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← Scenes from a Black trans life

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Showing Revision 8 created 07/08/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. Hello.
  2. Hey.
  3. (Laughter)

  4. As you just heard,

  5. my name is D-L Stewart,
  6. and I'm a faculty member here on campus
    at Colorado State University.
  7. But what's most important
    for you to understand about me right now
  8. is that I identify as both Black
  9. and as transgender, or trans.
  10. And yes, I'm going to talk to you today
    about how Black trans lives matter.
  11. As I do so,
  12. I'm going to share
    a few scenes from my own life,
  13. mixed in with the ways
  14. that race and gender have historically
    and currently intersected
  15. to shape the lives of Black trans people.
  16. Ready?
  17. Audience: Ready.

  18. DLS: Scene one.

  19. I am at home with myself.
  20. My body, a sovereign country.
  21. Sovereign meaning
  22. it is superlative in quality.
  23. Of the most exalted kind.
  24. Having generalized curative powers
    of an unqualified nature,
  25. unmitigated,
  26. paramount,
  27. possessed of supreme power,
  28. unlimited in extent, absolute.
  29. Enjoying autonomy,
  30. independent,
  31. royal.
  32. My body defies the restrictions
  33. of a society consumed
    by boxes and binaries
  34. and "are you a boy or a girl?"
  35. Independent of such conventions,
  36. my body clings instead
    to the long ago lore
  37. that understood its magic.
  38. I contain multitudes.
  39. From this supreme power to name myself,
  40. define myself and be myself,
  41. I stake a claim to myself
  42. and organize my resistance.
  43. A resistance that boldly proclaims
    that Black trans lives matter.
  44. My body is a sovereign country
  45. and my first site of resistance.
  46. End scene.
  47. To say that Black trans lives matter
    is a claim to sovereignty.

  48. As much as Black Girl Magic,
    and #transisbrilliant,
  49. Black Trans Lives Matter
    is also a chorus of resistance.
  50. Because Black trans lives begin
    by defining our bodies
  51. as sovereign countries
  52. from which we first begin
    to resist the messages
  53. that we have no place here.
  54. We push whole movements forward
    on the strength of our vision.
  55. We set trends and create new worlds.
  56. We are the vanguard.
  57. Black trans lives have always mattered.
  58. And yet,

  59. caught at the time-traveling intersection
  60. of Juneteenth emancipation celebration
  61. and Stonewall's emancipation declaration,
  62. Black trans lives
    are both seen but yet unseen.
  63. Unseen by the antiblackness
    of queer and trans movements.
  64. Unseen by the transphobia
    and trans-antagonism of Black movements.
  65. Our sovereignty and resistance are blocked
  66. by layers of systems and structures
  67. that have always sought
  68. to contain, define and erase
    Black trans bodies.
  69. Scene two.

  70. I am with my therapist.
  71. The one whose testimony I must rely on
  72. to declare me man enough
    to have my documents changed.
  73. The one who is to be believed.
  74. Despite my own declarations
    that I am not this body,
  75. that this body is neither hers
    nor yours to define,
  76. I sit with this doctor.
  77. And she fills out a form for me.
  78. And when concerning what all I've done
  79. to affirm my gender,
  80. "Has the patient's gender presentation
  81. aligned with their gender identity?"
  82. She decides that my gender presentation
  83. is more neutral, really.
  84. While I sit there, mind you,
  85. head to toe in clothing
    from the section of the store
  86. where the dress buttons
    go down the right side,
  87. and my pants give away
    the number of inches around my waist,
  88. and my hair is cut
    like Denzel's "Man on Fire,"
  89. but I'm still more neutral.
  90. Really?
  91. Because she still sees,
  92. and you see,
  93. a Black woman.
  94. And Black women's bodies
    are always already made genderless.
  95. End scene.
  96. From mammy and Sapphire,

  97. to Mandingo and Sambo,
  98. Black bodies and our genders
    have been caught in the white imagination.
  99. And the imagination
    of whiteness is fanciful,
  100. and powerful enough
    to turn its fancies into realities.
  101. Imagined as a thing,
  102. we were made to become that thing,
  103. and so we have been bred like horses,
  104. fed like turtles to alligators,
  105. branded like cattle,
  106. milked like sows,
  107. made into oxen to plow.
  108. Gender did not matter,
  109. so long as our body parts,
  110. our arms and legs and backs,
  111. our breasts and genitalia
  112. could be turned into profit.
  113. The Black body was made not white

  114. and therefore not worthy of gender.
  115. And under the weight of the gentile tulle
  116. and virginal lace that dressed
    plantation mistresses,
  117. Black femininity has always been denied.
  118. Instead, she is either beast or porn star.
  119. Neither a proper gender, dehumanized.
  120. Made a social threat
    that endangers civility.
  121. That puts civilization in danger.
  122. The angry Black woman cannot be escaped.
  123. Not even by a first lady
    of these United States.
  124. Likewise, ill-suited for chivalry

  125. and outmatched as masters
    and captains of fate,
  126. Black manhood lays flaccid
  127. in the hands of white man's dominance.
  128. Body measurements taken,
  129. speed measured,
  130. draft pick forecasted.
  131. This is the NFL combine.
  132. Body measurements taken,
  133. teeth and body cavities inspected,
  134. number assigned.
  135. This is the prison intake room.
  136. Body measurements taken,
  137. talents and abilities advertised,
  138. teeth and body cavities inspected,
  139. name and value assigned.
  140. This is a slave's bill of sale.
  141. Made either stud or farce,
    he is not for his own pleasure,
  142. but rather for profit and jest.
  143. Athletes and comics
  144. contained.
  145. Made not a threat.
  146. "My gender is Black," said Hari Ziyad,

  147. because Black bodies
    and our genders have been caught
  148. in the white imagination,
  149. and we have always been transgressive.
  150. Transgressive meaning
  151. a violation of accepted and imposed
    boundaries of social acceptability.
  152. Blackness is transgressive.
  153. And once set free
  154. from social acceptability,
  155. blackness challenges the limitations
    of what gender can be.
  156. We have always been fugitives here.
  157. Escaping from gender surveillance
  158. to claim our sovereignty
  159. and right to exist and to live free,
  160. to proclaim as beautiful
  161. that which was made ugly,
  162. to defy convention,
  163. Black lives and trans lives
    and Black trans lives.
  164. And yet, in this world, that fact

  165. that Black trans lives make a difference,
  166. make differences
  167. and make a matter of mattering
    is doused by the fire hoses
  168. of past and current denials
  169. of our rights to exist and resist.
  170. We must fight to be seen
  171. as we see through fences
  172. into the play yards
    that we are kept out of.
  173. Scene three.

  174. I am at school.
  175. The bell rings, it's recess.
  176. We line up to go outside.
  177. Those made boys on one side,
  178. those made girls on the other.
  179. We file out of the doors.
  180. The boys stopping
    to fill in the closed off street.
  181. The girls and I,
  182. walking across the street.
  183. "Keep your eyes
    straight ahead," we are told.
  184. Because there's a park across the street.
  185. But there is a wrought iron fence
    that encloses that park.
  186. This is where the girls and I play.
  187. Mostly, I stand at the fence and watch,
  188. as my fellows play ball in the street
  189. and be loud
  190. and be rough
  191. and be sweaty,
  192. and I am behind the fence.
  193. Accused of thinking naughty thoughts.

  194. They have no idea.
  195. End scene.
  196. Sissified and bulldaggered,
    we are all made up.

  197. Just boys in dresses and girls in suits,
  198. the Black transgressive body
  199. caught in fantasies of boxes and binaries
  200. that make our genitalia
    representative of our gender,
  201. and our mannerisms our sexuality.
  202. Black trans lives are therefore
    written off as merely gay effeminate
  203. or lesbian butch.
  204. And the overlay of femininity
    on bodies marked as male,
  205. and therefore as man,
  206. adheres like a "kick me" sign,
  207. except the consequences
    are much more deadly.
  208. The majority of trans people murdered
    in this country are Black trans women.

  209. Because when manhood
    is located between one's legs,
  210. and defined in opposition to womanhood,
  211. what's between one's legs
  212. cannot be seen as having anything
    in common with womanhood.
  213. And this same acidic wash
    serves to blanch trans masculinity,
  214. making it fade into nothingness.
  215. Black trans men
    become illusions of manhood,
  216. women merely playing at being men
    because you can't get a real man.
  217. Forever put in our place,

  218. we are indelibly marked as "woman."
  219. And at best, the looming threat
    of Black trans manhood
  220. is contained, inoculated,
  221. made more neutral, really.
  222. Scene four.

  223. I am with my therapist.
  224. I tell her what I think about,
  225. as my body begins to slowly morph
    into another version of itself.
  226. What will happen as I move
  227. from the social threat
    of angry Black womanhood
  228. to the physical threat
    of looming Black manhood?
  229. When will my neighbors
    forget to recognize me and my pit bull?
  230. They've seen us nearly every day,
  231. predawn or after twilight,
  232. for what will have been
    over two years by then?
  233. When and how soon
  234. after I am no longer misgendered woman
  235. will the cops be called
    to come and contain
  236. and erase my presence?
  237. How soon before the purse clutching,
  238. the sidewalk crossing?
  239. What does it mean to become a brute?
  240. To turn my body
    into another kind of threat?
  241. She's stunned that I'm already
    recognizing this.

  242. I can't afford not to.
  243. End scene.
  244. Who can see me and my Black trans kin
    in the skin we are in?

  245. Who dares to love us,
  246. who holds us close?
  247. To whom do we matter
    other than to ourselves?
  248. We're not looking for saviors.
  249. We have each other.
  250. As Lilla Watson said,
  251. "If you have come here to help me,
    you are wasting your time.
  252. But if you have come because you recognize
  253. your liberation is bound up in mine,
  254. then let us work together."
  255. Let us work together
    to make Black trans lives matter.
  256. The lived experience of Black trans people
  257. out into the world.
  258. And if you believe that your liberation
    is bound up with mine,
  259. then I invite you
  260. to make Black Trans Lives Matter
    your personal ethic
  261. by being transformative,
  262. loudly and mindfully.
  263. You can do that in three ways.

  264. Transform your thinking
    about blackness and gender.
  265. Be loud by taking the risk
  266. to confront false assumptions
    and other's fears and biases.
  267. Be mindful and pay attention and believe
  268. what Black trans people say
    about our own lives.
  269. Being transformative loudly and mindfully

  270. takes practice.
  271. Just like getting
    someone's pronouns right.
  272. Mine are they, them, their,
    and he, him, his, by the way.
  273. And getting someone's pronouns right

  274. and being transformative loudly
    and mindfully matters.
  275. Because Black trans lives matter.
  276. My life matters.
  277. My body is a sovereign country,
  278. and my first site of resistance.
  279. (Applause)