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USC Keynote Address
Interviewing Isis King
Growing up in Honolulu, there was no single trans person visible to me to point to as a role model, as an example of what could be possible for me as a teenager.
I turned to movies with strong heroines. I turned to Oprah Winfrey. I turned to the works of women of color writers, from Maya Angelou and Alice Walker to the incomparable Zora Neale Hurson. All of which filled me up. Despite their brilliance, though, they didn’t speak in totality to who I was or whom I dreamt of becoming.
This lack of visible possibility left a gaping hole within me and led me to believe that I was isolated, alone, and unworthy of being seen or heard. Yet, it also propelled me to eventually tell my own story in adulthood at a time when I settled into a safe, secure, solid place in my own life. After opening up, I’ve since been able to find numerous trans people doing amazing work, filling me up with possibility, inspiration and hope. I’ve found my people.
In the past two years, I’ve shared space and sistership with Reina Gossett and Laverne Cox, with Katherine Cross and Monica Roberts, with Monika MHz London and Andy Marra, with Ida Hammer and Ryka Aoki. All of these women – and many more I hope to embrace in real life – are now on the inaugural Trans 100, an exhibition of our collective presence and reach as a community.
I had the privilege to witness this “for us, by us” achievement grow from Toni D’Orsay‘s spark of an idea into the Chicago launch event (shepherded impeccably by Jen Richards) on March 31, where I met organizers I’ve admired from afar like Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler and KOKUMO and singers like Namoli Brennet and Joe Stevens.
At the launch event, I also delivered the evening’s closing keynote address. With the Trans 100′s public unveiling today, I want to share the transcript of my remarks below. (I will update this post with footage of the speech when it’s released via the Trans 100 FB page.) In the mean time, I hope my words about the list, about the people, about our glorious community inspires you to be proud, to be visible, to be unapologetic. My grand hope is that trans youth coming-of-age now may be able to turn to this list as a exhibition of who we are, what we can contribute and what’s possible, and just maybe have 100 reasons to feel less alone in this world.
My fridge is covered with holiday cards, smiling faces of loved ones with summaries of their year. Most I read, some I skip, posting them with a magnetic tack, which I look at smilingly as I sip my Kona coffee in the morning.
What strikes me about these cards is milestones: Bri’s first day of school; Aunt Midge’s 90th birthday; Mai and Eric’s wedding. It got me thinking about 2012, a personally monumental year for me, in which I feel I found my voice as a young writer, as a woman and as an activist.
I haven’t written a blog post since July, on the eve of leaving my job of more than five years at People.com. As some of you may know, I’ve spent these last transitioning months traveling, speaking and most personal to me, writing my memoir Fish Food which will be out February 2014.
I’d like to use this space to highlight and list some of the people who have moved me, the events and work that have inspired me and the milestones, mentions and awards that have affirmed me and my work. In 2012, I was honored by an organization created in the legacy of one of my heroes Sylvia Rivera; I made my television debut on MSNBC with Thomas Roberts; I stood witness as two people I love married the love of their lives; I signed my book deal enabling me to truly write for a living; I shared on-air space with my sister Isis King, creating the first-ever segment where two trans women simply spoke to one another; I was among a small group of emerging LGBT leaders being feted at Vice President Biden’s home; and I spoke to thousands of young people and many privileged folks about what it means to stand at the intersections of many systems of oppression.
As we push towards another new year, I want to wish you joy and happiness, as the dearly departed Whitney Houston sang, but above all this, I wish you love – not necessarily romantic, fairytale, prince charming love – but the kind of love that one can only give themselves, the kind of love you attain and embody when you decide to live, own and share your truth.
Love is revolutionary; never forget that.
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.