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Facing Race Panel
Interviewing Isis King
I stood in a crowd with you last night as we cried and cringed, applauded and gasped, embraced and turned away. I was there with you last night and I saw you in all your fierceness, despair, hope and rage. I also saw love, the same love that Chanel and Laverne wielded when they took the stage, speaking Islan Nettles’ name and pronouns with such authority ensuring that no one rewrote the life she brilliantly lived.
Love is what enabled me to walk out of Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem just a block from her attack and not be overcome by the rage of the entire proceeding, a proceeding that did not respect who Islan was – a young black trans woman – by failing to consult us, failing to take our pain and undeniable vulnerability into account, failing to allow us to be heard, failing to educate a grieving family about the necessity of pronouns, failing to correct cis folks who took up too much space and called Islan, therefore every trans woman in the crowd, out of her name.
We were told this vigil was focused on Islan’s family versus “political” issues like “transphobia” – as if the personal and political can be separated so effortlessly and cleanly. We are still vulnerable – just as Islan was – and that is not a political issue. That is truth, a truth that we are reminded of every time we step out of the comfort of our homes and are called out of our names, identities and bodies on our streets. And the organizers frankly ignored our truth and that pain paired with the grieving of a sister beaten to death at the tender age of 21 is unbearable.
And I want you to know that your pain is real, your pain is worthy, your pain is just.
I am an uninsured trans woman. I have been so for most of my life. All healthcare-related expenses I incurred throughout my adolescence and my adulthood were paid for out-of-pocket. When I was insured under my mother’s intermittent employment plan and later my own as an adult, I didn’t have access to a physician who understood my specific needs and was told that the life-changing and life-saving procedures I needed were not considered “medically necessary.”
Today, Chelsea Manning, the Army private sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking classified documents, joins me and thousands of trans women, trans men and trans folks who have had to (and continue to) fight against the bias and stigma that prevents us from having access to quality healthcare. This morning, Manning announced through a statement on NBC’s Today show that she is female, that her name is Chelsea and that she plans to undergo hormone therapy, vital treatments her lawyer David Coombs told Today‘s Savannah Guthrie he will “do everything in my power to ensure” she has access to.
This essay is not about the WikiLeaks case, about Chelsea’s actions, about whether she is a hero or a traitor. Like Chelsea (who chose not to reveal she was a trans woman during her trial) I choose not to discuss the specifics of Chelsea’s trial as I feel it will “overshadow” the task at hand: the devaluing and disregard of trans people’s bodies.
Throughout my life, I’ve felt the pressure of having to define my multiple identities for myself and for others. I love words, yet I know that words often fail us. At times, words are unable to fully encompass who we know ourselves to be. Knowing this, I felt immense empathy for B. Scott when I heard him [B. welcomes the following preferred gender pronouns (PGPs): he/him, she/her, they/their] announce after several years in the media spotlight that he is transgender.
B.’s personal announcement arose in the midst of his “gender identity discrimination” lawsuit against BET. According to B.’s open letter to fans, the network hired him as a red carpet style correspondent at the 2013 BET Awards in June, forced him to change into more masculine attire and ultimately replaced him with Adrienne Bailon, a cis Latina woman (cis is a term used to describe those whose assigned sex at birth aligns with their gender identity). He wrote that the day’s events “made me feel less than and that something was wrong with who I am as a person.”
Though BET released a statement citing “miscommunications from both parties” and stating they “regret any unintentional offense to B. Scott and anyone within the LGBT community and we seek to continue embracing all gender expressions,” B. pushed the network for a “true public apology” and “fair remuneration.” The lawsuit has spawned many headlines, but what struck me is the discourse B.’s transgender revelation has sparked.