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Facing Race Panel
Interviewing Isis King
In September 2011, I sat on a black leather highchair, barefoot and a bit nervous. It was the first time I had been in front of the camera after sharing my story only four months earlier in Marie Claire.
I felt vulnerable as I looked into the darkness ahead of me which masked photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders‘ crew. There was one glaring light shining on the left side of my face and I was engaged in conversation with producer and interviewer Sam McConnell, whom I could see in the camera’s monitor.
Sam was tender with me. As a result, my initial nervousness left me and I was just a young woman telling my story to someone eager to hear. That’s what I witnessed last week when I watched myself on the big screen at the New York premiere of The Out List – a documentary and portrait project that shares the stories, experiences and faces of bisexual, gay, lesbian and trans Americans.
After watching the film I was struck by the undeniable power of testimony, the collective narrative of being unapologetically yourself and the fact that despite the unifying acronym there is not one LGBT experience. And that’s a good thing.
One of my initial fears after sharing my story was being “reduced” to just being seen as trans. Obviously this statement is problematic, but it was my truth at the time.
My logic was embedded in the skewed portrait I internalized from media about trans womanhood, where our lives are often equated to tragedy, deception, punchlines and of course, the freak show. Though I knew those ideas were limited, I admittedly didn’t want to be seen as any of those things.
Gratefully, I’ve been able to challenge those stereotypes over the past two years, in which my life has been occupied with fighting alongside my community. It’s been a responsibility that I feel blessed with taking on. It’s a duty I’m proud of. Yet there still is a part of me who wants to return to my more frivolous days, the days in which I was able to write about Ryan Gosling’s abs and Channing Tatum’s pecs for PEOPLE.com, my job of nearly six years. It was light and fun, but the need to fight for social justice took ahold of me, and I found myself diving into trans-ness 24/7, if that makes sense.
After “coming out,” I went full steam ahead with a purpose, often tweeting only about trans or LGB issues, speaking out about the dire needs of our community, and critiquing mainstream media. I felt purposeful, but not whole, and found myself feeling burned out. I soon realized that I would be of no service to anyone or myself if I tried to be someone or something I was not.
We must be authentic. We must be given the space to be ourselves in totality. We must allow ourselves to express ourselves fully with depth and frivolity as well.
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.