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.

Saving myself for no one

The concept of sexual intimacy is not lost on you or me. However, somewhere along the line – growing up in a Christian household, trying to be a good, heterosexual boyfriend to the few girls who gave me a chance, my admittance of being of an agnostic, free-thinking perspective, and embracing my identity as a pansexual transwoman – I lost sight of what I should and should not deserve. Rather, I never had much of a chance to really explore the idea of engaging in sexual intimacy. For specific reasons, I just accepted that my time had not come.

My long-standing belief has been that one should reserve sexual intimacy for the person they have committed themselves to in a monogamous, romantic relationship. I have since realized that this line of thinking has been the last bastion of traditional, Christian-centric thought that had somehow survived through everything that had drastically shifted in my lifestyle. The idea had been deeply engrained into me, despite being “born male”, and the shame of contradicting this thinking loomed near whenever temptation arose. My parents being religious & fairly traditional led me to put my own romanticized take on it, believing that if I remained patient & virtuous, one day I would be able to entrust my body to the person I believed was “the one.”

I recently read a novel that turned me on (pun intended) to the very common practice of two characters meeting one another. After their initial meeting, both of them recognized their instinctual attraction to one another over time with each chance interaction feeding the heat between them. Eventually, one makes a move and the other is equally overcome with ferocious passion. For some reason, the timing in which I was exposed to that story – right around when I turned thirty – caused me to have an alternative perspective. Prior to turning thirty, I would have asked “who could possibly jump into bed with someone who clearly had no romantic intentions to remain faithful to them”? However, in the face of physical aging, sparse intimacy over my lifetime, and the high level of self-love I had cultivated as the woman I was born to be, what I read now appeared almost natural and sensible as my former mindset seemed almost something an insane, brainwashed prude would do.

#1: I can be shallow as fuck about looks.

#2: I am light-years from being a “prude”.

“Turning 30” has been a recurring theme in this blog as of late and sexual expression is not excluded from it. As I often do, I wondered why only I had to be the one sexually frustrated, swearing off intimacy just because “the one” hadn’t come along. I could count on one hand how many times I had believed I would marry someone. This romanticized notion of keeping myself “pure” for “my first time” when I was already perverted, unabashedly playful in my sexuality, and near legitimately considered a succubus among my close friends rapidly became outdated through rigorous self-assessment.

Being met with my cold logic quickly turned to frustration. I was three weeks into being 30 and had yet to experience unrestrained intimacy followed by sharing a bed with my partner. Like an ignorant, virgin teenager, I was still wondering how people [read: my friends] have sex and if there were any steps to follow for a successful romp. And then I was smacked in the face with the truth: This was all my own doing. I repeatedly declined the idea simply because no romantic commitment would follow when there were multiple instances where sex likely would have been welcomed.

Another hard truth washed over me: The combination of my past upbringing and now my present life as a transwoman had somehow made me believe by default I should never feel safe experiencing sexual intimacy other than with someone who had confessed their love for me. An amalgamation of anger and sadness careened through my body. There had to be a way to rewrite this automated preset equation that I had left unchecked in the midst of my gender transition.

I want to be a good woman.

Only sluts sleep around.

How do you take love out of sex? I’m so clingy. I’d fall in love with them and get hurt.

Will I ever be loved?

But…

…why I should starve myself.

I’m desirable. Beautiful. Lovable.

If sex with someone I trust could make sense…

Experiencing intimacy with someone I feel comfortable with isn’t shameful.

Yes, I want to be loved. Sex doesn’t equal love. It never has.

I won’t be young forever. Live your life. 

Fuck who you want.

So I did.