When We Rise: A Wake-Up Call

About two weeks ago, I finally sat down to watch the historical retelling of the gay civil rights movement in the form of ABC’s “When We Rise” created by Oscar-winning director, Dustin Lance Black, and inspired by Cleve Jones’s book of the same title. From the moment I saw the trailer, I knew exactly what I was getting and counted myself fortunate that I had even heard of this mini-series as I don’t watch cable television anymore. However, what I didn’t expect is how much it would impact & touch my soul. I covered my feelings on activism in my previous entry, so I’ll be sticking to sharing my thoughts on show from my perspective as a trans woman.

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“When We Rise” focuses largely on four activists who became integral to the forward motion of the LGBT civil rights movement from the late Sixties into the Nineties: Cleve Jones, Roma Guy, Ken Jones, and Cecilla Chung. The major events touched on were violent discrimination, women’s rights, the AIDS/HIV epidemic, and the future of activism. However, if we are being honest here, Cecilla’s presence as the “T” element was largely silent throughout this series. This did not upset me, as I’m aware that that timeline was meant to highlight a different era unlike ours today. Being gay/lesbian was the major conflict of the period and “When We Rise” does a phenomenal job at blending directing with actual footage from key protests and events serving to educate and drive the very true realities of pain and loss home.

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The actors and filming showcased in both the past and near present periods of the series were all wonderful and largely believable to me. I connected with them and almost believed that they were the actual people they were portraying. This is especially the case for Guy Pearce (Cleve) who served as the narrative centerpiece of the series. There is a sense that every actor who brought “When We Rise” to life had a strong emotional investment in this production. After watching various interviews featuring Dustin and Ivory Aquino (Cecilla), there is no doubt that the direction of this series was meant to open the eyes of those beyond just the LGBTQ community. Not to mention, the notable star power of Rosie O’ Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg helped elevate the promotional push towards a broad audience.

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As a whole, this series served to educate those unaware of the historical battles fought and won by real people for the sake of gay civil rights and inspire the same fiery passion for the next generation of activists to keep fighting. “One Struggle. One Fight” was the resounding theme throughout the series. This goal is what made the minimal transgender representation a non-issue for me. There was so much I didn’t know about the past battles fought on behalf of the LGBTQ community that this series opened my eyes about many narratives and individuals that everyone should be aware of. Most of all, it made me consider my place in the fight for universal human rights and whether my actions to build my own pedestal as an outspoken transgender female is enough.

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To me, “When We Rise” is as much for the “LGB” as it is for the “TQ” – a solid reminder of how much progress we have made by working together rather than individually. As transgender civil rights have been front and center in the media, I believe we need this sense of cohesive love and pooling of resources within the community now more than ever to continue the fight and raise tangible awareness that we are real people deserving of equal care and protection as any other human.

As of this post’s publishing, “When We Rise” can be streamed via ABC’s website or through Hulu. I truly feel it’s incredibly important for as many people to consume this special piece of media as possible. My sincere hope is that others will feel compelled to give this a proper watch for themselves.

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Transgender Introspective: The “ACT” In Activism

“Altogether, seven trans women of color have been murdered so far in 2017.”

Honestly, this is appalling to me. Not because of the number, but because for as few rights and privileges that transgender persons are barred from by cis people, the deaths of these women are being treated with similar lack of regard as any other ordinary cisgender person. This is a real problem that should be given much more attention that it has received.

…Ha! Easy for me to say.

“When we die, folks barely flinch. And that’s if a trans person is lucky enough to make the news and not be misgendered by the media.”

Lately, I think I am one of those people who don’t flinch.

My reason for penning this introspective is grounded in a personal challenging of how I’ve approached speaking out on behalf of the transgender community at large. As open as I have been about my identity, it’s a wonder how I am still alive. However, for me to even think this way, despite my “slacktivism” behind the computer, is, in many ways, belittling of those on the front lines. On the other hand, nearly all of these murders were not of activists, but every day girls like me just living proudly. Yes, these deaths have occurred predominately in the South, but it would be foolish to believe that the inclination to kill a transgender woman of color only exists in that area.

When I first came out to my mother and sister in 2014, my sister made it clear that she was very concerned about my safety. I reassured her that I was taking measures to ensure I’d be safe, but refused to life my life quietly. Though it has only been 2 1/2 years since then (and just about 3 years since I began HRT), the thought of my life being in danger has since left my mind despite it not being a huge concern for me in the first place. Back then, I had not been exposed to statistics of trans deaths I now am aware of. Yet, even with that awareness, I continue living my life like any other woman would. Cis or trans, no one expects to die while engaging with society, yet I have to ask myself “why am I not afraid that I could end up like one of those pretty girls”?

A broadened perspective of danger and homicide is something I’ve admittedly lacked, and perhaps, ignored more than I’d like to admit.

The article talks a lot about “safe spaces”, the “bathroom bill”, and navigating the legal & health challenges that many trans women of color encounter. The latter is something I can surely attest to, despite having periods where income was good & services were within reach. However, the other two matters have eluded me, save one experience I had at a rave before I had fully committed to who I truly am. Have I just been lucky? Am I just blessed with good facial genes and a relatively petite frame?

Hard to say, but I feel horrible knowing that I’ve avoided making this more personal. That somehow, I’ve circumvented the issues of safely using the bathroom to the point of feeling 100% comfortable doing my own makeup next to another woman. That I feel safe enough to chat with a man on the bus after another man had gotten up so I could sit.

However, what if I couldn’t shave my face? What if I couldn’t afford makeup? These are the hard questions that terrify women like me who are pseudo-stealth, or have fully reinvented themselves in secret. However, as is shown by the photos of those murdered black women, we are dying regardless of how attractive we are and what resources are available to us. And those resources (read: income, housing, health care, legal protections, etc.) are what activists and advocates are still fighting to make readily available to women like me.

Death doesn’t get personal for most people until it happens to someone they care about, or they, themselves, are already dead. One would think that death would make this personal for the LGBTQ community, but apparently it takes a ThinkProgress article for even me to realize how little attention these deaths really are getting from the community, let alone media outlets. Women being murdered for no reason other than being alive needs to be talked about more by those of us who are directly at risk. That includes me. Though I am in no way an “activist”, I do believe that despite my narrative being absent of the basic, societal hardships trans women of all races face, though undeniably skewed towards women of color, me simply living transparently as an ambitious, talented [trans] woman of color as a outlet for education and awareness does support the notion that our lives should matter.

Except that’s the meager extent of what I do.

“How can trans folks expect to be respected and valued when they’re dead, when we are not even humanized and granted such courtesies when we are alive?

I’m still questioning if simply passively pursuing my goals, sharing my story, and educating others as an outspoken black transwoman is enough. Lately, I don’t think it is.

Transgender 201: Being Attractive Is Not Enough

While having a first time face-to-face meeting with a fellow transwoman in a local cafe, our friendly conversation was interrupted by a 20-something guy who thought I was someone he knew. However, her and I entertained him as we rarely have moments like these. He talked our faces off upwards of an hour about big, intellectual ideas centered around psychology and humanity that genuinely interested me. He then kindly asked us for our numbers, of which she declined while I casually offered it up as I tend to do in an playful act that has become something of a personal social experiment I’ve been unofficially collecting data on.

The next day, he pretty much asked me out on a date via txt which honestly surprised me. On my way to work that day, I saw he was attempting to “friend” me on Facebook. I accepted his request and left it at that. Hours later, after clearly going through my Profile Photos, he messages me with the one of the most transphobic one-liners you could ever say to someone. While on the job, I broke out laughing & immediately sent a txt to the friend who was with me yesterday that the inevitable had happened. My brief exchange with the guy inspired this Tumblr post of which he was guilty of doing all but one. Feel free to guess which one in the comments.

Yes, he was relatively attractive. Yes, I would have given him a chance. Yes, I did not feel the need to reveal that I am a transwoman right out the door. Yes, I would have eventually told him if he had found something beyond my looks and initial actress charisma to desire more of.

Figures my first hands-on instance of transphobia & bigotry would be with a person who I had just met. No, I am not wrong for refusing to over-share in an effort to give myself a chance to be seen as the woman I am. Despite my seemingly jovial response, I am the victim. Not him.

Why am I posting this? Because it’s important to highlight my experience to the friends who think me having low expectations about ever obtaining a long-standing relationships is grossly unnecessary and misguided on the basis that I’m arguably an attractive black woman. To the masses who think transgender people are actively being deceptive by either going “stealth” or giving someone a chance to know them as a person in an effort to trick someone into a relationship.

On the contrary, we are protecting ourselves from gender discrimination, psychological harm, and, for those with less of a thick skin than me, losing hope in our existence. Case in point, according to the latest data compiled from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 39%  of respondents “experienced serious psychological distress in the month prior to completing the survey compared with only 5% of the U.S. population”. 40% of respondents “have attempted suicide in their lifetime — nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population (4.6%).” My particular instance is centered around relationships, but is hardly the most prevalent of reasons so many of us would rather continue living a lie or be “stealth” due to the stigma of simply being honest with ourselves. Worse, deny ourselves of being alive any longer.

This is not a joke and people on the outside don’t seem to get it. To be told “ohhh you’re attractive – there are people out there who totally would jump your bones” is downplaying a very real struggle that they will never have to navigate. Being told this by people who are either already spoken for on the long-term or have already ruled them out is even more demoralizing regardless of a strong will to endure.

I have not nor will not hide who I am in the interest of finding a mate. The moment I chose to continue pursuing a career in entertainment, I relinquished this and embraced my past for myself so no one would have ammo to dehumanize me. However, this is a very real thing that people do and likely have done to me multiple times in silence after me giving them my name for them to google at will. In this case, even after I sent them an open offer for candid discussion, he chose to remain silent. I’ve given people my name and number more times than you might believe, and the result, thus far, has been the same [among cis males].

For a final bit of insight, this instance of being asked to hang out one-on-one at a later date is the furthest I’ve ever gotten with a completely new person that I was truly interested in AND who showed a genuine interest in me after just an hour of conversation. This was also the first time I actually thought, “He’s quirky, incredibly smart, and hungry for knowledge; maybe he could be different...” For a moment, there was a semblance of hope…

I intended to unfriend him if he remained unresponsive to my offer for “open candid discussion” all weekend.

He had beaten me to it.

For more valuable insight & statistical facts pooled from over 20,000+ respondents (including myself), download the full report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. And, as always, thank you for reading.