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Facing Race Panel
Interviewing Isis King
I chose silence on November 20, also known as Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day when “we mourn our losses and we honor our precious dead.”
I chose silence on November 20 because I face exile, trauma, and threats of violence daily.
I chose silence on November 20 because I have mourned women I knew and women I did not know throughout the year.
I chose silence on November 20 because on this one day the world spoke names of fallen siblings they did not know, share space with and care after in life.
My body and being craved silence and solitude as well-meaning folks turned their lens for one day on fallen trans women of color while living trans women of color continue to be exiled from such spaces daily.
Today, I am refreshed after three days of quiet reflection, and I am ready to use my voice again.
Guess what? Many men are attracted to women, and trans women are amongst these women.
We, as a society, have not created a space for men to openly express their desire to be with trans women. Instead, we shame men who have this desire, from the boyfriends, cheaters and “chasers” to the “trade,” clients, and pornography admirers. We tell men to keep their attraction to trans women secret, to limit it to the internet, frame it as a passing fetish or transaction. In effect, we’re telling trans women that they are only deserving of secret interactions with men, further demeaning and stigmatizing trans women.
I’ve stood witness to many so-called scandals, mostly published on gossip blogs, where passing interactions with trans women spawn hundreds of headlines, particularly for a man with fame and social capital. Thousands of words have been dedicated to analyzing whether such and such famous man is now suspect, merely because he took a photo with a fan who happened to be a trans woman. This questioning has led many well-known men to adamantly defend their heterosexuality and has tarnished the reputation and careers of others. It sounds like silliness on the surface, but often times when gossip blogs are the public’s only exposure to trans women, it spreads misinformation, validates stereotypes and causes irreparable damage.
When a man can be shamed merely for interacting with a trans women – whether it be through a photograph, a sex tape or correspondences — what does this say about how society views trans women? More important, what does this do to trans women?
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.