Sunday, July 01, 2007
Letter To My African-American Transgender Elders
Dear African-American Transelders,
I hope and pray your golden years find you in excellent health, a secure life situation, and satisfied with the way your lives turned out.
But there's a question I've been dying to ask those of you who walked before me.
Why didn't y'all work harder to build an African-American transgender community for mine and the generations to come?
Yeah, I realize that y'all had a lot of thangs on your plate back in the day. Fighting Jim Crow segregation, getting our voting rights, the Civil Rights Movement, dealing with HIV/AIDS and trying to make a living making 70 cents for every dollar a white person earns. That does have a much higher priority than what I'm talking about.
Don't get me wrong, I'm eternally grateful for your contributions and sacrifices that helped make my life as a late 20th-early 21st century African-American better. I'm well aware that in addition to the other challenges you African-American transgender elders faced, I am cognizant of the fact that our community is somewhat conservative on gender issues and pursuing that may have opened you up to violent attacks and even death. I'm also aware of the fact that the HBIGDA/WPATH orthodoxy at the time you transitioned was to fade away and never let anyone know you're transgender.
But damn, I feel cheated.
By going stealth, I feel that my history as an African-American transperson has been hidden from me. I know HIV/AIDS took some of you away from us, but why didn't y'all do a better job of passing that history down to my generation? Where were y'all when I needed multiple transgender role models that share my cultural background to look up to back in the 70's? Why weren't more of you visionary enough like Justina Williams for example to build organizations on a local and eventually national scale that passed that knowledge down and build a networked national community at the same time? I know y'all had the skills to do so. You proved it time and time again during the Civil Rights era.
Why did some of y'all hate us younger transpeeps so much that when we humbly asked you for the information as to the how to's of Transition 101 and longed to be mentored by you the response was stony silence, derisive laughter or derogatory self-esteem deflating comments?
My generation and others are paying for that lack of vision right now. Because you didn't think long term and pursue this in a more politically favorable environment we are now faced with the task of trying to build community and unite separate factions of dispirited peeps in a hostile conservative political environment. Our churches have been infected by a doctrine of hatred for GLBT peeps. It comes from the same white fundamentalist preachers that opposed y'all in your youth and distracts our churches from fulfilling their historic mission of seeking justice for ALL African-Americans.
But you know what? I and my generation can't wallow in what SHOULD have been done decades ago. We are faced with the daunting task of doing it now.
The transkids who are being born right now or who are are transitioning in elementary and middle school will need those resources to lean on. Shouldn't our kids have access to the same or equal resources similar to what our transbrothers and transsisters of European heritage have today that were painstakingly built up over the last twenty years? Shouldn't those resources also be geared toward their culture?
I'm not writing this letter to cast blame or start an inter generational war. That's not my intent. I'm approaching you in the spirit of Kingian love and respect for you as my elders. I wanted to convey to you the sense of loss and pain I and many African-American transpeople of my generation feel because we grew up feeling isolated and alone.
I am in the position now of being looked at as a leader and mentor to twenty something transkids. I don't want another African-American transkid on my watch to ever feel that kind of pain again and want to leave behind a world better than what I encountered. I and the current African-American transgender leadership need your help to achieve that modest goal. I would like to gain insight on what happened from your vantage point. We want and need to get your side of the story. We want to embrace the history you have to share with us so that we can pass it on. We've lost too much of our precious history already and our young people need to know about what you accomplished so that they can aspire to do something extraordinary with their lives.
Finally, we wish to lean on your hard won knowledge, be mentored by you in the time that God has granted you to remain with us on Planet Earth, learn from the mistakes as you see them through your generational prism and diligently work to ensure that we don't repeat them.