Monday, December 29, 2008

Hello, There Are Beautiful Transwomen Who Are Black

There's an old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One of the things I really get tired of is when the general conversation of transwomen turns to beauty and the discussion ignores us.

What got me thinking about the subject was this YouTube video I ran across while searching for something else spotlighting gorgeous celebrity transwomen. Too many times when that discussion gets started, the transwomen that are held up to that standard nine times out of ten have European ancestry. If on the rare occasions you do see a transwoman of color make it into this conversation, she's either Latina or Asian.

Black transwomen hardly ever make it into this general conversation, but when it comes to whatever negatives are slapped onto transwomen, notice how quickly they get shunted to Black transwomen. There have been too many times that when more attractive pictures were available of Black transwomen, the media seems to find the most unflattering, unattractive picture of a transwoman of African descent.

Somehow, that shouldn't be surprising to any of us who paid attention in history class. If our biosisters have had drama over the centuries (and still do) just getting the world to recognize the curvaceous beauty of Black women from vanilla creme to darkest ebony, what made us Black transwomen think we'd have it any easier, especially in the face of a near total news blackout when it comes to transwomen of color?

It was one of the reasons why I and many other Black transwomen were deliriously happy about Isis making it on America's Next Top Model and rooting for her to win it all, and seeing Laverne Cox representing on I Want To Work For Diddy. Not only were we finally getting to see on television beautiful, intelligent transsistahs doing their thang on the tube, they looked good doing it.

It's interesting that our beauty is not talked about or celebrated despite the fact that in the major non African-American transgender pageant systems such as Miss Continental and Miss Gay US of A sistahs routinely win titles. The Miss Continental system just finished a run in which Black transwomen won the title three consecutive years, but yet we're still 'unpretty' in the general beauty discussion or only grudgingly acknowledged.

I can almost guarantee that if the ballroom community were a overwhelmingly white one and not one in which beautiful Black and Latina transwomen rule, it would have been claimed by mainstream GLBT culture long ago.

When coverage of transwomen since 1953 has been predominately driven by, of and about white transwomen, it follows that discussions of what makes a transwoman beautiful would be decided in that context as well. It sucks, but that's the reality we deal with.

We also know from observing our biosisters just how much of a battle it's going to be to broaden the discussion of what makes a transwoman beautiful to include African descended ones more frequently than it happens now.

But for the sake of our transkids and others, it's one that we must fight.


John said...

Hi there.

I just recently found your blog and thank (insert your favorite higher power here) that I did.

You are a breath of fresh air in the currently stale and cold conversation of gay rights. I particularly LOVED your critique of HRC. I was afraid that I was the only one that noticed their WILDLY transphobic and (white male) priveledged perspective. According to them the gay community is white, wealthy, and only interested in marriage. I too cringed when they began focusing solely on the marriage issue. How dare they? Every night thousands of GLBT kids are homeless, abused, prostituted and worse...yet HRC doesn't so much as mention any action to address this awful state of affairs. Are they unaware? Do they not care?

I just don't get it.

Anyway, I'll continue to read if you promise to keep telling it like it T-I-IS. :)


SjP said...


Noticed earlier this morning that a visitor to SjP's arrived from here so I decided to drop by. Imagine my surprise to see that you have honored Sojourner's Place as a "favorite". Much obliged! Very much obliged!

As a straight AAW, I am somewhat hesitant in commenting because I do not want to "say" anything that might be offensive as a result of my own ignorance. If I do - please forgive me in advance - as a sistah has a lot to learn about the world of Trans.

As you knowLisa often discusses issues facing transsisters which has served as a type of "introduction" for me about the world in which you live. But, in taking a "tour" around your spot, I think my eyes are opening - if only a bit.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - but only if you're white"...I'm feeling that! As you say your biosisters continue to "blacken" that eye in an effort to redefine beauty for ourselves. It seems to be an ever ending fight and struggle. But, perhaps it is one that we might fight together.

And yes, what about our children? I wrote about homeless children here; but in doing so, it never occurred to me the issues and dangers that GLBT kids that John speaks to in his comments here. In doing so now, it sends shivers up my spine. I can't even begin to imagine what their lives on the street must be like.

Got to remember that we're all in the same race...human!

Much obliged for this post...much obliged for this spot...much obliged for opening this old lady's eyes just a little wider.


Monica Roberts said...

You're welcome. You have a quality, up and coming blog moving up in the BBR's.

One thing I stress to many young transpeople and i role model it myself is that if we want people to understand us, we have to take the time to have bio sistahfriends in our friendship circles.

It's a mutually beneficial arrangement in which you get to learn what we deal with on a daily basis and we get to interact with a person who was socialized in the female gender role from birth.

So feel free if you have any questions to ask them on the blog or hit my e-mail.

I've been dealing with them since the mid 90's, said the same things then that I'm saying now.

They need to scale back the marriage fight and go back to pushing ENDA and hate crimes. passing those two laws alone will help far more people than the ability to get married.

All they did in making marriage a priority was energize the Religious Right, create an opening for them to enlist the Mormon church and Black megachurch preachers to join with white fundies, give the worst president of our lifetimes four more years in the White House, and prevent people in the 'flyover states' thanks to anti same gender marriage state constitutional amendments from ever getting it in the next 20-50 years.


Hello there!

Thanks for raising this issue!

You are absolutely right about the pattern of excluding transwomen from the beauty paradim. There are so many convoluted factors that reinforce this pattern.

I am intentional about the images that I select for my blog. I try to show a range of beauty for black women. There isn't just one "type" of black beauty. It is hard to find photos of transwomen online!

There are photo catalogues online (Flickr, Microsoft, etc.) but how many black transwomen are included?

{shaking my head}

eileen said...

Great post, as always.

ITA about the balls. Look how much of a sensation Madonna caused with voguing, alone.

I'm selfish however and I'm glad that the balls are 'ours'. The spirit, the energy... I love it!

Laverne is a beautiful transsistah and I was rooting for her to win 'I Want To Work For Diddy' although it behooves me as to why anyone would want to work for Diddy anyway. I almost shed a tear when she was told that she 'wasn't ready to work for' him.

One of my best friends belongs to a house and performs. I have the opportunity to see beautiful PoC transsistahs often. I'm spoiled that way, I guess. :-)

You are so right that pushing ENDA and hate crimes would have been a better way to go and when I happened to suggest this at the Daily Kos, they almost took my head off. *sigh* Can't tell some folks nothing...

Queers United said...

wonderful post, it must be doubly hard as a POC who is trans, but I am glad people like Isis are beginning to shed the stereotpes.

I think also that there is this fantasy idea in the gay/trans community to be glamorous. Heck, most people are average, so average people are beautiful too, we don't all need to be brad pitt, or beyonce.

Monica Roberts said...

All I'm saying is hat it's past time that Black transwomen be included in the community 'what is beautiful' conversation.

Yeah, the ballroom community's the bomb isn't it? And it's cool that you have the historical connection to the Harlem Renaissance drag balls.

Makes you wonder if anybody at HRC even cracked open a poli sci book, much less took a course in it.

HRC has go to be the most ineffective civil rights org in history

SjP said...

Much obliged, Monica...very much obliged! I will certainly take you up on the kind offer...

Monica Roberts said...

There have been too many times that when more attractive pictures were available of Black transwomen, the media seems to find the most unflattering, unattractive picture of a transwoman of African descent.

And the Indianapolis media put an exclamation point on this post didn't they?