Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Black Transgender Issues Are Black Community Issues

'In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute'.

Justice Thurgood Marshall

As a proud African-American that also happens to be a transwoman, there is no doubt and I make it quite clear on many TransGriot and TBP posts that I love my people.

But some of them don't love me.

African-Americans have a duality when it comes to African-American transpeople. On one hand some of my peeps can be the most accepting, compassionate, articulate and passionately motivated advocates for us.

On the other hand, some of them can also be our cruelest tormentors. Some of our unfortunate sisters who are memorialized on the Remembering Our Dead list (and sadly, this year we are adding three more names so far to that list) were killed by other African-Americans.

I and my transsistahs and transbrothas have noted the reluctance of the NAACP, some African-American politicians, ministers and other mainstream African-American civil rights organizations to get on board with pushing for civil rights coverage for their fellow African-Americans who happen to be transgender. Some of this reticence is driven by misinterpretations of Biblical scripture, misinformation, and in some cases outright hatred, ignorance and transphobic bigotry.

But I want to point out why the issues that Black transgender people deal with are Black community issues as well.

Let's start with the most pressing one, jobs. Many of my transgender brothers and sisters are gainfully employed. Many of us are college educated. But because transpeople aren't covered in job discrimination laws in many parts of the country, it's hard for us just to get a job.

Eevn if we have one, some employers are aware that it's illegal to fire us for being African-American. They'll just simply say I'm firing this person because they're transgender and unfortunately get away with it.

Sometimes. as Rochelle Evans has discovered, they won't hire us period.

Lack of employment is a root cause to some of what ails the African-American transgender community. We gotta eat, put clothes on our backs and have a place to lay our head. In addition to that, we gotta keep the cash flowing not only to pay for the necessities of life, but in order to complete our gender transitions.

Sometimes, my young transsisters are kicked out of their homes by their own families. They don't want to deal with their gender transformations out of either sheer ignorance or specious religious reasons.

Cutting us off from legitimate employment and the love and support of their family leads to some people feeling they have no other option but to turn tricks for cash. The end result of that can be what happened to young Ebony Whitaker a few weeks ago.

If they're lucky enough to not run into a john that kills them, then my street walking transsisters are at higher risk for contracting HIV, another issue in which we share a kinship with our African-American biobrothers and biosisters. They get paid more if they have sex with clients without a condom, and it's hard to say no to that if you're trying to survive.

The 2000 Washington Transgender Needs Assessment showed an alarming 25% of the respondents of that survey replying they were HIV positive. If they don't get it that way, because of the cost of the hormones that we need to transition, some girls pool their money to share hormone shots. If the person you're sharing a needle with is HIV positive, then you'll share that with them as well as the hormones you're injecting into your body.

Speaking of injecting things into your body, there's also the practice of silicone pumping parties than can lead to HIV infection, disfigurement or death.

Police brutality, as the Duanna Johnson case demonstrated in Memphis, is an issue we share with our bio brothers and sisters. We also have the added problem of being harassed by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us either verbally, physically or in some cases sexually.

Because our ministers have been more concerned with clocking dollars than uplifting the community and speaking truth to power, they've been acting and sounding more like white fundies instead of adhering to the traditional mission of the Black church to be drum majors for justice. That nasty rhetoric coming from our pulpits has opened gender variant kids up to being bullied, harassed and possibly killed. In some cases it has gotten so bad that some transpeople drop out of school because of it.

If you drop out, not only does it cut your income earning potential and your chances of landing a good paying job, it also greases the skids for you to end up in that vicious cycle that leads to the street life or worse.

The point that I must continue to make until some of my fellow African-Americans get it is that just because I transitioned, that doesn't forever divorce me or any of us from the African-American community. I am just as down with the goal of uplifting the race just as much as any non-transgender African-American.

We African-American transpeople want to do our part to help. But this is a two way road of mutual assistance. You have a moral obligation as fellow African-Americans to help us, too. We are your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. We are as Frederick Douglass wrote in a North Star editorial in 1847:

'We are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other; if we are to succeed.'

Frankie Beverly said the same thing in the song 'We Are One' a century later.

I would have to say that transgender issues weren't on his mind when he wrote this song, but the point is we are one people. We'll need help from our biobrothers and biosisters to help stop the misinformation, the violence directed at us by our own people and help from our elected lawmakers to expand civil rights laws so they protect us from job discrimination as well.

Yes, Black transgender issues are Black community issues. The sooner that realization takes hold and we begin working together to solve what ails Black transgender America, the sooner we African-American transpeople can do our jobs to help heal what ails Black America as well.


Unknown said...

I'd like to first say, I'm not an expert on African-American issues. I just know what I know from listening to my friends, as well as what comes up in my sociology, AA Lit and Studies classes, and interestingly enough what's come up before in women's studies classes.

An issue that tends to also recur in those kinds of discussions, which I think would have an influence, is masculinity and how it's presented and perceived. I've read and heard a great deal on this, particularly stemming from the emasculating behaviors of slave-owners through to lynch mobs and even into today (I find it no strange accident that so many episodes of police brutality against the black community often include ritualistic forced sodomy).

I would think that among a group where the manhood of its men is under constant attack might be fearful about trans folk, especially from people inside that community, when you consider so many people invest definitions of masculinity within the male form; showing that form to be somewhat malleable would remove a vital psychological crutch for some people who're already insecure about themselves.

I do have to say again, though, it's late, and I am quite possibly making no sense or even coming off as straight-up ignorant. :/

Monica Roberts said...

Actually Cass,
It's not coming across as ignorant.

Zoe Renee said...

Once again, beautifully put Monica-I remember reading an article of your about how our black media magnets turn a cold and neglectful shoulder to its LGBT community as a whole. I say a classic rule can work effectively in its inverse; if you can't join them,beat them at their own game. Which in an element you have been doing perfectly btw, showing that there is and has always been a need for unity with the black trans community and the non black trans community. Idealistic enough of me,I believe that with continued efforts such as this feed that the positivity will eventually (hopefully sooner than later) defeat the negative portrayl and encourage that much needed unity.
I also agree with your argument Cass, in that there does indeed seem to be an incessant need for some authorities to 'emasculate' the role of the black male and unfortunately within that the community hasn't necc deciphered the differences between a black man being emasculated and a black transwoman; and sadly they almost appear shamefully synomonus within.
As trite and cliche as it sounds; education/ knowledge and a more opened mind is the most effective method for dissolving this divergence. The perpetual shine of the true beauty, knowledge, and power of the black trans-community will have to be shown as something to be embracced by our root community before we collapse from the weight of our own ignoances, much like a strong country can collapsr under the weight of its own power.

Monica Roberts said...

So true, Lola.