There was a moment about 10 years ago when I was walking to the subway on the Upper West Side. It was the Fourth of July, and I was wearing a red, white and blue dress. I was feeling very patriotic, and it was really tight.
I passed these two men. One appeared to be Latino, and the other appeared to be black. The Latin guy says “Yo, mama, can I holla at you?”
And the black guy said “Yo dude, that’s an n word.” Then, the Latin guy says “No, man, that’s a bitch.” The black guy said “No, that’s an n word.”
They began to argue about whether I was the b word or the n word. What lovely options.
I was just standing there at the light, waiting for it to change “Please let it change so I can cross the street”, ’cause I needed to cross the street. At one point the Latin guy turns to me and says “You ain’t an n word, are you?”
That moment is indicative of a lot of the street harassment that I have had to endure. Street harassment started first because these men found me attractive, because I’m a woman.
Then they realized that I was trans, and it became something else. It turned into something else. So many trans women have to experience this.
Just last month in New York City, a young girl named Islan Nettles was walking down the street in Harlem with her friend and she was catcalled by a few guys. They realized that she was trans, and then they beat her to death.
In 2001, a trans woman named Amanda Milan, who I knew but not very well, something similar happened to her in the Times Square area, and she was stabbed to death.
Our lives are often in danger, simply for being who we are, when we are trans women. There are a lot of intersecting identities and intersecting oppressions that make that happen.
That moment when I was called the b or the n word, it was a moment where misogyny was intersecting with trans-phobia, was intersecting with some racist stuff.
The racial piece is actually really important, because I’ve talked to a lot of white trans women who haven’t experienced quite the level of street harassment that I have.
I’ve gotten in trouble by saying this publicly, that most of the street harassment I’ve experienced has been from other black folks. That’s not to suggest that black folks are more homophobic or trans-phobic than everybody else, ’cause I don’t believe that. But there are some homophobic and trans-phobic black folks.
I think the reason for that is there a collective trauma that a lot of black folks are dealing with in this country that dates back to slavery and to the Jim Crow South.
Most of us know that during slavery and during Jim Crow, black bodies, usually black male bodies were often lynched. In these lynchings, the men’s genitals were cut off. Sometimes they were pickled and sometimes they were sold. There was this sort of historic fear and fascination with black male sexuality.
I believe that a lot of black folks feel that there is this historic emasculation that has been happening in white supremacy of black male bodies. I think a lot of black folks dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress see trans, my trans women’s body, and feel that I’m the embodiment of this historic emasculation come to life.
So often when I am called out of the street, it’s as if I am a disgrace to the race because I am trans.
I understand that as trauma. I have love. I have so much love for my black brothers and sisters who might call me out on the street, ’cause I get it. I understand. They’re in pain.
I feel so often our oppressors are in a lot of, lot of pain. I think whenever someone needs to call out someone else for who they are, and make fun of them, it’s because they don’t feel comfortable with who they are.
If anyone ever has a problem with someone else, I ask you to look at yourselves first. What is it about you that you have a problem with? What is it about you that you have a problem with? I also think it’s important that when we talk about bullying, we understand that when kids LGBT/QI kids are bullied, oftentimes it is because of their gender expression.
We hear the gay slurs, the anti-gay slurs, and it’s really about these kids not conforming to the sex that they were assigned at birth. Gender expression is not meeting the expectations of society, so we have to begin to create spaces where we can express our gender in ways that are true to ourselves.
The gender binary model, most of us don’t fit that, and that’s OK. I think too, the violence so many trans women experience, trans women of color are disproportionately victims of violence.
Our homicide rate is the highest in the LGBT community. It went from 43% in 2011 to almost 54% of all LGBTQ homicides were trans women, and mostly trans women of color. There is a link between the bullying that we inflict on our LGBTQ youth, and the violence that so many trans women experience.
What are we going to do about that? I think love is the answer.
Cornell West reminds us that justice is what love looks like in public.
I love that, because I feel that love, if we can love trans gender people, that will be a revolutionary act.