After watching the film I was struck by the undeniable power of testimony, the collective narrative of being unapologetically yourself and the fact that despite the unifying acronym there is not one LGBT experience. And that’s a good thing. Yet, I did feel lonely being the only trans person in the documentary, which is poignantly representative of the movement’s current focus that tends to see trans people as an afterthought, a gesture of inclusivity.
One person cannot represent anyone but themselves. The burden of representation is too heavy for one to carry. My journey isn’t reflective of all trans women, men and people’s lives (for example I say “fully transitioned” in the film, which varies for all trans people, and refer to my relationship with my body as “the wrong equipment” – some feel theirs is in fact “right”). The number of people of color featured is wonderful and so is the fabulousness of drag legend Lady Bunny (who adamantly points out drag queens’ and street people’s – let’s not forget about trans women’s – presence at the Stonewall Riots) and Twiggy Pucci Garcon (who represented the ball community and mentioned my legendary sisters there) – all of which helps diversify the portrait of race and gender.
I still find myself struck by the fact that I, this brown trans girl from Kalihi, a low-income, resilient town in Honolulu, was sharing cinematic space with groundbreakers, from Ellen DeGeneres and Wanda Sykes to Larry Kramer and Lupe Valdez. It dawned on me as I sat down in that dark theater that my life, my story, a snapshot of my existence will forever be archived as part of our movement.
A little girl growing up like I did will be able to see herself in this film. She will not have to hunt down the footage, like my dear sister Reina Gossett had to when she sought and uncovered footage of Sylvia Rivera at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally. This will be on HBO, not hidden in archives or blazed into the faulty memory bank of witnesses.
Personal stories are vital to culture change and I believe that this film will be pivotal to changing people’s perceptions about the LGBT community, but personal narratives are not everything. True progress occurs when we’re able to contextualize our personal experiences and come to the realization that we are part of a movement of people struggling with similar and dissimilar systemic oppressions.
As reported in Vanity Fair, the fight for marriage was a major catalyst for the creation of this project. And it’s with a note of bittersweetness that I celebrate the premiere of this film and the striking down of DOMA. The freedom to marry is important (it took decades of organizing, movement resources and millions of dollars), as I said on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry (clip embedded below) on Saturday, but so are daily access issues that low-income, homeless, incarcerated, HIV-living, immigrant, jobless and LGBT communities of color face, which frankly are not sexy issues that make passersby feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And these issues don’t garner the same resources and media focus as marriage.
I own that ‘Supermodel’ CD and used to once upon a time like RuPaul, but excuse me if I and other transpeople aren’t jumping with joy over the coronation of Ru in that Tracey Ross article as some sort of 21st century gender warrior or trans expert.
It really pisses us Black trans women off that you give RuPaul Andre Charles (and Tyler Perry dressed as Madea) more love and respect than you do the average Black transwoman struggling to live their lives and interact with the Black cis and SGL communities without major drama.
RuPaul is a Black gay man, not a transperson, and the trans community is beyond sick and tired of being sick and tired of him being elevated by cis and gay people to some nebulous ‘trans expert’ level..
As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I became a trans activist in 1998 was because of a Transgender Tapestry magazine article in the 90’s that ignorantly considered RuPaul and Dennis Rodman as Black transwomen juxtaposed against other accomplished white trans people despite both Ru and Dennis Rodman emphatically saying they weren’t trans and didn’t want to transition.
It was the epiphany that made me realize just how invisible Black transwomen were in the trans human rights movement and gave me the impetus to get involved and change that dynamic.
At the Clínica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Victoria Ortega, 33, focuses on women’s health, HIV prevention, beautification, and safety. As a transgender woman and community organizer, she actively incorporates LGBTQ issues into her community-building in the neighborhood.
Ortega has built a great nonprofit career for herself and recognizes the employment and career limitations transgender women face. “There is a lack of leadership-building for trans women,” she says.
Latino/a transgender people often live in extreme poverty. According to a National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) survey, twenty-eight percent of transgender Latinos reported a household income of less than $10,000 a year, which is nearly double the rate for transgender people of all races, more than five times the general Latino/a population rate, and seven times the general U.S. population rate. For non-citizen Latino/a participants, the poverty rate was 43 percent. The unemployment rate for Latino/a transgender people is 20 percent.
When Alexis Martinez, 63, came out in 1998, her successful printing business began to suffer because she was losing clients. She says she was also harassed by workers because of her gender identity.
Martinez says she was aware of her gender identity from a very early age. “When I was four years old, I knew what I was,” she says. At nineteen Martinez began taking hormones, but she stopped at the age of 29. As a result, she became depressed and battled alcoholism and cocaine addiction until she resumed hormone treatments at the age of 43.
“There are multiple challenges– housing, jobs, and medical care– exacerbated in the trans community,” Martinez says.
Thank you, Fierce, for publishing these letters. I, too, am upset that the Times has not issued an apology for this lacking-in-context piece and/or published any of these letters from others who are angered by the piece.
On July 25, 2012, FIERCE organized a Call to Action asking supporters to submit letters to the New York Times demanding Dignity for Transwomen of Color and LGBTQ Youth in their reporting. The Call to Action was organized in response to a July 24th article: “For Money or Just to Strut, LIving Out Loud on a Transgender Stage.
The article, which relied on and fed into harmful, negative stereotypes of young transwomen of color, neglected to highlight or consider the root causes of why LGBTQ youth are disproportionately on the streets and finding it harder to maintain access and ownership over this historical safe space.
Over the weeks following the action, we received dozens of letters that were not only powerful, but also the acts of solidarity were incredibly moving for all of us here at FIERCE! Seeing your words and feeling the support of so many allies, we saw the depth and strength of our struggle against transphobia, homophobia, gentrification, and criminalization of LGBTQ youth of color, especially transwomen of color.
As far as we know, theTimesdid not publish the letters. In an effort to empower LGBTQ youth and the communities that support LGBTQ youth-led organizing in NYC and elsewhere, we wanted to share a small collection of these letters with you.
In love and struggle,