TransGriot Note: This is the original text of the speech I’m delivering at this moment in the Gallagher Theatre on the University of Arizona campus.
University of Arizona students, faculty, alumni, guests
and friends. I bring you greetings from
the Lone Star
State, my beloved hometown of Houston and the
communities I interact with.
I have to tell y’all that some of my friends were concerned when I announced I
was coming to the UA campus because of what they’ve heard about Sheriff Joe
Arpaio. I told them to chill and I’d be
fine because I would be amongst friends.
I pointed out that Tucson and Pima County
is pretty much liberal-progressive turf and the home of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik
and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
You have had a TBLG anti-discrimination law on the books for almost two decades
now and the other reason I’d said to my friends was uh…uh….oops I forgot.
Darn Rick Perry moments.
With all seriousness, it is indeed an honor and a pleasure for me to be
standing here in Tucson during this 2012 edition
of Black History Month at the invitation of my sponsors the ASUA Pride Alliance,
the Women’s Resource
Center, and African
American Student Affairs.
thrilled to be here tonight for another reason.
Dr. Susan Stryker, one of the preeminent trans historians in academia
and a person I admire in the trans community is the director of UA’s Institute of LGBT Studies.
I want to thank Stephan Przybylowicz
all the hard work behind the scenes that resulted in me being at the Gallagher
Theatre to talk about Blogging
at the Intersection of Race and Gender on the electronic pages of TransGriot.
If you’re wondering why my blog is named TransGriot, it’s because I love
history and come from a family of historians.
My late godmother Pearl Suel wrote the African-American history
curriculum for the Houston
District and I was the person she tested it out
on when she was compiling it. My mom’s
undergrad degree is in history, my baby sis has a psychology degree with a
history minor, and as you probably guessed my parents made certain my siblings
and I were immersed in our people’s history.
Griots are storytellers in
several western African nations who keep alive the oral tradition and history
of a village, their people or a family.
They are able to recite up to five centuries of that history from
Since I wanted a name for my blog that made it clear I was proud of my
African-American heritage, being trans, and the fact I come from a history
loving family, it was a perfect fit.
transitioned in 1994, one of the things I was struck by and concerned about was
the fact that ever since Christine Jorgenson stepped off the airplane at New
York’s Idyllwild Airport to the glare of popping flashbulbs and a crush of
photographers 59 years ago on February 12, the trans narrative has been
overwhelmingly focused on my white transsisters and transbrothers.
I knew there were African-American transpeople who preceded me, but I rarely
heard their stories or about their historical contributions to the trans rights
When blogging began to take off in the middle of the last decade, there were
hundreds of trans blogs written by, about and focused on my white counterparts
and their dominant points of view about transitions, TBLG politics, and our rainbow
Conversely, when I surveyed the blogging landscape at the time I was pondering
starting TransGriot there was not one discussing trans issues from an
Afrocentric point of view or talking about our trans heroes and sheroes.
I was complaining about that one night to Jordana LeSesne in a phone
conversation I was having with her in November 2005. She’s a trans pioneer in her own right in
terms of being a trailblazing transwoman involved in the drum and bass music
and Afro Punk movements. After patiently
listening to me gripe about this situation, she calmly asked “So when are you
going to start that blog?”
Since I wanted this blog done right, it was incumbent upon me to do it
myself. So a few seconds after midnight
on January 1, 2006 TransGriot was born.
It has had for now six years the dual missions of not only discussing
trans issues from that sorely missing Afrocentric point of view but also to
make people aware of the fact that trans people of color have been major
players in shaping the history of the trans community here in the United States
and increasingly across the African Diaspora.
I must be doing something rights because I’ve either won or been a finalist for
Best LGBT Blog awards and I’m closing in on 3.5 million hits. For those of you who let me know you read it,
I thank you for doing so.
But because of
the overwhelming focus on my white transsisters and transbrothers over the last
five decades, transpeople of color have either been erased from the trans community
historical narrative or not discussed at all.
It’s even worse for Black
transmen and that’s a nice way to segue into a part of that trans history.
With the tenth anniversary of his untimely death being this year and my
statuesque behind standing inside Pima County I cannot start this conversation
about the intersection of race and gender without mentioning a trailblazing
transman who lived right here in Tucson, Alexander John Goodrum.
Goodrum was born in Chicago
in 1960, and not long after coming out as a lesbian in 1979 at age 19 testified
in favor of a gay and lesbian rights ordinance being considered there. That was his first taste of activism and
being the voice of a community that didn’t have one.
He subsequently joined the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force to work on youth
issues. After moving to San
Francisco and taking a respite from activism to transition, he helped
organize the first FTM conference in that city in 1995 before moving to Tucson later that year
In 1998, he took on the role of being the voice for a community that didn’t
have one. When then Tucson mayor George
Miller held a community meeting in the
wake of the Matthew Shepard killing to discuss ways to prevent a similar hate
crime in Tucson, Goodrum and transman Jerry Armsby were left off the invitation
list. They showed up anyway, shouted
‘and transgender’ every time the people in that room only spoke about the gay
and lesbian community and took the opportunity to educate the GLB people
gathered at that meeting about trans issues.
As Goodrum and Armsby spoke, the GLB community leaders present wisely realized they
didn’t have a clue about transpeople, our lives and our issues. That led to Goodrum’s participation on the Mayoral Task Force on GLBT Issues, the proto organization which
is now known as the City of Tucson
Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender
As the co-chair of the Social Services Committee he was instrumental
in getting gender identity added to Tucson’s
non-discrimination law in 1999.
So yes Tucson
transpeople in the audience tonight, you owe the inclusion of gender identity
in your local non-discrimination law to a trailblazing African-American
I had the pleasure of meeting Alexander at the 1999 Task Force Creating Change
event that was held in Oakland
and liked him the instant I met him. And
yeah, the brother was handsome too.
We shared the same philosophy in terms of rainbow community activism that not
only did African-American trans and same gender loving people need to be
intimately involved in it, trans people should not be separated from the
struggle for rainbow community human rights.
In addition to serving on the Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and
Transgender Issues Goodrum was the founder of TGNet Arizona, served with the
Southern Arizona Gender Alliance and was a highly respected activist
nationally. But what many of us didn’t
know about Alexander was that he was struggling to overcome a debilitating
We lost this pioneering transman in September 2002 due to a tragic suicide. In
the wake of community concerns about the lack of mental health access for
gender variant people, The Alexander John Goodrum Transgender Mental Health
Advocacy Project was founded.
But Goodrum is just one of the African-American transpeople who have blazed
trails in Arizona. Just up I-10 from here in Phoenix Regina
Gazelle founded an organization in 2006 called This Is H.O.W.
It’s dedicated to the
betterment of the lives of Trans (transsexual, transgender, and gender variant)
persons experiencing crisis situations such as homelessness, substance abuse,
familial abuse, and transition related difficulties and does education efforts
on trans issues. It is now run by transwoman Antonia D’orsay who herself is beginning to
get respect and attention as a national activist.
Since this particular Black History Month was focused on the contributions of
women to our history and we are about to move into Women’s History Month, I do
need to touch on some of the transwomen who have helped make it.
There were transwomen such as Lucy Hicks Anderson, who was born in 1886, was
raised as a girl in pre Depression era Kentucky
and left in her 20s to migrate to California
via Texas. She found herself on trial in 1944 after she
married Reuben Anderson because the Ventura
attorney discovered she’d been born biologically male and decided to prosecute
her for perjury.
He asserted that Anderson
committed perjury when she signed the marriagelicense
application and swore that there were ‘no legal objections’ to the marriage.
Of course Lucy had a dissenting opinion. “I defy any doctor in the world
to prove that I am not a woman,” she told reporters in the midst of her perjury
trial. “I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.” The
jury convicted her of the perjury charge, but the judge sentenced her to ten
years probation rather than send her to prison.
The story of history making
African-American transwomen extends to the 1965 Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit In
and Protest in Philadelphia
which was the first trans protest action in the nation
There was Lady Java, who in 1967 fought
LAPD bullying struck the blows that eventually took down the odious Rule Number
9 in Los Angeles that made it illegal for performers to ‘impersonate by means
of costume or dress a member of the opposite sex’ unless you had a special
permit issued by the LA Board of Police Commissioners.
Never mind the fact that in 1962 the California Supreme Court had struck down
anti-crossdressing ordinances in the state.
Her courageous fight against the unfairness of Rule No 9 eventually led
to it being struck down in 1969.
The first person to undergo SRS in the gender program at Johns Hopkins
African-American transwoman Avon Wilson.
It includes Stonewall veterans Miss Major and Marsha P. Johnson, A Dionne
Stallworth, who was one of the organizers of GenderPac, the trans community’s
first political PAC.
It includes Dawn Wilson, myself, Lorrainne Sade Baskerville, Dr. Marisa
Richmond and the African descend transwomen who have made history but we
haven’t discovered it yet. It also
includes all the transwomen whose names are lost to history as well and our
deceased ones such as Lois Bates, Dana Turner, and Roberta Angela Dee, the
trans writer whose pumps I walk in.
I also can’t forget
the women who are making history as I speak such as Janet Mock, Isis King, Tona
Brown, and Laverne Cox or the unknown
ones who are currently matriculating in secondary schools, or our nation’s college
So why haven’t you heard about this history?
As I mentioned earlier, the dominant narrative is focused on my white
trans brothers and transsisters. As
I’ve said on the blog and elsewhere, the GLBT community is a microcosm of
society at large.
Translation: all the
ills and isms present in the parent society are also embedded in our little
subset of it. So yes, race matters even
in the trans community.
Before any person of color can even begin to deal with the issues of a gender
transition, we still have to deal with the issues or being non-white people in
a vanillacentric privileged society.
And then we get the happy happy joy joy experience of how to deal with
navigating that society in a feminine body and how race and class affect that
gender transition differently from my white counterparts.
As an African-American transwoman, I have to not only deal with the same old
same old racism, bigotry, prejudice and microaggresive behavior aimed at me
before I morphed into this body, I have to deal with sexism and the unwoman meme
aimed at Black women whether we are cis or transgender.
I’m noticed for the color of my skin first.
That means the centuries old baggage of that comes into play before the
trans issues even enter the equation.
There are trans issues unique to being a person of color on top of that
we have to navigate in our own communities.
And that’s before I even get started discussing the hatred aimed at trans
people from the radical lesbian separatists ranks since the late 70’s, some gay
and lesbian people and our self hating transsexual separatist transphobes
The rainbow community needs to be better than our oppressors. Sadly in some
cases they aren’t, especially when it comes to being fierce advocates for the
human rights of trans people.
Sometimes gay and lesbian people along with radical feminists have been more
virulent opponents and oppressors of trans human rights than fundamentalist
right wing conservatives have been.
Because the issues of trans people are intertwined with gender politics, probably
need to segue into that for a moment and bring Alexander Goodrum
back into this conversation.
In 2000 he was quoted as saying, “When transgendered people are denied
rights, it’s often the because of the perception that they’re homosexual. With gay
people, it’s often as not because they’re perceived to be violating gender
norms. It’s the same fight against the same enemies. GLBT people have to
realize that in order to move ahead.”
He’s absolutely right on those points, but yet you still have people on the GL
side saying we aren’t part of ‘their community’ and we have some on the trans
side saying we need to cut the GLB folks and forge our own civil rights
Um, no. Transpeople have invested too
much time, energy and blood into building the rainbow community to simply walk
away from it. We’re part of the GLBT
community because some of us actually are gay, bi, or lesbian. We trans people also blow a Mack truck sized
hole in the gender binary the GLB community grapples with.
Something else GLBT
people need to realize is that in order for the entire community to move
forward on human rights issues, they will need the help and major input from
trans and same gender loving people of color as well.
And some of what we have to say and what we persons of color consider as policy
priorities will not in some cases neatly line up with the aspirations and goals
of a vanillacentirc privilege laden GLBT movement with a senior leadership that
is overwhelmingly white and upper middle class.
This nation is
increasingly becoming a majority-minority one.
There are four states, Hawaii, New Mexico, California
and my home state of Texas
that are majority-minority. Two of
those states are solidly blue, New Mexico is a
swing state and only the 2003 Delaymandering has kept Texas from going that way.
In Arizona, the non-Latino white population
has fallen below 60% Hispanic as it has in Maryland,
New York, New Jersey,
Louisiana and Mississippi.
So if we are looking at the short and long term political goals of trans human
rights and rainbow community rights, we need to build an inclusive movement
that takes this information into consideration and ensures that we don’t fall
into the trap of building a movement that ignores the lived reality of much of
According to the Task Force-National Black Justice Coalition NCTE National Transgender Discrimination Survey,
Black transpeople face an unemployment rate of 26%, four times the general
population and double what the African-American community faces and the trans
community as a whole at 14%. 34% of us
reported living in extreme poverty, which is a household income of less than
$10,000 a year.
The numbers from the NTDS survey for Latino-Latina transpeople are just as
alarming. The unemployment rate is at
20% and the number of Latino transpeople reporting living in extreme poverty is
Those number point to why many rainbow community persons of color don’t see
marriage equality as the end all be all number one priority as a GLBT political
organizing issue. We are the ones
disproportionately getting brutalized by hate crimes aimed at this community
and facing crippling unemployment or underemployment, so it stands to reason we
need to have those issues dealt with first before we can even think about
It’s hard to get married when it takes money to not only support your spouse,
but it takes a steady cash flow to purchase the wedding license, the wedding
ring, the wedding gowns, and the hall for the wedding and the reception and
And if some misguided people have the jacked up attitude that it’s open hunting
season on transpeople, what’s the point if we’re not going to be around to
We trans POC’s see it as instead of pushing same sex marriage which only
benefits a few people in the rainbow community, the emphasis on community
organizing should be on getting ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
passed and on President Obama’s desk for him to sign.
It’s why Kylar Broadus founded TPOCC, the Trans People of Color Coalition in
2010 to ensure that our voices were heard in these policy discussions. TPOCC is
in the process of conducting a series of town hall meetings around the country
to talk to groups of transpeople about what our needs are and what they think
TPOCC should be focused on.
Not that we don’t know that already.
Here’s a hint Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Number two is slowing down the HIV/AIDS
infection rates in my community along with stopping and reversing the near
genocidal levels of violence aimed at non-white transwomen so they can live
long enough, prosper and help build the trans community like I’ve been able and
blessed to do.
The trans people in this generation are the most tech
savvy and the best educated generation in our people’s history. I have no doubts if given an opportunity to
do so they will be the ones who will etch their name on our nation’s history
books as the first congressmembers, mayors, judges, open athletes, models and
parents getting married and raising kids as they do their parts to uplift the
African-American community inside and outside the trans and SGL community. .
But for this to occur, one thing that will need to happen in the cis community
straight and gay is the realization that the genitalia you possess between your
legs does not always neatly line up with the gender identity between your ears
and your gender expression.
Being transgender is not an excuse for cis people gay or straight to oppress
us, pimp a regressive political agenda, or a reason to deny our human rights to
make you feel better as men and women in our ciscentrist society.
We transfolks are human beings who are part of the diverse mosaic of human life
and that madness needs to stop.
As former South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “What challenges us
is to ensure that none should enjoy lesser rights and none tormented because
they are born different, hold contrary political views, or pray to God in a
I’m a Black transwoman who is proud to be both.
Those identities are not mutually exclusive, nor are they
disqualifications from me participating in the greater society and doing my
part to make my community, my state, my nation and the world a better place to
It’s past time we realized that transpeople of color have much to offer our
various communities in terms of our leadership skills honed by having to
constantly fight oppression aimed at us and wanting to be a contributing part
of the greater society. We are closing
ranks now to be better able to do that, but we will also need help from allies
to do so as well
I will continue to do what I can with every fiber of my
being to make trans human rights happen in my lifetime. I will educate and empower my
African-American community and any others willing to listen about my trans
brothers and sisters and facilitate the ongoing race, class and gender
conversation as I do so.
The challenge of ensuring that transpeople enjoy first class citizenship is one that we will need maximum effort from all parties concerned to make this a reality in the rest of this decade and beyond.
And I look forward to seeing that happen.