I’ve been out of the closet as transgender for the better part of a decade now. In that time I’ve done a little bit of everything from advocacy and education to community engagement with trans communities. It’s been a bumpy road. From taking calls for Trans Lifeline to sharing my story for the Human Library Chicago, I’ve experienced the desperation of trans people and the bigotry of cis people. I wish it was all Pride parades and hormone therapy, but in actuality being trans doesn’t create a cohesive community. In other words, it’s easy to plan a party centered around celebrating trans identity, but a lot harder to build a movement of power and solidarity around being trans.
There are precious few spaces where trans people can be their authentic selves.
When Cait Jenner said that Trump would be very good for women’s issues, that was one high profile trans woman speaking her truth to the world. Though she later regretted those remarks, her comments highlighted what I had seen and experienced in my own movement through trans spaces. It was contrasted with the measured remarks Laverne Cox made in reaction to Trump’s rhetoric. Cox is one of the only black trans women who remains in the public consciousness and she has been careful about what she says to a wide audience. In recent years, she’s been a lot more vocal, especially in the documentary Disclosure.
(1/2) This quote from @Lavernecox: “I wonder if the people who watch and love these shows. I wonder if they will reach out to trans people in need and work to defeat policies that scapegoat us, policies that discriminate against us, policies that dehumanize us…
— Michael Grant (@MichaelGrant_CJ) July 25, 2020
I’m left with more questions than I have answers.
There are precious few spaces where trans people can be their authentic selves, particularly trans women. What haunts me to this day is how segregated these spaces are. In all my time advocating, educating, and working towards a better world for trans people I’ve seen there has always been a wide chasm between white trans spaces and black trans spaces. What I’ve seen is that white trans people often navigate advocacy through paid nonprofit positions while trans women of color are on the streets putting their bodies on the line for just an ounce of dignity. White trans people go to academic conferences and talk about queering time while trans women of color are making all kinds of art in indie spaces.
I don’t want to oversimplify the variety of experiences trans people embody, but the divide between white and black trans women’s spaces is something that’s bothered me, and other more high profile white trans women, such as actress Jen Richards, have been taking notice as well. Jen Richards is a personal hero of mine. She and I went to the same college, albeit several years apart. She’s been one of the few white trans women to point out the ways in which white supremacy and transphobia are interlinked.
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) June 10, 2020
White supremacy flourishes when power is utilized but unrecognized.
In my experience, the very few times that white trans women and trans women of color interact is when white trans women are in a position of power, such as being a crisis hotline operator or an academic studying trans artist. Upon reflecting, I’m left with more questions than I have answers. What is needed for white trans women to be in community and solidarity with our trans sisters of color? What actions need to be taken for white trans women to be race traitors in trans spaces?
White supremacy flourishes when power is utilized but unrecognized. That is the common thread in all of this. White trans women wield a lot of power, though it may not always seem like it given the near-constant assault on trans rights. When white trans women fail to recognize the ways in which white privilege exists in their own lives, they can exercise their power as white people in ways that directly harm trans women of color. The double-edged sword in all this is that white supremacy is at odds with trans rights. There is no room for deviance, for the freedom of gender rebellion within white supremacy.
All of this may be true, but it’s going to take a lot more than thought experiments and mental exercises to make this change in my own life and the spaces I might carve out for trans women. It means I’ll have to put trans women of color in the spotlight, in control of what happens, and hope it develops into something sustainable.
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