Friday, July 10, 2015

Black Trans History Is A Fascinating And Evolving Story

I was surprised, pleased and honored to see a meme created by TransMusePlanet that quotes me on the importance of Black trans history. 

It's why my blog is named TransGriot and one of the reasons it exists.   While I'm writing many of the posts here to chronicle it and pass it on to my transpeeps that wish to get acquainted with it, it needs to also be seen by my cis Black family and our human rights allies.

I come from a family of historians.  My late godmother Pearl Suel was the founding president of the Houston chapter of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life, wrote the first Black history curriculum for HISD and taught history at the collegiate and high school level.  

That's where she encountered my mother, who was one of her star students, and my late father.   My mom got her bachelors in history, and passed that love of history to me.  I was involved in History Prep Bowl academic competitions in junior high as was captain of the team in my 8th grade year.

My dad was an admirer of Marcus Garvey.   I also count amongst my friends several collegiate history professors teaching at institutions across the country.

The love of history runs deep in my life, and I am keenly aware of the importance of it for marginalized groups and how it can be used to empower them.

Our opponents are aware of the power of history as well, which is why they work hard to keep you from not only having knowledge of your history, but seek to whitewash or eradicate any mention of it every chance they get.  It is no accident that one of the things our Texas conservafool majority is up to is trying to rewrite the history books so that their misdeeds and failures are glossed over.

One of the first questions I pondered when I transitioned in 1994 was about trans history and Black trans people's contributions to it.  Who are our heroes and sheroes?   Who are the people who preceded me and set the table for our community at the time I encountered it?   What can I do to help make this community better than when I first started hearing about it in 1975?

This blog is one part of the answer to that question.   We not only need to know our Black trans history, but Black cis people ignorant of our trans existence and the contributions we have made to the Black community.   Black trans people are part of the kente cloth fabric of the African-American community and the African Diaspora, and just didn't pop up out of nowhere in the second half of the 20th Century.

While we have known that trans actresses like Alexandra Billings, Alicia Brevard, Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn and Candis Cayne existed, it was a current actress in Laverne Cox, no stranger to making history and blazing trails, was thrilled to find out that she was walking in the path of a girl like us actress named Ajita Wilson

Diamond Stylz and I still chuckle about the time she busted a cis woman on the Net who made the erroneous comment as a joke there would never be a transfeminine JET Beauty of the Week, only to be informed by Diamond, armed with the links to the info,  that Ajita Wilson had done that as well.

There have also been some colorful characters in our history such as Lexington, Kentucky resident James 'Sweet Evening Breeze' Herndon, Georgia Black, Lady Java, Jim McHarris, and Lucy Hicks Anderson to remind us they were fighting to be their true selves in conditions and a time period far more hostile to Black people be they cis or trans.

Back in 1992 we had a transperson named Althea Garrison elected to the Massachusetts state legislature, and hopefully that will happen again in my lifetime.

And while trans models of all ethnic backgrounds like Geena Rocero, Lea T and Andreja Pejic are probably aware there has been a long stylish line of  trans models dating back to the 60's starting with April Ashley. our current Black trans models like Isis King and Arisce Wanzer are also aware of and hopefully inspired by the fact they were preceded on the catwalks and magazine covers by Tracy Africa Norman. 

We know that Miss Major and Marsha P Johnson raised hell at Stonewall a mere 4 years after a group of African-American gender variant kids in Philadelphia kicked off a trans-themed protest at Dewey's Lunch Counter.

And speaking of Black trans leaders, it isn't just Black trans women who have been fighting for and shaping the direction of our movement.   Black trans men like Marcelle Cook-Daniels, Alexander John Goodrum and Kylar Broadus have also been handling their human rights business.

We have people who were plaintiffs in human rights court cases like Patricia Underwood and Patti Shaw, just to name two of them.

We have people in the religious leadership ranks like Rev. Yeshua Holiday, Rev. Carmarion Anderson, and Rev Lawrence T. Richardson among others making the case that Black trans people are also people of faith.

We have had trans trailblazers in the music world like Wilmer Broadnax, Jordana LeSesne, Jaila Simms and Tona Brown who cover many types of musical genres with others following in their trailblazing footsteps..

Black trans history isn't just a recitation of past accomplishments. We have people making history today in tech entrepreneurs like Dr. Kortney Ziegler and Angelica Ross.  We have people in academia like Dr Van Bailey, Dr Kai Green, and Dr. Marisa Richmond.  

And I can't forget Kye Allums and my WMMA sis Fallon Fox.   Kye broke ground as a NCAA Div I collegiate basketball player, and Fallon is kicking butts and taking names in the octagon while representing our community and our athletically inclined transpeeps blazing trails and busting stereotypes in the sports world

And I'm still doing my part to not only help chronicle our Black trans history, but help make some of it as well.  Stories of back in the day Black trans people  that once were untold are now being discovered and told to a new generation of trans people to educate and inspire them to greater heights.

And that telling of our Black trans history is a crucial piece of building up our Black trans kids resistance to the urge to end their lives prematurely, and reinforce the point that #BlackTransLivesMatter.

We still have much human rights work left to do and much left to accomplish.   We have an amazing and evolving story to tell as Black trans people.   I'm proud to do my part as a trans writer walking in the footsteps of Roberta Angela Dee to bring it to you.

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