As a Black trans woman, I find myself playing third fiddle to a multitude of issues seen as more important than my own. As a Black woman who is trans, dark skinned, and full figured, I’m often silently asked to not make this a “trans issue” in Black spaces, and not make it a Black issue in White ones. I’m told that my story is beautiful and amazing, but I have seen first hand that it is only valued if it greases the hands of a wealthy White person or the floors of a ballroom as it’s being told.
I am allowed to feel, so long as it’s within the stereotype. I’m allowed to be an attractive man in a well-placed wig, but never a woman. I’m allowed to think outside the box, so long as my passing privilege matches my intellect. I’ve sat in spaces that were deemed safe only to be misgendered and have it laughed off because “everyone here is learning.” Most of these spaces were Black and for Black people, but my trans identity allowed room for the rules of respect to be bent in order to devalue my existence. Black cis folks shout in the streets for equality while passing dirty looks at Black trans and queer protesters who are also there demanding the same justice in exchange for the same peace. We stand together as the Black community, except when it comes to the injustice being done to Black LGBTQIA+ folks.
Yet trans women like Raquel Willis, Tonie Michele, and myself have stood at the forefront of many Black movements from Trayvon Martin to George Floyd, and still, we are seen as a distraction to the movement. Black trans women have been at the helm of ensuring the rights of our communities to no avail. With a life expectancy of age 35, trans women of color are the most at risk, yet somehow the least understood, funded, and supported subset of our little slice of the demographic. Saddest of all, many cis-gendered (people whose personal identity and gender correspond with their birth sex) Black folk still refuse to stand in solidarity with us for the betterment of the community as a whole.
Trans incidents leading to fatalities have increased over the last three years. According to The Human Rights Campaign, there were 22 murders of transgender people in 2015, 23 in 2016, 27 and in 2019. So far, this year, 15 trans people were murdered which included two trans men. Yet the amount of funding for programming around the issue is at the bottom of the list or tied into GBL (gay, bi, and lesbian) and Black Lives efforts in order to keep the peace.
Things have got to change surrounding the idea that trans people, and our stories, are only valuable if we can be exploited and used to propel singular messages for the masses. Not all of us use sex work or crime as a means for survival. Not all of us engage in the ballroom community or act as “House mothers.” Some of us don’t live within the binary. A lot of us are college-educated. The narrative has to change and to change it we must call out problematic but normalized dismissals when we see them as a community, use our resources when we find ourselves inquiring about daily functions surrounding our sisters, and a respectful touch when we feel we have to engage her. Give the floor to trans men and women when we see a space is being dominated by only one lens as opposed to a full spectrum, and be mindful about tokenism within the community and understand that it’s ok to not understand, but never ok to use that lack of understanding as a means to be disrespectful.
We all must check the privilege we have in the freedom we’re allowed to be ourselves. We must explore that while committing to governing ourselves by living in the action of inclusion and not just the phrase. We’ve got to continue to lead by which starts with making room within the community for everyone to be represented.