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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


Chelsea Manning and Caitlyn Jenner Changed My Cop’s Mind

pixiv @ らつくきのこ: Mirai Kuriyama

Yesterday, while trying to hash out the details of my mother’s disabled car I was using being wrongfully towed – hazard lights flashing and all which led to the battery being completely dead – due to an officer doing their job, the sergeant that was helping me with the paperwork asked me for my driver’s license. This piece of identification which is still, due to lack of funds, from 2012, has strangely enough become ever more common for me to show unsuspecting cis people since I began my transition in 2013. He looked at me flat-out and said,

“Who is this?”

My response?

“That’s an outdated representation of me that I’ve unfortunately yet to have updated.”

Using the paperwork as a cover-up, he proceeded to lead me into the back office, away from my two friends,​ who were thankfully available to come to my aid, and sat me down. Unconvinced, he asked me again, eluding to not wanting me to reveal myself in front of my friends who, for the record, have been with me since my transition began. I said in simpler terms, “That’s me. I don’t know how else to say it.

Still unconvinced, he said something along the lines of, “There’s a discrepancy with the info presented that I need you to confirm. So I need you to be straight with me.”

With that, I finally said, “Well, I’m transgender. It’s not something I like to make obvious, but always a fun game to play whenever I’m asked for my license,” I said with a smile.

Between fielding a few occasional call-ins, he thanked me for saying it outright. Saying, “I was unsure if that was the case. I preferred if you said it yourself.” I totally understood why he would go that route. He then casually asked me a surprising question.

“You happy?”

“Very.” I replied, more brightly than before, though opting for simplicity throughout our conversation as my concern wasn’t educating him, but getting the car back.

After the calls stopped coming in, he proceeded to mention instances in the media where he had heard of transgender people, but had never had a personal encounter himself. He mentioned “that military person who came out, but looked like a man dressed as a woman” (Chelsea Manning). He had the decency to use “her” when referring to them, but now regret not taking the opportunity to share with him that “passing” is not the goal for those of us who walk this path. It’s release, happiness, and self-actualization in whatever form(s) we individually need to obtain it.

He went on.

“You really need to get this changed. You look nothing like this photo.”

“I’d really like to, but circumstances keep me from doing so.”

“..Honestly, two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

“Ohh..because of Caitlyn Jenner,” I said, having mixed feelings about what that implied. That the publicity she received helped wake up this man to the reality that trans persons are real people deserving of the same respect as cis people. That this candid conversation between us could have been much more antagonistic or difficult for me in getting honest help from this law enforcer. Though I took Caitlyn’s reveal as purely the media’s obsession over her physical appearance, I never thought that despite me about to be 2 years old in my transition that her actions would have reached me and this current frustrating situation I was in.

“Before then, I would have just thought this was your younger brother and not bought your claim. …You look good.”

“Oh, thank you!” I beamed, flashing as nice of a smile as I could. I was well aware that I definitely looked and felt like hell. I had stood out in the rain multiple times with various men coming to my aid to push the car to the side of the road, nudge the car back to life with oil offerings, & some just seemingly pleased to have a nice, pretty female to talk to – still in my work clothes having gone to work earlier that day. I was relieved that I had opted against changing, certain these cues had worked in my favor.

Some would say this was a win for me as a transwoman. Perhaps. Well aware of my personal worth & the blessing of having strong, genetic, feminine cues among society, winning in the art of “passing” is hardly where my personal focus as a woman lies any longer. When people say to me “you’re so beautiful”, I’m at a point where, despite my intense humbleness regarding my attractive qualities, I’m liable to take them seriously and feel damn good about it.

What I do know is that I must express my gratitude for Chelsea and Caitlyn’s willingness to take the spotlight and highlight the reality of our existence in whatever way they have decided, or otherwise forced, to do so. They are reaching people like this sergeant who wouldn’t find out any other way than the media latching onto these sensationalized trans narratives of “men becoming female”. It’s never been my way to focus on those over-publicized narratives, but the hard work of those behind the scenes in journalism, community outreach, non-profit sectors, etc. that are telling the real, dark, desperate stories of these men and women that the media are not. However, the hard truth is that it’s the former, magazine-glossed stories that are continuing to wake society to giving respect and rights to trans people like myself. The latter are building the foundation of information for society to obtain once the media has become bored.

Now that I’ve experienced this in my own personal narrative, my perspective of seeing both as powerful, merit-worthy methods working hand-in-hand to reach the hearts and minds of millions has matured. I would be remiss to not say thank you to Chelsea Manning and Caitlyn Jenner for being educational in your own rights in the fight for our individuality as human beings.