A friend once told me, “When you don’t know something, it is okay to say that you don’t know something.” I do not write these words because I am a guru on transgender issues. I don’t know how it feels to wonder about my gender identity. I do not know how it feels to wonder where and if you will be allowed to go to the bathroom in a public space. I do not know what it feels like emotionally and physically to go through a personal transition. I don’t know how it is to battle systems to be able to change your name. I don’t know how it feels to be called the wrong pronoun. I don’t know how it feels to wonder when it is the right time to discuss your gender with your family, friends and loved ones. I don’t even know all the correct terminology.
There is a lot about being transgender that I will never know. So, I respectfully ask you to love me through my learning, love me through this writing and know that I do not stand here as someone with all the answers. As a matter of fact I don’t know if I have any answers. We are all in this sea of racial, sexual, and gender discord fighting just to stay afloat. However, please know that I am open and willing to learn. To stand alongside you. To add my voice to yours when the world demands that we should whisper. I can readily admit when I do not know something but as Black woman I do know how it feels to be overlooked, counted out, disregarded and erased from history.
I do know how it feels to be screaming and no one can hear you!
I do know how it feels to watch White celebrities and White women march for a movement that doesn’t include you.
I do know how it feels to be discriminated against simply because of the way that you look.
I do know how it feels to have your issues debated all around you by people that have no understanding of what you face in your day to day life.
I do know how it feels to have White men that sit in ivory towers decide what you can do with your body.
I do know how it feels for an entire movement to overlook you because of who you are.
I do know how it feels to have male names synonymous with a movement and for Black women to be forgotten.
I do know how it feels to suffer in silence. To wonder about your healthcare, your finances and your future.
I do know how it feels to stand alongside White people that say they understand your issues but never once acknowledges their privilege.
You see, there are some things that I do know. And what I do know is that 6 Black transgender women and 1 Indigenous transgender woman, were murdered this year and for the most part the world was silent, turned its head, looked the other way. Because they were not us. But Angela Davis reminds us, “If the come for them in the morning, they will come for us in the night.” So now is not the time for us to pick and choose who gets to taste the sweet nectar of justice. Now is not the time to hand out justice to who we think is deserving like we are on a civil rights assembly line. Justice is not served on a buffet table. Freedom, Equality and Basic Civil Rights are NOT Transgender Issues. These are my issues and your issues. THESE ARE ALL HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES!
Six Black transgender women are dead. One Indigenous transgender woman is dead. Who shouts their names? Jaquarrius Holland, Ciara McEvleen, Jojo Striker, Keke Collier Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow and Chyna Dupree. Would it have mattered if they were men? Would it have mattered if they were White? Would it have mattered if their last name were Jenner? Would it have mattered if it was your child lying dead in the street?
So, my question is who will cry out for them? Who will remember them? Who marches for them? Who knits the pink pussy cat hats for them? Who organizes a national day off work for them? Who makes the protest signs for them? We bear a responsibility in our fight for justice to remember that it is not justice unless it is justice for everyone. Until everyone is free then no one is truly free. So today is the day to align yourself on the side of righteousness and remind yourself that these transgender women, were human beings! And it is our job to write their names in history alongside Oscar and Trayvon and Mike and Eric.
I was stunned as I stood in a circle at the vigil as the names and biographies of each woman were read. The ages of the each of them varied but many were very young. Just starting to live. Some didn’t even make it to the age of my own daughter. With each name, I wondered, “What are we doing as people? Who have we become that someone can be viciously murdered simply because of their race, sexuality and/or gender?” I grew up in the age of Brandon Teena and Gwen Amber Rose Araujo. Crimes against transgender people sadly were not new to me. But hearing those names and standing in solidarity with those that attended the vigil, I felt a sense of guilt. We were in collusion with the perpetrators of these crimes. While we may not have held the weapon in our hands, we indeed were complicit. Because we were silent when we should have been a shout. We vilified people for their differences and demonized people with our doctrine. We hid in our own closets, shut our doors and closed our blinds allowing those that may want to love who they love to act out in fear, anger and hate rather than face our judgment. We created an environment for the perfect storm. And for that I am sorry.
These were women who took a stand in all their splendor to simply be and that in itself, is an act of justice! We remember each of them; Jaquarrius Holland, Ciara McEvleen, Jojo Striker, Keke Collier Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow and Chyna Dupree. They lost their lives living their truth and for that, we stand and vow to carry the torch on for everyone to live in freedom.
Jaquarrius Holland, Ciara McEvleen, Jojo Striker, Keke Collier Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Chyna Dupree
(Photos courtesy of Facebook, Twitter and GoFundMe)
(Speech given at Rally For Justice for Trans Women of Color – March 5, 2017)