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.
I began holding myself accountable to the power of being myself. I committed to discussing varied issues, like street harassment and objectification, social media and OCC Lip Tars, youth-powered media and #girlslikeus, my dog Cleo and my nights out with girlfriends, and yes my pop culture passions like Beyonce, Mad Men, Channing Tatum and even Scandal.
So it was a pleasure to be invited back to the Melissa Harris-Perry show in April to discuss my love of Scandal and the pop cultural portrait of black womanhood. I was just as honored to be invited the first time in March (two MSNBC clips embedded here and here), where I discussed “equality” and called for mainstream gay organizations – not just GLAAD who announced their trans-inclusive name alteration – to truly be inclusive by prioritizing the daily access needs of my intersecting communities (low-income, trans, and people of color).
Basically I was on #nerdland the first time to be a representative of trans women of color, and I am proud to be that. But there was something so satisfying on a personal and political level to be a visible and proud trans woman of color and to be discussing something other than being trans. I was able to be on national television and discuss being a woman, a fan of a TV show, and how the media shapes how we view ourselves.
“[Janet] was allowed to be a full person with interests and a life and opinions on something other than gender,” Mey, a fellow trans woman of color writer, wrote on Autostraddle of my second appearance, “not just a woman whose only defining characteristic is her transness.”
It took me awhile to meditate on what she said and what I felt, and to stand in the gravity of that media moment, where a trans woman of color was embraced as another woman at the table (alongside Joy Reid, Heather McGhee and Andrea Plaid) with something to giggle over.
I was able to walk into a space, openly trans, openly brown, openly a woman, and not just be forced to discuss one aspect of my personhood, privileging one facet of myself over any others. Instead, I was able to sit at that table with one of my idols, Melissa Harris-Perry, and be my whole self.
I’m so looking forward to the day when we are all able to be free to openly be ourselves.