my manhood as an excuse to cheat, to view my partner as another sexual conquest, or to marginalize her feelings.

In my brief experience of living as a black male, I’ve learned that it is difficult to challenge misogyny in male dominated spaces. I have found myself in a number of uncomfortable situations with men who openly insult and humiliate women and I feel silenced. Not because of the fear of being outed as trans but I fear being perceived as a failed version of black masculinity–a fear that I believe imprisons all black men–adding to the reproduction of a violent patriarchal society.

I am not a perfect man. I am not immune to the assumptions that are expected of me and sometimes, I act them out. However, my transition journey has allowed me to begin the process of forgiving my absent father, my alcoholic uncle, and the cat-calling homophobe on the corner.

Because black feminism allows me to love myself, I have learned to love black men.

 

Kylar Broadus Interview from STILL BLACK

This past week, Kylar Broadus, lawyer, professor and Trans People of Color Coalition founder, made black queer history by being the first transgender identified person to testify before the Senate during a hearing on the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (EDNA). If passed, EDNA would ban discrimination against gender expression or sexual orientation in the workplace.

In his testimony, Kylar expressed the discrimination he faced during his stint with a large corporation. He spoke of the unease of his supervisors as "they were not prepared to deal with my transition to being a black man." This led to repeated harassment and an eventual firing.

Kylar: "To be unemployed is very devastating, also demeaning and demoralizing. And then the recovery time--there is no limit on it. I still have not financially recovered. I'm underemployed. When I do talks, I tell people I'm not employable. I was lucky to be where I am and I'm happy to be where I am, but I'm one of the fortunate people that is employed. There are many more people like me that are not employed as a result of just being who they are, being good workers, but being transgender or transsexual. So I think it's extremely important that this bill be passed to protect workers like me."

In honor of Kylar's history making testimony, I felt it appropriate and very necessary to share his complete interview from my 2008 documentary film, "STILL BLACK: a portrait of black tansmen."

Enjoy.

stillblackfilm.org