Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Black Transgender Role Models Are Important

Wyatt T. Walker wrote in a December 1967 Negro Digest article, "Rob a people of their sense of history and you take away hope."

So when I stated that I wish I'd had pioneering transgender role models to look up to of African descent growing up like white transwomen have with Christine Jorgensen, April Ashley, and Phyllis Frye, I was speaking not only from a personal frame of reference, but from a historical one as well.

Yes, those people and many others have wonderful qualities that anyone can admire and emulate. But they also have in common the fact they are white.

That hasn't changed even though there are three African-American transgender people who have Trinity Awards on their mantels. That hasn't changed even though there are countless examples of transgender people of color stepping up, being intimately involved in shaping the history of this community and blazing trails such as the Alexander John Goodrums and Roberta Angela Dees of the world.

I'm lamenting the history that either hasn't or is just beginning to be told.

The point is that a young Euro-American transkid always has people representing them that affirm, reflect and share their cultural heritage. They log into computers for information on transgender issues, and the websites and the history they tell about the community disproportionately reflects them.

Go to the library or search for books on transgender issues, and there's a plethora of books, be they fiction or non-fiction, written from their point of view. They even see themselves reflected in the few movies and TV shows that have been done with transgender characters in them.

Now if you're a person of color, it's a different world.

Black transwomen have been whitewashed out of the transgender community narrative despite playing major roles in crafting it. We're rarely interviewed by the MSM, have books written by us, about us, or for us, asked to speak at colleges on transgender issues, or reflected in the predominately white middle-upper middle class leadership ranks of the community.

Don't even get me started talking about the images of African descended transwomen.

So when people consider me a role model or tell me they're honored to talk to me, I realize the seriousness of it. It's something I wish I'd had growing up, and it's the same lament shared by current day transwomen now in their twenties and thirties.

It's important in any marginalized community, especially as a transperson of color to have role models that share your ethnic heritage. They give you a concrete example of the fact that you aren't alone for starters. Their existence lets you know they are proud to be who they are, a roadmap to living your own proud life and the strength to persevere against adversity.

It also lets you know that you have a valued history that we have an obligation to defend and build up to greater heights. It also gives you the sense that you are another runner in the relay race of life and it's your turn to pick up the baton and carry it forward.

That has what's been denied us through intentional and unintentional whitewashing of transgender history, our community being disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and taking the brunt of the hate violence directed at transgender people.

It has also served as Wyatt Walker's quote states, taken away our hope.

It's a negative pattern that needs to be reversed, and it starts with us. We have to claim and fiercely defend our history, trumpet our accomplishments, and document what's happening for current and future generations to read as well.

I want future generations of cisgender people inside and outside my African descended community to know not only what Alexander John Goodrum, Roberta Angela Dee, Dionne Stallworth, Kylar Broadus, Dawn Wilson, Dr. Marisa Richmond, Lorrainne Sade Baskerville, some transgender blogger who's the 2006 IFGE Trinity Award winner and many others accomplished in their time here on Earth to build this community, it's important for future generations of transkids to know this as well.


PinayTG said...

I am so proud of you for honoring in this post, yourself, those who came before you and those who will come after. It is true that having a sense of history can make one hopeful about the future. This post reminded me of that Isaac Newton quote that goes "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." :)

I think you are really being called to write that book on African-American transgender history Monica. :)

Zoe Brain said...

Monica, you're too close to the issue to see one very important point.

I forget who it was who said "I'm not a descendant : I'm an ancestor".

Monica, you are one of the inspirational role models whose lack you lament.

As I said, you're too close to the issue to see that. I think you may in time. Might take a few decades, and a lot more people than just me saying it to you though.

"Who, ME???"

Yes, you.

Renee said...

Well Monica I agree with Zoe Brain have a seat and get to writing. Someone always has to be first. The more reflections we can have on the diversity of our community the better.