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I was sitting at a coffee shop yesterday with my friend Darnell L. Moore discussing why we write and how revolutionary it is to call ourselves “writers.” He then mentioned the concept of living history, and the importance of disenfranchised communities (who are often not actively heard by the masses) to archive their lives and create their living history.
Darnell’s comments made me think about the blogs that I read daily and the Tweets and the essays and videos that actively are creating images and words about ourselves, our lives, our work and our struggles. I thought about how revolutionary it is that we’re creating our own reflections, a record of our lives right now.
It’s this agency of building this living history that enamors me about digital journalism and the way we live online and off, and I left our coffee date inspired to continue Tweeting, Tumbling and writing.
As I was preparing for bed, though, I read the New York Times‘ piece “For Money or Just to Strut, Living Out Loud on a Transgender Stage” by Sarah Maslin Nir on trans women who spend their evenings on New York’s fabled Christopher Street in the West Village. The piece, featuring trans women of color, was “the fifth in a series of articles exploring how people in the New York City area spend their summers after dark,” according to the Times.
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.
Please assist me in spreading the word by using the Twitter hashtag #girlslikeus when Tweeting about Jenna and girls like us.
“Who do you think you are?”
That’s the question image activist Michaela Angela Davis asked me during our MADFree conversation on Sunday. I struggled to answer as we neared the end of an intimate, soul-searching discussion about identity and image, beauty and power, how we view ourselves as women and see ourselves reflected in society.
“Me,” I said. “Just me.”
Beyond admiring Michaela’s work, I fell in love with her on Sunday because she pushed hard for me to be her guest in March. She said it was essential to her that I spoke during Women’s History Month. It stunned me (partly because I’ve been conditioned as a trans woman to believe the lies told to me that I didn’t belong) that she, like Marie Claire, recognized that women from all walks of life matter and deserve to be seen and heard.
And because transgender women are women too, Michaela saw no distinction, no hierarchy – just women from different paths, intersecting to give to one another, to exchange ideas. Yet I was soon reminded that this inclusive experience is not prevalent in our society. Equality is rare. To many, trans women are still deemed unnatural, men who are confused, fooling themselves into womanhood, or using medicine to fool straight men into bed. Hysteria, at its most heightened form.
As I was basking in sisterhood, Jenna Talackova, a 23-year-old transgender woman from Vancouver, B.C., was disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada competition because she was deemed unnaturally female. The pageant’s organizers, who’ve stated that “there is no discrimination here at all,” claimed that Jenna “falsified her application,” failing to indicate she had undergone sex reassignment surgery. According to the organization (a joint venture between Donald Trump and NBC Universal), Jenna didn’t meet “the necessary requirements” for competition.