Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Repeat After Me: All Black Transwomen AREN'T Hookers

I get so sick of hearing the 'Black transwomen are hookers' shade. Every time one of my transsisters gets killed, in just about every story I read, the assumption is made that they are either hookers or if they had a prior arrest for it, it's played up in the story.

When the Duanna Johnson story broke last month, I cautioned some people commenting on it on the Bilerico Project not to jump to conclusions and assume that's just because the Memphis po-po's who beat her charged her with prostitution, that's not necessarily what she did for a living.

Hollywood isn't helping either. The images it puts out only adds to our frustration at being mischaracterized.

White transwomen get Felicity Huffman playing a transwoman named Bree in the movie Transamerica and see her get nominated for a gazillion awards for doing so. I get Kerry Washington playing a guess what in the soon to be released movie Life Is Hot In Cracktown.

If you see transwomen being interviewed on shows like Larry King, you'll rarely see a Black one on those panels. Even Oprah when she finally did some shows on transgender people failed to include one of us on the panel. The melanin-free Congressional hearing was also devoid of African-Americans.

You see white transwomen getting news coverage for working in various professional occupations, running for public office and getting massive media face time to counteract the fact that some of their t-girls also partake in the world's oldest profession. You just don't hear about it as much because it's spun by the MSM as a 'Black' problem.

So is it any wonder that a Black transkid looks at this situation and unfortunately thinks based on the tsunami of negative images projected at them even from the LGBT media, that the only thing they can be or do if they transition is become a hooker?

Is it any wonder that a big swath of the African-American community harbors the same misconceptions about us?

When are our African-American media outlets (EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, et cetera) going to step up to the plate and put together more positive stories on transgender African-Americans doing thangs, much less cover the crap that happens to us now?

If magazines like Colorlines, and some GLBT papers can do it, and you did it in the past, what's stopping the iconic publications in our community from doing so now?

EBONY used to cover Chicago's Finnie's Ball and the New York drag balls up until 1952. You're missing out on some wonderful history that our people need to know. Everything from Black GLBT people conducting a 1965 sit in protest in Philadelphia to a Tennessee transgender college professor becoming the first African-American transgender delegate to the Democratic National Convention. It underscores the fact that just because we transitioned, we didn't stop being Black. It also makes the point that we have the same desire to uplift the race and see it survive and thrive just as many of you non-transgender African-American peeps do.

I have transwomen friends who work in IT, teach, are nurses, and are managers who work in various professional fields. Many of us are college educated with advanced degrees. We resent that the first thing coming out of people's mouths gay, straight or transgender when the conversation belatedly comes around to discussing transgender people of African-descent being the p-word.

It's even more hurtful and insulting to see African-American SGL people, folks who should know better than anyone else about stereotyping, also part their lips to say the same negative things about us.

Retreating deeper into stealth won't change this situation. It's what caused this news blackout to begin with.

The Transgender Talented Tenth is going to have to step up to the plate and do more to tell their stories to counteract all the negative spin that's out there.

I'm trying to do my part by not only telling my story on TransGriot, but by participating in panel discussion on and off college campuses, sitting on organizational boards in the GLBT community, doing speaking engagements, and consenting to do radio, podcast and print interviews.

But I'm only one person and TransGriot is just one blog. I'm competing with a sea of Internet websites and adult films that have no problem peddling the more negative images of pre-operative African-American transwomen for cash.

All I'm trying to do is tip the balance back toward the positive end. I don't want 100 years from now when historians read about the transgender rights movement, Black transpeople's yeoman contributions to gaining those rights being whitewashed out of the historical record or the general narrative being 'all we did was sex work'.


Renee said...

You are certainly right about the invisibility of trans women that are of color just like lesbian women they are all represented by white women. Very few affirming roles are shown in the media and so socially there is this idea that either they don't exist or they are ridiculous characters.
When I posted about Duanna Johnson I admit that I wrote that she was a sex trade worker. I never thought to question that she was not and that the police may have done that as a way to make her attack socially acceptable. Either way her beating was wrong. I shall think twice before I label someone a sex trade worker based only on the assertion of the police. Though I will say I don't think that a sex trade worker is someone we should devalue as less than.

Monica Roberts said...

Renee, I'm not saying that either. I get just as indignant at transpeople who try to look down their noses with an air of superiority at the girls doing escort and sex work.

I point out that it's by the grace of God and solid decision making over the years that I'm not in that situation.

But the point I'm keep pushing is that the images of African-American transwomen are severely out of balance.

You don't hear about the Marisa Richmonds or the Valerie Spencers among us, all you hear is the same tired anrrative about prostitution.

And that needs to stop.

Twanna A. Hines | said...

Stumbled across your site via Racialicious. LOVE IT so much I could eat it!!! :) Baby, where have you been all my online life??? :)

You said: "All I'm trying to do is tip the balance back toward the positive end."

Keep doing your thing!! :)

Monica Roberts said...

Thank you and good luck with the book. You'll get it done ;)