TransGriot Note: What I envision for this TransGriot Ten Questions interview segment is to on a regular basis talk to people inside our community, the up and coming leaders, opinion shapers, artists, thinkers, icons and interesting personalities who are molding and shaping our chocolate trans world.
This interview is with Tona Brown, who not only has mad classical music skills, she has begun stepping out as a leader and role model to the transwomen of her generation. She's also performing in a upcoming concert with trans musician Desiree Hines as part of the TDOR events in Baltimore, MD.
Time for Tona to answer the TransGriot's Ten Questions:
1-You've had a few interesting changes in your life over the last few years. How have they impacted you?
TB-Like anyone else I have had to deal with the effects of a rough
economy and the struggles of being a classical artist in America. But I
really can't complain too much. The Lord does provide when I least
expect it. But moving to Baltimore has had its challenges but
overall its been a good experience. I find that the GLBT organizations
here are really trying to make a difference and many of them are trans
inclusive which is nice.
2-How have you incorporated your world class musical talents into your activism?
TB- I have decided to use performance
opportunities as ways to advocate for my community. Often times people
do not expect musicians to have an opinion about much of anything unless
you are a celebrity. I was really honored to be asked to sing the National Anthem at the Department of Veterans Affairs this year. It was
really great and I got the opportunity to share my story with all the
veterans. I applaud them for all they do for this country and would do
it again if asked to do so.. Maybe not at 8 am! LOL. The recordings are
3-What are your thoughts about the upcoming TDOR and what does that day mean to you?
TB- The Transgendered Day of Remembrance is very
important to me and I usually perform every year for a vigil somewhere
on the east coast. I think its imperative that trans people let the
world know about the horrendous hate crimes against our community. Its
great that we have this day to commemorate those that have been slain
just for being who they are.
This upcoming TDOR is very special
to me because I am currently residing in Baltimore, MD and Mayor
Stephanie Rawlings Blake will be holding a press conference to let the
city know about the events around the city dedicated to TDOR. It's
really great to see a local government take part in this day as well.
It shows that the city does care about its citizens black, white, gay
4-How excited are you to be performing with another musically gifted transperson in Desiree Hines?
TB- I am very excited to share the stage with Desiree Hines. Its such a pleasure to be able to perform with another
sister of color and to really show the world what we can do. There are
so many negative stereotypes about transwomen. I have often felt alone
as a trans artist of color in classical music. Meeting and speaking
with Desiree Hines has been a rewarding and gratifying experience and I
wanted to include her on this project. She of course was excited and
thought the concert was an excellent idea! I mean how lucky are we to
be able to perform together as two beautiful and talented sisters of
color performing the music we love so much in a beautiful church amongst
I will be performing with Ms. Hines again a
few weeks later on December 1st for the Out Music Awards in NYC. We are
very excited to be one of the opening acts for what is being called the
"Gay Emmys" being broadcast on LOGO-TV for 40 million viewers! Here
again we will dispel negative stigma and stereotypes and let the WORLD
see how dynamic we are. I hope to see more sisters like us grace the
stages and demand attention in the future on platforms like these.
important is it to have African-American trans role models, and do you
feel we have enough or of them or not enough of them?
I feel that it is imperative for young African American Transexuals to
have role models that look just like them! I know growing up in
Norfolk, VA I never saw anyone that looked liked me and that made it
harder for me to transition. Our community does have a number of role
models and many more that live in "stealth" the problem is that these
men and women are not speaking out and showing everyone who they are and
what abilities they have. This makes advocating for our community very
hard because we don't have more examples or statistics to show what our
community does and what it needs.
How are we to expect trans
women to know what it means to be ladies or guys to be gentlemen if
there are no role models out there for them to learn from? If we are
not speaking out and fighting then I fear the worst for our young
transmen and women who will be here years after we all pass away. I
want it to be easier for them to follow their dreams and achieve their
observe our African-descended trans community, what are the things we
are doing right and what do you think we need to improve on?
TB- The AA trans community is definitely doing some
things very well for instance we are starting to speak out against
injustice, sensationalism in the media, and start our own organizations
that will be able to express our unique needs to the government. But
the numbers of those participating are still low. That needs to change
On a positive note..We look good! I must say that
my brothers and sisters are some of the most beautiful people in the
world and that makes me very proud. However, what are our young people
using these good looks for and to do? The skies are truly the limits
and no longer can a transexual use being a transexual as an excuse not
to work and be a productive member of society. Will the road be hard.
Of course it is! But its not impossible! We see it everyday!
My biggest complaint is our lack of unity. So many of us tend to bring
a street mentality to life, relationships and even advocacy. Its all
about the competition of who looks the best and who has the best looking
mate or the nicest car or even who has the most work done.. Instead of
any continuity or congruency amongst our people.
That must change.
We are too preoccupied with all things that are materialistic. We want
everything to quick and we are not willing to put in the hard work or
willing to be vulnerable enough to grow. But this is not just an issue
for trans people of color this is an issue for all people of color.
7-Do you believe your trans elders are doing enough to pass down our history to your generation of trans people?
I do not feel that my trans elders are doing enough to share the
stories of those before them or even about themselves. As a young woman
I want to know that I am not alone and I want to be able to open a book
and see women LIKE ME! I feel that is changing slowly but surely. But
there is not enough literature out there. I also feel that we don't
acknowledge our trans elders at all.. I was so pleased to see it done
for the first time here in Baltimore at Baltimore Black Pride a few
years ago and IN Philly there was a pioneer workshop. But we need more
of it. The baby boomers are seasoned and mature and there are a lot of
stories that are lost in the mix! Those stories are our stories and
include the history of transgendered people in America!
8-How important is it to form friendships and working relationships with other African descended trans and cis women?
think that positive interpersonal relationships are very important among
women both trans and cis gendered. No one is saying that every female
you meet is going to understand you or be your best friend. But we can
all learn from each other. Also my trans sisters must understand that
we are essentially all we have. EACH OTHER.. The more you alienate
yourself from other transwomen the worst off you become. Can you trust
every lady because she is also trans OF COURSE NOT! But those that you
can trust and that you can at least learn something from then open your
mind and heart to doing so. We all have our own unique history and
validity in this community.
9-If you could perform with any artist at any venue in the world, who would that artist be and where would you perform?
TB- If I could perform with any artist in any venue in the world it would
have to be La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy with Anne Sophie Mutter,
Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry, Leontyne Price or Shirley Verret!
10-And what do you see for yourself and the transcommunity of color ten years down the road?
My hopes for the transcommunity ten years down the road are to see
more trans people breaking stereotypes and being leaders. I would like
to see more artists as well of all genres performing main stream and
getting acceptance from the masses. People are getting more comfortable
with the gay issues but are not really relating to individuals that are
transgendered.. Right now we are still so taboo and strange. That won't
change until we are more public about our lives..
also like to see more transpeople married and in long term
relationships. I would love to attend the weddings of many of my
sisters and to be married myself one day. I would also like to see the
men and women that love us stand up and speak up for us as well.. We
have too many "silent" partners- I call them. That will not change until
we hold them accountable. They love you but don't want the world to
know or wish to remain anonymous in order to deflect the despairing
views of their family, friends, coworkers etc. But until this thought
pattern changes it will be hard for us to be seen as "normal"
you can show an entire TV show of trans people married and happy in
long term relationships and their partners speaking up and saying "I
love HIM OR HER and who CARES WHAT YOU THINK!" We will always be at a