by Monica Roberts
On the surface, it would seem that 2014 has been a banner year for Black transwomen. Author Janet Mock has a New York Times bestselling book in Redefining Realness that she just finished touring to support. Laverne Cox’s breakout role in the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black has led to speaking engagements and enhanced attention as a human rights warrior. Fallon Fox is not only kicking butt and taking names in the women’s MMA world, she’s also had the opportunity to show off her writing skill and artistic talents.
Speaking of artistic talents, violinist and classically trained mezzo-soprano Tona Brown is just weeks away from fulfilling a lifelong dream and performing at Carnegie Hall on June 25. Isis King is in an independent movie called Hello Forever. You may wish to keep your eyes on the runways for the appearance of model Arisce Wanzer.
When this year’s Trans 100 class was announced, once again Black trans women were well represented in it.
Your humble BGD columnist received some love with a GLAAD Media Award Outstanding Blog nomination for my home blog and the opportunity to become a columnist here at Black Girl Dangerous. Because of my involvement in the fight to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, I’ve also been getting increased local attention inside Loop 610.
Even better, and I’m praying this trend continues, after several bloody years, including 2013 in which 11 African-American trans women lost their lives, so far I have yet to write a story concerning the murder of an African-American transwoman in 2014.
But despite all this positive news, I do have some concerns. The enhanced attention on Black trans women has not progressed fast enough to change hearts and minds for elements of the African-American community.
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In my hometown, sellout Black ministers allied with right wing Republicans have deployed anti-trans hatred to jaw droppingly attempt to keep the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance from passing for the ENTIRE African-American community. It is also galling to the Houston African-American trans community that our local NAACP chapter has been silent about the attacks.
I watch as depressing videos surface of Atlanta trans women being verbally harassed and attacked as they ride the MARTA subways and people do nothing to stop the attacks.
I’m not surprised the violence has begun breaking out in the ATL. For months ‘Queen of Mean’ Peggy Denby and her midtown acolytes have used anti- trans hatred and spewed epithets like ‘thugs in drag’ to grease the skids for passage of a stalled, draconian anti-prostitution ordinance that calls for repeat violators of it to be banished from Atlanta.
And don’t even get me started on the Black gossip blogs that gleefully peddle transphobia for additional hits and views…
The Black community needs to deal with the reality that transwomen of African descent exist and aren’t going away. The dehumanizing transphobic rhetoric needs to stop because anti-trans hate thoughts can morph into anti-trans hate speech that leads to anti-trans hate violence.
Just as it is unacceptable for any cis man to put your hands on a cis woman, the same rule applies for a transwoman. You having transphobic hate for her doesn’t give you a pass on it or justify you taking a swing at her. Cis women also need to check themselves, stop shadily outing trans women and setting them up for anti-trans violence as well.
We are part of the kente cloth fabric of African American life and have been for over a century. EBONY magazine in a sensationalized October 1951 story discussed Georgia Black, a transwoman who lived, loved, worked hard, loyally served her church and was a beloved resident of Sanford, FL until her death that June and her secret was discovered.
Tracy Africa Norman, before becoming a ballroom community icon, was a fashion model in the 1970’s and 80’s. Because of her resemblance to hot African-American model Beverly Johnson, she graced five ESSENCE magazine covers, was the face for Clairol, Ultra Sheen and Avon Cosmetics, and was shooting a sixth ESSENCE cover when she was shadily outed.
The late cult actress Ajita Wilson was a Jet Beauty of the Week in the August 20, 1981 issue. Althea Garrison became the first transperson elected to a state legislature when she was elected to a Massachusetts House seat in 1992.
That is just a small sample of things transwomen have done, and the trailblazing we will continue to do on behalf of ourselves and the Black community. With young transwomen matriculating in college or earning degrees, I have every confidence that the list of accomplishments will grow and become more amazing over time.
Transwomen are women, and it is past time the African-American community recognized that salient fact. It’s also past time you recognized we are mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces and sistafriends to people inside and outside our community with much to offer to our community.
The cis African-American community needs to start focusing on what is between our ears and the content of our character, instead of what genitalia may or may not be concealed in our panties. The sooner you stop hating on of trans folks, the sooner we can focus on doing our part to contribute our talents to building the entire community.
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Monica Roberts, aka the TransGriot (Gree-oh), is a native Houstonian and a trailblazing award winning trans community leader. Her writing about trans issues from an Afrocentric perspective has appeared at Ebony.com, Loop21.com Transadvocate, The Huffington Post, Racialicious, Feministe, Global Comment, The Bilerico Project, Elixher, What Tami Said and Womanist Musings.