I was born December 1989 in Oklahoma City, the first child my parents had. My parents split up when I was around age 4 and my father raised me until I was 18. During my early childhood, I began to stand out - and not necessarily because I was tall. Nor did I stand out because I was quiet.
I stood out because I was different.
I loved dolls, I loved hanging and playing with the girls, and I was VERY feminine. I slightly recall my parents arguing throughout my childhood, because my father was upset that my mother allowed me to play with girl toys and was supportive of my femininity.
After graduating high school in 2008, I relocated back to Oklahoma City to attend college. This would be the beginning of a new chapter in my life. By age 19, I had already become androgynous and actually celebrated my 19th birthday as a woman. At the time, I lived in a community where I was teased, bullied, harassed, and pointed out. To my advantage, I had cisgender women friends, one who identifies as lesbian, who took me to the gay clubs and allowed me to openly display my femininity. They were actually the first women to help me with hair, make up, and clothes in the very beginning stages of my transition.
I must add that, at that particular time in my life, I did not know I was transgender. I just assumed I was a feminine gay boy. However, about two years later, after networking on an LGBT website for people of color, I discovered the meaning of transgender, after being curious as to what the acronym “T” of LGBT represented.
I recall sitting at the computer in awe - jaw dropped, eyes releasing tears like sprinkles from a water faucet. I was overwhelmed with joy, relief, an answer to that prayer that I prayed almost faithfully as a child. I could be a woman and nothing or no one could stop me. I knew in that moment of revelation that this was what I wanted to do and, since then, my mindset has been as solid as it was on that magical day.
At 21, I flew to the local courthouse with $150 ready to legally file paperwork to have my name changed. At the time I was self-medicating with hormones and, although I wasn’t doing things by the book, I was happy. I knew I was on the road to becoming my true self. I was blossoming almost flawlessly, totally unaware of the hurdles ahead of me. I had no clue that family members would misgender me purposely. I had no clue that people would value their religious beliefs to the point where they were willing to sacrifice their relationships with me. I had no clue that “best friends” of years would disown me, disapprove and secretly hate me for making one of the most liberating decisions of my life. No one prepared me for the rejection, depression, isolation, fear, and hurt that I’ve had to experience over the last few years of my life.
Although I’ve experienced my hardships, I am coming to learn how beautiful and amazing this journey is. This is not just a physical journey. This is a spiritual journey as well. I didn’t choose this life. This life chose me and I respectfully accept the challenges that lie ahead of me.
I am more than my gender, more than my body. There is nothing fake about me, because I’m not a fake person. I didn’t “choose” to be a transgender woman; I naturally and unintentionally chose to decline the male stereotypes and expectations that were expected of me. If anything, I chose to be honest and truthful with myself and the world around me.
I am brown. I am bold. I am beautiful. I am #RedefiningRealness.
"I am more than my gender, more than my body. There is nothing fake about me, because I’m not a fake person." — Sasha
My current foray into a stable identity started back in 1997, when I began transitioning while attending a private college in Rome, Georgia. I was studying psychology and computer science, dealing with the inner turmoil between my thoughts and paradoxical spiritual upbringing. Mandated by the college to regularly attend psychological sessions on-campus, my therapy was slowly leaving me frustrated and more confused.
Eventually, I attempted suicide and was unceremoniously kicked out of college.
After being told at that point that my life would consist of receiving checks from disability, I rebelled and moved in with friends in my college town. Soon, I stared work as an apprentice chef with a local company. Feeling the need to better express my gender, my outward appearance started to ‘offend’ my bosses, and I was barred from appearing anywhere near the front of the restaurant when guests were there. When I got sick for a couple of days and had to call out, I was told to not come back to work at all.
Making due, one weekend I decided to test my options in another locality, one that was more liberal and accepting than conservative Georgia. Hitchhiking brought me back to my birthplace of New York City, beginning a serious transition in Manhattan at a youth shelter. It was during that time that I found one of the most memorable jobs of my career, working at a gourmet coffee shop in Chelsea. I met many people, including celebrities, and was allowed to be myself, fully, while working. (During this time, I also dabbled in sex work, stripping at a local trans club and participating in street sex work in the Meatpacking District.) Unfortunately, the shop closed down suddenly and I was again without a job.
I began working a few other jobs that matched my experience, like being a sign-language interpreter at a catalog company. Finally, in 2002, I got a coveted office position with a multi-million dollar non-profit in Manhattan. Working there, I got promoted three times in my first 90 days, and was lauded for my work and ability.
Working as a woman, I felt accepted and a part of the world.
One day, after about a year and half of work, my grandfather died, throwing me into a spiral of deep mourning and distress. We had bereavement benefits at work, and I sat down with someone from HR to get some days off. It was then that I officially told the company about my gender identity. I was told to take off as many days necessary to attend the funeral in Georgia, with no issues. Upon my return, however, I was told that I needed a psychiatric evaluation to continue working. Unfortunately, our benefits did not cover the sessions and I couldn’t afford to pay on my own. So, a couple of weeks later, and I receive a letter in the mail saying I was fired for not coming in to work.
Downtrodden and destitute, I followed my extended family to Virginia, where acceptance and freedom was at an all-time low. The only job I achieved was at MCI, a telecommunications company, which went bankrupt during my stay, leaving me without employment in an extremely conservative area. I could not find work at temp agencies, companies similar to my previous experience, and or even opportunities for ‘someone like me’ at Labor Ready.
In 2005, I moved to Miami, Florida without a home. Thankfully, the city of Miami Beach put me and my friend in a hotel in North Beach, since there were no accommodations for transgender individuals at shelters then. I applied up and down South Beach to no avail, because no one wanted to hire a black trans woman. Stereotyped left and right, I eventually found a local non-profit where I could seek assistance. There, I was offered a small outreach position with an air of wariness, despite my resume.
I worked my butt off at the community organization, helping my own community and becoming an HIV counselor, data manager, supervisor of counseling and testing, program coordinator, and mentor during my six years there. All good things end, however, and, once again, I found myself without a job. Though my fellow co-workers all managed to get something else, I was still without, besides two contract opportunities that fell through.
Tired, angry, and motivated, I focused all my efforts in establishing local programming that could assist me and those like me. I wanted my transgender community to have the same access to life that those around me seemed to have little issue achieving.
Thus, Trans-Miami was born.
Using the networks and contacts I had acquired, I was able to create an organization that could have helped me at any of my earlier stages of life, focusing on empowerment, employment, health, transitioning, and equality.
Yet, even this venture faces the same obstacles that I myself have faced, and still do. We opened Miami-Dade’s first center for transgender individuals. We brought together information on numerous services and programs that could benefit the community. We train and educate program staff, health professionals, and college grads on transgender sensitivity and competency.
All of this without ONE CENT of funding.
The efforts and successes of Trans-Miami has solely been built on my own blood, sweat, and tears. However, transgender programs and organizations the world over all suffer from an extreme lack of funding.
Thus, I now find myself putting in an application for the Lotus House shelter, after a year and a half of sleeping on a friend’s couch. I attend meetings, am available at the center, and dabble socially solely on the charity of my friends, who help me with transportation and food. I get my clothes from my friends’ closets, to keep a professional appearance at committees and boards despite my situation. Still, I preach about the state of our community, and search for any avenue of assistance. I’ve received much support from allies and friends, and truly have hope that the climate in a historically unaccepting locality can change within my own lifetime.
I will fight for what is right.
I will fight for my community.
I will fight for myself.
I will not give up.
Aryah reminds me that our journeys matter. Our stories matter. Our fight matters.
Brooke Cerda Guzmán is a powerful organizer and activist, a powerful trans latina sister who is helping mobilize the Islan Nettles demonstration in New York City, being held on January 30, 2014.
In this video, she centers the experiences and work of trans women of color, speaks the name of Islan Nettles’ legacy and holds organizations in NYC and beyond accountable for their lack of response to offering resources for this major demonstration.
I love you Brooke. Thank you for all you do for and alongside our sisters.
Please spread the word about this demonstration by sharing this video and the FB event info.
WHAT: Demand Justice for Islan Nettles and All Anti-trans crime victims
WHEN: Thursday, January 30th 2014, 4 p.m.
WHERE: One Police Plaza, Manhattan
If you look at, give to or share one thing today, let it be this campaign for MAJOR! an oral history project on the one and only Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a true revolutionary, legend and all around badass.
Know. Your. Legends.
Footage from Islan Nettles’s vigil in Harlem. It shows exactly why I felt moved to write a letter to my sisters who stood witness to an event in which cis people took up way too much space.
Yesterday we were thanked for being silent and respectful to a grieving family seated center stage. We were instructed to keep politics at the door though politicians had a front-row seat with camera crews readied for their election year soundbites. …
The only reason I left not feeling defeated was because of you, in all your resilience, beauty, brilliance and ferocity. You held me up, you told me that we would get through, and you showed up despite knowing the open secret we all carry: that Islan was not the first to fall and she will not be the last.”
Flyer for tonight’s (8/27) vigil for Islan Nettles, a 21 year old trans woman of color who died from sustained injuries after a senseless brutal attack on August 22, 2013 on the streets of Harlem.
Tonight, we will return to this streets and speak her name.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2013
JACKIE ROBINSON PARK
Entrance at 148th and Bradhurst Avenue
Harlem, New York,10039
This is what legendary looks like.
Thank you Miss Major for your forty years-plus of work, for paving the path for us, for making me proud to be a trans woman of color, for reminding us that we can gather in celebration of our living as well as our fallen.
You. Are. Major.
Pictured with Laverne Cox, reina gossett, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and KOKUMO at the August 26th naming ceremony of the Miss Major-Jay Toole Building for Social Justice in NYC.
I am writing this blog tonight in response to recent events which have taken place. Domonique Newburn (Fontana, California), Islan Nettles (Harlem, New York) and a young trans woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were all murdered in the same week. All were trans women of color.
Tonight I am…
Koko - my dear older sister. You are so powerful, standing in your vulnerability. And I love you. Thank you for writing the unspeakable.