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.

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The Joke Is On Us. Literally.

original-girlwithglasses-by-bifidus
Original art by: bifidus

Read an article  posted by Kira, a fellow transgender blogger, about how the media and society continue to make it increasingly more difficult for the trans community – and most importantly, our very real life-threatening struggles – to be taken seriously. This immediately got me thinking about whether or not there were any instances in my own life where I allowed people to get away with the off-handed commentary or “joke”. Funny enough, this was very simple to remember.

While involved in what was never meant to be a short stint in Sales/Marketing, we were having a group training meeting before heading out to the field. The leader of said meeting was aiming to draw a similarity between memorable, legendary people, one-hit wonders, and what it meant for us to be the former instead of the latter. When the time came for shouting out famous people, everyone was getting into the game to see how many they could get on the whiteboard.

And then someone shouted “Caitlyn Jenner.”

The next few seconds were an amalgamation of chuckling and mild affirmation, but with two quick moments standing out. The first was the guy next to me off-handedly saying something along the lines of “You mean Bruce Jenner right?” The second was someone quipping about transgender thing being confusing.

That moment happened so quickly in the midst of an already chaotic shouting match that there was only enough time for me to process feeling offended. Mainly because my leader knew I was transgender, yet continued to roll with the insults disguised as lighthearted, offhanded jokes. The majority of the crew didn’t have a clue I was transgender, but the momentary attitude shift of 15 twenty-somethings in response to mass media’s poster child of the transgender narrative was extremely telling.

I find that humor is birthed from one of two places: Either loose hearsay subject knowledge, or completely educated subject knowledge. What people don’t understand is that the former is exactly how the majority cis people are erasing those in the transgender community. With every offhanded quip and “harmless joke”, people are continually being conditioned to downplay the aspects of our reality that are inherently why so many of us are being murdered, assaulted, and given the short end of the stick. The education and awareness of the “T” in LGBTQ is severely lacking; cis people are using ignorance as a scapegoat to justify making their fellow uneducated cisgender friends laugh about our struggle for acceptance & equality.

We aren’t being taken seriously. At all. Our true fight for human rights keeps getting derailed by petty non-issues like the bathroom bill, fear-mongering bullshit. Activists are forced to squander resources to debunk the baseless myth of transwomen being pedophiles while the number of hate crimes against transgender people (the majority being women of color (WOC) like myself) continues to rise. And yet, the jokes keep flying and politicians keep using us to  pushing their single-minded agendas at our expense.

Meanwhile, passive onlookers wonder why so many activists and writers like the one I linked above are so angry. This is why I continue to advocate in my own, non-violent way. Using educated knowledge to open people’s eyes to transgender matters as well as improving the human connection as a whole has become one of my life’s purposes.