In a chilly industrial studio in Long Island City, a week before the release of Redefining Realness, I lay nude on a gray backdrop. Though my hair was teased and twisted for the gawds, I could hide behind nothing but myself. I felt exposed and vulnerable and powerful.
This skin is my own, this body is my own, and I get to choose with whom I share it.
The three people sharing space in witness of this shoot included my partner Aaron, serving as photographer, my best friend Wendi, on makeup and hair, and Kimberley McLeod, editor in chief of ELIXHER, with whom I collaborated to bring this idea to life.
It was late last year when Kimberley and I video chatted about the concept of the Body Issue. I remember her being cautious and protective when I told her that yes, I would accept her offer to be her magazine’s next cover girl, but I wanted to do it nude. I appreciated her more than I had ever appreciated her as she furrowed her brow, searching her mind for all the right questions and answers. Kimberley asked me why I wanted to do it naked? And I told her it was important for me to reclaim not only my story and narrative but also my body.
As a young trans woman of color, I have navigated — my entire life — a “crooked room” (as Melissa Harris-Perry writes in Sister Citizen) in which trans women are largely invisible except when we are beaten, belittled, exiled or propped up for men’s passing pleasure. I have written about being subject to all of those experiences in my book, and yearned to not only discuss what’s been done to my body but to reclaim that this body is mine. All mine, and that I choose when, where and with whom I bear it.
And I chose to bear it to Kimberley and her magazine because Kimberley has been one of my first confidantes in this latest chapter of my life. Years before I shared my story, I saw Kimberley everyday at PEOPLE, where we both worked as editors. I didn’t know she was queer, she didn’t know I was trans, but we both knew we were black girls — so we did the black girl nod on the daily. When I finally stepped forward publicly, she also stepped forward with sisterhood and resources, and we grew close.
I told her about my dreams to finish and publish my book, she told me her dreams about making ELIXHER a go-to destination for queer women of color. I am proud that this issue can be a space in which the dreams we shared with one another three years ago finally intersect.
The only reason I chose to be publicly vulnerable in this space is because it’s a space created by and for queer and trans women of color. It’s a space of our own and I knew the level of care that would be taken to ensure we got the right image, that the theme of the issue was empowering, that the other storytellers were just as bold and unapologetic about baring themselves.
I am proud of the result:
I am also proud that I am not alone in the Body Issue, that three other Black queer women storytellers — activist Kim Crosby, Black Girl Dangerous‘ Mia McKenzie, and filmmaker Tiona McClodden — shed their layers, bare their bodies and reclaim their narratives.
On Thursday April 24 at 3pm ET/12pm PT, the five of us will discuss what it means to bare our truths and our bodies — unapologetically — in the final installment of my LIVE conversation series via Google Hangout. RSVP for our hangout and send in your burning questions to be answered by Mia McKenzie, Kim Crosby, Kimberley McLeod, Tiona McClodden, and me!