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.

Uses of Black Transmale Anger

Early on in my medical transition, I experienced an incredible spike in my level of confidence. After my first dose of testosterone, I anxiously awaited the physical changes my body would experience and as it did change, my level of self-esteem changed with it. Every new follicle of facial hair or drop in the tone of my voice, fueled my ego and reminded me of the powerful joy of living my life as I had always imagined it to be.

As the months passed by and my body further masculinized, my confidence was slowly displaced by strong feelings of anger. My sense of pride became muddied by the societal expectations of black masculinity. Specifically, the racist assumption that black men are full of rage and prone to violence. This became extremely evident in the new ways my body was policed by others. Whenever I spoke up, asserted myself, or failed to make those around me feel safe through complacency, I became the physically threatening angry black male. This realization intensified my anger but I quickly learned to contain my rage in ways that I never had to before, lest I became the dangerous stereotype in which I knew that I wasn’t.

Beyond the unexpected racist assumptions of my identity from acquaintances and strangers, my personal relationships experienced their own type of transition. I remember when a friendly debate about politics with a friend turned into a tense disagreement. As prideful intellectuals, we both vehemently defended our beliefs but our differing views quickly turned ugly as I was taken aback with my friend’s reminder “that testosterone is really making you angry.” Although I wanted to inform my friend of the fallacy of her statement, the conversation ended quickly thereafter but not before I profusely apologized and shamefully agreed that perhaps my anger was displaced and unnecessary.

While I had already learned that as a black male I had little room to express anger in fear of the potentially harmful repercussions, what became even more clear to me is that as a black transgender male, I have even less room to be angry. Simply put, because black transmen have to deal with the unfortunate disposition of carrying the racist baggage of an assumed brute masculinity and the damaging myth of aggression as a result of synthetic hormone use, our expressions of anger and frustration are sometimes interpreted by others as inauthentic. In effect, preventing potentially healthy and constructive uses of anger in our on-going process of self-fashioning.

In order for black transmen to move past the limitations of this binary, it is important for us to recognize that our anger is indeed real and is possible to manage within a society that breeds hostility towards our existence. The angry black male that we are perceived to be, should not disavow the reality that is our personhood and humanity and we must seek out healthy ways to reject this distorted image of our identity. This means being aware of our feelings of frustration, rage and resentment and understanding the situations that can provoke those emotions. In other words, use your anger to discover yourself.

I am now almost three years into my medical transition and am still learning to navigate the boundaries of my anger with the process of self discovery. I found out that with exercise, a strong focus on my writing and the use of therapy, I can manage my anger even though it is not always easy. Unfortunately, my recent inability to find solid employment has catapulted me into a depression that is fed with emotional rage, where I sometimes lash out at my loved ones or rely on self-destructive vices to provide a false sense of calm. However, I always try to remain conscious of the root of my anger. This practice helps to direct future expressions of anger appropriately and away from the most vulnerable people in my life to prevent irreparable damage.

Everyday that I am gifted life, I continue to walk the tightrope of anger management. I tiptoe between intense moments of justifiable rage that attempt to spiritually debilitate me, while at the same time offer powerful revelations of emotional strength in the face of adversity. I have come to understand that whether or not one uses hormones, for black transmen, the mismanagement of our anger can impede on what could be a positive experience of self-enlightenment. The stress of racism coupled with the stigma of transition, can either be used as reasons for self-destruction or as powerful tools of self-actualization, with the latter being our most valuable option.

Tips for Queer and Trans Students to Complete the Ph.D.

Graduate school is difficult for everyone.

For queer and trans students it can be an especially isolating time, since the politics of intellectualism can sometimes expose the prejudices of the academic elite. My experience as a graduate student taught me this firsthand.

In order to throw a lifeline to current and potential queer and trans students in the academy, I offer four tips:

1. Find support networks outside of your department.

Along with nurturing scholarly growth, the road to the Ph.D. is designed for professional development. However, the relationships between queer and trans students and members of their department can sometimes be strained, thus preventing solid networks that last beyond degree completion.

As a queer and trans student, it is imperative that you seek out and attend conferences, colloquiums, brown bag series, etc. that are designed to connect similar students in a professional setting. You will more than likely meet different colleagues who share research interests and who can act as sources of refuge if the work of living openly in the academy begins to weigh you down.

2. Do not feel compelled to work with people who do not respect you despite their academic celebrity.

I’ve heard a number of stories from queer students who enter a program to work with popular academics in their field, only to learn that the scholars they held in such high regard are ignorant to issues of gender and sexuality. These situations have led to advisors questioning the scholarly worth of their research projects and other forms of intellectual hazing.

When selecting your committee, make sure to meet with them one-on-one prior to officially adding them to your project. Granted, personalities can change, but it is better to have an opportunity to feel them out as a person. This helps to squelch the desire to work with them solely based on their academic accolades.

Also, be mindful that not all queer and trans professors are your allies. Do not expect everyone to relate to or understand your path. Like everyone else, queer professors come with their own biases and prejudices that can be race, class, or gender based.

3. Remember, you and your research are important.

This tip is an extension of #2 but I can’t stress it enough, your presence as a queer or trans person in the academy is just as valuable as any other student. If your department chair, advisor, seminar leader, or cohort members explicitly fail to respect you or your research, do not be afraid to speak up–you have rights.

Contact services on campus that can help mediate the problem such as The Office of Equal Opportunity. You do not have to address the situation alone.

4. Take care of your health

I left this tip for last because I believe that it is the most important of the series.

Since the academy isn’t always kind to our minds and bodies, it is important that we are. To help deal with the stress and politics, take advantage of the health options your campus offers, learn a hobby, or join a meetup/tweetup to socialize with folks outside of the academy. Do whatever it takes to step away from the books to check in with yourself and take care of your mental and physical health.

 

 

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

Beyond the Victim Paradigm for Black Transwomen

The past year has seen a plethora of articles, blog entries and studies highlighting the social disparities faced by black transgender people. From introducing readers to our experiences of employment discrimination, restricted access to medical care, and encounters with police and civilian violence, the recent inquiries into black trans life have begun to provide important visibility to a community that is often overlooked.

In particular, it is the tortured lives and untimely deaths of black transwomen, as evidenced in the upcoming trial of CeCe McDonald and the homicides of Brandy Martell and Paige Clay, that have added to the recent surge of independent articles investigating black transgender subjectivity.

Undoubtedly, this newfound attention to the plight of black trans folks by primarily cisgender allies is timely and necessary. It has, however, created a narrow representation of black identity that doesn’t recognize transwomen beyond the transphobia/victim paradigm.

A primary way in which the victim paradigm is enforced, is through the use of language that negatively frames their experiences. The lives of the women profiled are written about using descriptors such as “burden,” “victimized,” or in statements that boldly declare “nobody cares,” ultimately implying that black transwomen have little to no agency or cultural efficacy.

In an article for The Root titled No Justice for CeCe, Kelle Terrell exhibits this trend by writing

“black transgender people like CeCe McDonald will continue to look over their shoulders, scared as hell, knowing that when danger lurks, if they have the audacity to fight back and not allow themselves to be killed, there’s a good chance that they are the ones who will be punished. The message is crystal clear: Transgender people have very little value in this world, dead or alive.”

The assumption made by Terrell that black transwomen are confined to living a life of perpetual fear based on expectations of violence and inevitable death, is a troubling gesture that paints a grim picture of black trans subjects as being fearful of our own identity. This rhetorical move negates the agency of pleasure and personal acceptance that is involved in living openly and freely as a black transgender individual, despite the societal consequences of doing so.

The victimization of black transwomen is also produced by associating violence as the main impetus for their inclusion in the public discussions of LGBT visibility. Though violence and death are, in fact, a harsh reality for my sisters, in order to present a more complex image of black transwomen, it’s important that we also seek out and produce affirming stories of survival to demonstrate the multiple ways in which they actively resist the limitations of the “murder narrative.”

At the same time, we cannot continue to marginalize or completely erase the voices of black transwomen from the discourse of their lives by relying on non-trans “gender experts” or white trans subjects to articulate the nuances of blackness. Including and actively listening to the voices of black transwomen, reflects their vital role in the social construction of their own identity, further destabilizing notions of a silenced victimhood.

Indeed, there exists real threats against black transgender people as we experience intersecting levels of discrimination on a daily basis. For black transwomen, though they embody an identity that deems them second-class citizens like cisgender women of color, they are not merely victims. But if we do not introduce alternative black trans narratives, how will we know?