by Princess Harmony Rodriguez
As an Afrolatin trans woman, you learn to notice things. You observe differences in people’s reactions to different things, however slight they may be. You also observe large things like hypocrisies and contradictions. I learned, very quickly, that people’s reactions to me and people’s reactions to my white counterparts are different. Similarly, I noticed that people’s reactions to my visibly Afrolatin mother and their reactions to her racially ambiguous daughter (me) are different. But some differences are so blatant that anyone could see them. Take, for instance, people who ordinarily react with scorn to trans women of color, yet give heaps of praise to white trans women. Hold that thought for a moment.
On Friday, former Olympian and current reality TV personality Bruce Jenner came out to the world as a trans woman. Parts of his* story, like having to hide in the shadows, echo the stories of many other trans women who came before and will come after him. Other parts of his story, namely wealth and TV show, don’t. Bruce Jenner came out to support from celebrity friends and near-unanimous support on my side of Twitter. You can stop holding that thought now.
Ordinarily, I’d say that it’s amazing that a trans woman could come out to that type of support because, in and of itself, it’s a great thing! The problem was that there was an entirely other song and dance happening just two weeks before, when Amiyah Scott, a black trans woman, had her womanhood conditionally granted and then instantly revoked because she made a joke about her own anatomy. As a relatively well-known trans woman and artist, she’d engaged with a lot of people and been very active on Twitter. Yet, that had stopped. Why? Because folks were always jumping into this black trans woman’s space to harass her and any man who talked to her. Some of the same people praising Bruce Jenner, even prior to the interview, were ruthlessly attacking her.
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People are illogical in their bigotry: how can one support Bruce Jenner while simultaneously shaming and attacking Amiyah Scott (who has always been a lightning rod for transmisogynoir, for daring to be herself) and Laverne Cox, or any trans woman of color? The same people cheering “YAAAAAS BRUCE! LIVE YOUR TRUTH!” were calling Amiyah a “man” and “a fake woman” just two weeks beforehand. The same people cheering Bruce today will be erasing black trans women tomorrow.
It’s easy to cheer on those who are already privileged while simultaneously shitting on those who are “beneath” them. It’s called punching down. The most heartbreaking part of punching down, the part that I want people to understand, is that what starts as just “Twitter beef” contributes to murder and other violence against black trans women (no, that is not hyperbole).
While Bruce had his own struggles, and lives a life that I could not understand, the fact remains that he is a millionaire. Hormones are growing more expensive in an increasingly expensive world. Some surgeries cost more than rent would in a year. The cost of such surgeries, of transition, can be so high that many people turn to black market hormones and backroom surgical procedures that could leave them scarred and disfigured, or dead. Additionally, Bruce probably won’t ever have to live in constant worry of homelessness or unemployment. The spectres of both haunt most trans women, fully aware that despite whatever education or qualifications we may have, it would never be enough for transphobic people to hire us. Famous trans women of color may not have to deal with those things to the same extent that non-famous trans women of color do, but they still get more scorn and hate than their famous white trans counterparts.
What I want my cis brothers and sisters to understand about trans women of color is this: while every microaggression might seem insignificant to you and while every insult you sling on Twitter is okay because it’s “just Twitter”, you’re contributing to the continued oppression of black and brown trans women. You’re doing the work of white supremacists by upholding white women while shitting on black and brown women. It’s a sad fact that most trans women have experienced violence in their lives. While I could never presume to know the lives of specific trans women of color other than myself, I do know that the further a trans woman gets from cisness and whiteness, the closer she gets to violence and death. Bruce Jenner shocked me because I never expected to see violence against trans women of color—particularly black trans women—be spoken about as he spoke about it. He knew and understood better than some cis black and brown people do! But, Bruce naming that violence—and even cis people recognizing that violence—means nothing if cis people don’t stop that violence. And yes, it is a cycle that only cis people can break.
I know full well that those who were violent towards Amiyah and other trans women of color—whether it’s via social media or elsewhere—may not reconsider their words, thoughts, or beliefs about trans women of color, but it’s worth reminding them of a very simple fact: for the revolution that we desire, a world where the black diaspora around the world can be free, black women—including and especially black trans women—must be free. Supporting only white people won’t benefit anyone but white people. We must love each other. Full stop.
*The writer is using “he/him/his” pronouns in this piece because, from what we have read, this is what Bruce Jenner prefers. Just this morning on the Today Show, Kim Kardashian said that until he transitions, “he/him/his” pronouns are what Bruce Jenner wants.
From GLAAD: “At this time, Bruce Jenner has not requested that a new name or pronoun be used, therefore we are respecting his wishes and will continue to refer to Jenner by his current name and with male pronouns. Some transgender people prefer to change their name and/or pronoun quickly. Other transgender people may take more time to decide what name and/or pronoun feels right to them. To be respectful, use the name and/or pronoun requested by the individual.”
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Princess is an unapologetic trans afro-latina survivor, creator, and anti-violence activist. Her latest projects include a Title IX teach-in, a book by and for trans women in recovery, and a zine about heroin addiction. There’s no hope on dope and our disease dies in the light of exposure.