Today, I returned to the Melissa Harris Perry Show, where (guess what???) I got to discuss…TV + Scandal + media representations of black women. I got the chance to speak about something other than just being trans in mainstream media.
It’s an exhibition in the fact that trans people do have other interests than just being trans or having “transitioned.” It was a pleasure to return to my giddy pop culture editor roots (with a touch of depth, right?!) and do it on such a powerful platform with one of my sheroes, Melissa Harris Perry.
On this International Women’s Day, I celebrate the trans women living, interacting, activating, speaking, writing, acting, singing, organizing, breathing, smiling, crying, working, werqing, twerking, serving, reading, loving, and giving at the margins of this oftentimes hostile, misogynistic, classist, racist, femmephobic, gender-policing world.
I’m in awe of Monica Roberts, Valerie Spencer, Laverne Cox, Danielle King, Ayana Elliott, and Rev. Camarion Anderson, six black trans women who shared space at the National Black Justice Coalition’s historic trans women townhall, where they told their stories, shared their wisdom and educated the community about what it means to be fighting on behalf of trans women, specifically those of color, everywhere.
I can’t wait until the day when we are able, as a community, to truly celebrate the diverse portrait of womanhood - all girls and women from all walks of life - so that townhalls like these are not historic, but the norm for trans women.
It’s rare that trans women are given the mic to speak about our experiences on our own terms, and it’s an even rarer occurrence when we women of color get to share space with one another and truth tell in a public space.
I’m proud of the nearly 10 minutes I shared with Isis King, who came into the media’s focus when she was recruited to compete on Cycle 11 of America’s Next Top Model in 2008. I’m proud to call Isis my dear sister and to be able to speak with her about our public lives.
I’d like to use this space to clarify three things:
1. Isis mentioned Laverne Cox as one of the only examples she’s known of trans women like herself on television. I’d like to highlight the fact that other sisters are and have also represented on television: Carmen Carrera, Candis Cayne, Jamie Clayton, Nina Poon, Harmony Santana and Nong Ariyaphon Southiphong.
2. I made a statement about our responsibility to educate others about our experiences. I said, “You have to use your life as a teaching moment.” It’s a personal choice to do so, and it’s a responsibility that I take on, but it is NOT our job to educate people about us. I was reminded of this when I read Janani Balasubramanian’s essay “Brown Silence,” where she so eloquently writes: “Not everyone’s education needs to be our responsibility all the time…Our words and energy should also be conserved.”
3. I also said the dehumanization of trans women in the media “leads to trans women hurting themselves in a way that they feel they don’t deserve more.” Instead, I’d like to add that the systematic dehumanization of trans women through words, images and the lack thereof of words and images that represent the totality of our experiences actually is what contributes to others seeing us as less than human therefore justifying the violence, battery, criminalization and murders we face.
Finally, I hope conversations like these continue to happen, and that they happen with a wide array of women, because it’s only in hearing a plethora of our voices do we paint a more realistic portrait of womanhood.