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USC Keynote Address
Interviewing Isis King
What stood out most to me is this: It took Hoda Kotb approximately 13 minutes into her segment to ask 11-year-old Josie Romero of Tucson, Arizona: “Do you feel trapped in the wrong body?”
Whenever this question is posed, I find it to be more of a leading statement rather than a true inquiry or invitation for a trans subject to speak about their life experience or outlook on their relationship with their bodies. Frankly whenever it’s posed it never sits well with me, and I shared my frustration on Twitter, saying: “‘Trapped in the wrong body’ is a convenient, lazy explanation but it fails to describe #trans people & our bodies every time.”
To me, “trapped in the wrong body” is a blanket statement that makes trans* people’s varying journeys and narratives palatable to the masses. It’s helped cis masses understand our plight – to a certain extent. It’s basically a soundbite of struggle, “I was a girl (boy) trapped in a boy’s (girl’s) body,” which aims to humanize trans* folks, who are often seen as alien, as freaks, as less-than-human and other.
A few months ago, I participated in a focus group at the Hetrick-Martin Institute with eight other trans women. We gathered to offer insight into resources available for young trans women, and more importantly what we would have wanted (in resources, support, spaces) growing up to make our adolescence a bit easier.
An amazing discussion was sparked among the women, the kind of intimate conversation that can only happen with people who have shared such a unique experience. We may have grown up in different times, with different resources, and different challenges, but we were all trans women who ultimately chose to live visibly and were looking for ways to make it better for girls who were coming of age behind us.
The key takeaway didn’t happen in our adult group. It happened in a separate focus group, where younger trans women offered their perspectives on what they wanted, what was available for them and more importantly how they saw themselves.
When I asked the facilitator how younger trans women identified, she said, “They don’t call themselves trans, transsexual or transgender.”
Then how do they define themselves?
“When I asked them who they were,” the facilitator said, “One girl simply stated: ‘We’re just girls…with something extra.’”
And did they all agree to that?
“Yes, some said they were ‘just girls’ – point blank,” she said, “And others agreed that the ‘something extra’ was necessary.”
I found it exhilarating that these young women were naming themselves, that they were identifying how they wanted and that they exerted themselves in a world that rarely, if ever made room for them. I found myself uplifted by the “girls…with something extra” because it wasn’t coming from a place of want or lack. It didn’t fall prey to the tired, simplistic, limiting media sound bite of “girl trapped in boy’s body.” Instead it celebrated who we were as trans women: We have something extra. You can take that literally or figuratively, which is how I choose to read it: We are extra, we are more, we are special, we are everything.
Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT resource center at USC, invited me to share a message of empowerment with the graduates, making me the first trans person to serve as speaker in its 18-year history. I was humbled and honored to share my story with the graduates.
But I wanted this moment to go beyond me. I wanted the truth, the heart of the matter to resonate with the graduates and their families and friends long after the ceremony’s end. I wanted this moment to be more than my personal history.
I wanted it to be about the women who have touched me, the ones who gave me courage, who instilled a fight within me to step forward, to shed my anonymity, to embrace my truth and to be my most authentic self.
My purpose at USC was to elevate the conversation, to urge a new generation of young LGBT leaders and allies to question what they truly mean when they say they’re fighting for equality.
This speech was about Paige Clay and CeCe McDonald, two trans women, both 23, both creative, both beautifully black, who helped me hone my voice as an advocate and who have both faced injustices that have shaken me to my core.