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 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.

How I Am Fooling Everyone By Fooling No One

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Rize Kamishiro (Tokyo Ghoul) by neru

“Going stealth”. For many transgender people just starting out, this is often seen as the holy grail of one’s transition. Finding a job, romance, etc. all seem to ride on the hope that no one ever know our past. I would surmise that this is due to the fear that coming out as trans usually requires resigning one’s self to sacrificing much of the lifestyle and benefits we once had previously in favor of living authentically. That or the very real possibility of avoiding winding up murdered on a street corner.

However, being able to live within the confines of our truest identity without anyone being the wiser still does not make us impervious to the losses we may incur to attain that level of comfort. At the end of the day, only those who are blessed to have a job within an LGBTQ-friendly organization, an immensely loving partner, open-minded family/friends, etc. seem to make it out with enough still in tact to not need to literally begin from zero. Then again, some may deliberately wish to begin from zero, starting anew and completely erasing everything that connected them to a past life that now seems nothing more than a dream.

Though I’ve never been confronted with this inquiry of my personal stance, I’m almost certain that many would consider me to have succeeded in living under the radar as a woman. The truth is I decided early on that “going stealth” was not a goal that I should pursue in my personal narrative. To quote myself from January 2014:

All that’s left to do is embrace who I am becoming. All the consequences. All the hardship. All the doubt and the love and the pain. I know now that hiding my past won’t do my future any good. Though I still hope and pray my accomplishments and failures were not for naught.

I subjected myself to the process of reintroducing myself to many people I’ve known for years, worked with people who knew me pre-transition and, in feeling open with someone who I have connected with, have openly admitted to being a transwoman. I also have made it one of my life goals to establish myself as a voice of encouragement to support those who are struggling in their transition and educate people who have questions about me and the transgender community. Basically, me being a transgender female is no secret to anyone within my circle of friends or those who were in my professional network pre-transition. On the other hand,  those who I meet in passing are none the wiser nearly 100% of the time.

To some, it may seem like I achieved the ideal transgender lifestyle: Striking the coveted balance between being almost dangerously open, yet “passing” within society. In truth, this balance is merely a mirage brought about by cautious preparation and sheer willingness to face my self and reality head-on. By completely embracing my past and, from the very start, relinquishing everything and everyone who could affect my future – friends, family, career, etc. – in favor of prioritizing my very real need to start actually living, I was able to achieve a level of free-wheeling self-love akin to those famous transgender figures like Janet Mock or Laverne Cox. Though seemingly flying in the face of self-preservation, not hiding who I am among my circles of influence (and having their support) allows those on the outside the opportunity to avoid viewing being transgender as a threat or an anomaly.

None of this came easily for me, and yet I am one of the more fortunate ones. For many the living space to work out their future, or a lack of computer to help navigate their trials, or makeup or razors not being readily accessible to them is a very real issue. Many transgender people across the gender spectrum are unable to even come close to achieving a meaningful balance which places them in even more danger on the streets solely due to their appearances. What’s worse, even beautiful trans girls who have achieved some semblance of stealth are still murdered. This is why I am of the belief that “going stealth” – essentially benefitting from the good fortune we’ve been met – is using self-preservation as an excuse to remain passive while our brothers and sisters struggle, become assaulted victims, or commit suicide.

To stand by and watch should make anyone furious. Not just me.

When it comes to the trans community – especially those who identify as female or queer – none of us are safe. That is why I speak out as one of the fortunate ones. I refuse to be so irresponsible to only simply benefit myself as I admit time and time again how blessed I am to “pass” pretty much 100% of the time even with minimal makeup. Whether achieving the illusion of balance as I have or completely erasing one’s former life, “going stealth” is not inherently misguided. Being among the privileged, ignoring those who are suffering for being unable to achieve basic comforts within their gender identity…is simply deplorable in my opinion.

There’s no better time than now to speak out and show the world just how prevalent the “T” really is.