Saturday, May 24, 2008
Going Home Again
A hometown visit brings back the struggles of growing up black and transgender.
by Danielle King
Friday, May 23, 2008
From the Washington Blade
I RECENTLY HAD the opportunity to return to my hometown of Camden, N.J., a city relatively unchanged since my childhood.
Camden, at times, has had the dubious distinction of being named the nation’s most dangerous and poverty-stricken city. With a crime rate that rivals larger cities like Atlanta and Detroit, growing up as a “tranny” in the town was no walk in the park. But today I am grateful for all of those experiences that caused me to appreciate growth, look toward the future and reflect upon my past.
I remember the first time I encountered a transgender woman there. She was wearing tattered jeans, a faded shirt exposing her midriff and chalky make-up. I recall being taken aback by her assertive air. She wasn’t the most “passable” trans person, yet she had an unwavering conviction about who she was and how she wanted to be perceived.
She frequently consorted with the vagrants of our neighborhood and her profession was well known. Occasionally, while riding our bikes along the docks of the Delaware River, my friends and I would see her and a “john” parked by a dilapidated industrial building, engaging in what was no doubt the end result of a business transaction.
Over the years I’ve often wondered about her and dreamed that life had cut her a break. Surely someone had offered her a job. Perhaps she’d even found a wonderful partner, married, adopted two kids, a dog and purchased a house surrounded by a white picket fence. But then, I’d always wake up.
AS A PROUD African-American transgender woman, I understand that unless I actively engage in the ongoing fight for equality, a life like the one I dream of for that transgender woman — and for members of the LGBT community, including myself — will remain beyond reach.
Since my youthful days in Camden, I’ve experienced plenty of “awakenings” — piercing looks from passersby who seem to instantly evaluate and dismiss me. There are tense rides on the Metro during rush hour (an event that my friend Tiana calls the “judgment hour”) and I’ve had my fair share of being the subject of giggles and whispers.
But ironically, those events fuel my strong sense of obligation to the LGBT community — a community that I fervently believe will someday collectively see equality unconditionally afforded to us all.
DURING THIS SEASON of Pride, as we reunite with old friends and make new ones, let us not forget our obligation to the entire community throughout the year. Complacency is the enemy of any cause.
In the true spirit of Pride, disregard your own personal level of “passability” and proactively seek to understand the issues that affect all of the members of our community. Be kind to one another and openly affirm who you are and your right to live your life the way you wish to live it.
We must work toward the day when college students in New Jersey are not shot down because of their same-gender-loving affection and 15-year-olds are not slain because of their gender identity. And we must ensure that all transgender women, despite their “passability,” have the opportunity to become gainfully employed.
Until that happy day arrives, we all have much work to do.
TransGriot note: Danielle King is the Classifieds Manager for the Washington Blade