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Scenes from a Black trans life

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    Hello.
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    Hey.
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    (Laughter)
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    As you just heard,
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    my name is D-L Stewart,
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    and I'm a faculty member here on campus
    at Colorado State University.
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    But what's most important
    for you to understand about me right now
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    is that I identify as both Black
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    and as transgender, or trans.
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    And yes, I'm going to talk to you today
    about how Black trans lives matter.
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    As I do so,
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    I'm going to share
    a few scenes from my own life,
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    mixed in with the ways
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    that race and gender have historically
    and currently intersected
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    to shape the lives of Black trans people.
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    Ready?
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    Audience: Ready.
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    DLS: Scene one.
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    I am at home with myself.
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    My body, a sovereign country.
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    Sovereign meaning
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    it is superlative in quality.
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    Of the most exalted kind.
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    Having generalized curative powers
    of an unqualified nature,
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    unmitigated,
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    paramount,
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    possessed of supreme power,
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    unlimited in extent, absolute.
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    Enjoying autonomy,
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    independent,
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    royal.
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    My body defies the restrictions
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    of a society consumed
    by boxes and binaries
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    and "are you a boy or a girl?"
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    Independent of such conventions,
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    my body clings instead
    to the long ago lore
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    that understood its magic.
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    I contain multitudes.
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    From this supreme power to name myself,
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    define myself and be myself,
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    I stake a claim to myself
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    and organize my resistance.
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    A resistance that boldly proclaims
    that Black trans lives matter.
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    My body is a sovereign country
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    and my first site of resistance.
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    End scene.
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    To say that Black trans lives matter
    is a claim to sovereignty.
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    As much as Black Girl Magic,
    and #transisbrilliant,
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    Black Trans Lives Matter
    is also a chorus of resistance.
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    Because Black trans lives begin
    by defining our bodies
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    as sovereign countries
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    from which we first begin
    to resist the messages
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    that we have no place here.
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    We push whole movements forward
    on the strength of our vision.
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    We set trends and create new worlds.
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    We are the vanguard.
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    Black trans lives have always mattered.
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    And yet,
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    caught at the time-traveling intersection
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    of Juneteenth emancipation celebration
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    and Stonewall's emancipation declaration,
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    Black trans lives
    are both seen but yet unseen.
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    Unseen by the antiblackness
    of queer and trans movements.
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    Unseen by the transphobia
    and trans-antagonism of Black movements.
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    Our sovereignty and resistance are blocked
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    by layers of systems and structures
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    that have always sought
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    to contain, define and erase
    Black trans bodies.
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    Scene two.
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    I am with my therapist.
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    The one whose testimony I must rely on
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    to declare me man enough
    to have my documents changed.
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    The one who is to be believed.
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    Despite my own declarations
    that I am not this body,
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    that this body is neither hers
    nor yours to define,
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    I sit with this doctor.
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    And she fills out a form for me.
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    And when concerning what all I've done
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    to affirm my gender,
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    "Has the patient's gender presentation
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    aligned with their gender identity?"
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    She decides that my gender presentation
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    is more neutral, really.
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    While I sit there, mind you,
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    head to toe in clothing
    from the section of the store
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    where the dress buttons
    go down the right side,
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    and my pants give away
    the number of inches around my waist,
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    and my hair is cut
    like Denzel's "Man on Fire,"
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    but I'm still more neutral.
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    Really?
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    Because she still sees,
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    and you see,
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    a Black woman.
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    And Black women's bodies
    are always already made genderless.
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    End scene.
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    From mammy and Sapphire,
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    to Mandingo and Sambo,
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    Black bodies and our genders
    have been caught in the White imagination.
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    And the imagination
    of whiteness is fanciful,
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    and powerful enough
    to turn its fancies into realities.
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    Imagined as a thing,
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    we were made to become that thing,
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    and so we have been bred like horses,
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    fed like turtles to alligators,
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    branded like cattle,
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    milked like sows,
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    made into oxen to plow.
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    Gender did not matter,
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    so long as our body parts,
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    our arms and legs and backs,
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    our breasts and genitalia
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    could be turned into profit.
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    The Black body was made not White
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    and therefore not worthy of gender.
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    And under the weight of the gentile tulle
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    and virginal lace that dressed
    plantation mistresses,
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    Black femininity has always been denied.
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    Instead, she is either beast or porn star.
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    Neither a proper gender, dehumanized.
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    Made a social threat
    that endangers civility.
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    That puts civilization in danger.
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    The angry Black woman cannot be escaped.
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    Not even by a first lady
    of these United States.
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    Likewise, ill-suited for chivalry
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    and outmatched as masters
    and captains of fate,
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    Black manhood lays flaccid
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    in the hands of White man's dominance.
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    Body measurements taken,
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    speed measured,
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    draft pick forecasted.
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    This is the NFL combine.
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    Body measurements taken,
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    teeth and body cavities inspected,
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    number assigned.
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    This is the prison intake room.
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    Body measurements taken,
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    talents and abilities advertised,
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    teeth and body cavities inspected,
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    name and value assigned.
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    This is a slave's bill of sale.
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    Made either stud or farce,
    he is not for his own pleasure,
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    but rather for profit and jest.
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    Athletes and comics
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    contained.
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    Made not a threat.
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    "My gender is Black," said Hari Ziyad,
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    because Black bodies
    and our genders have been caught
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    in the White imagination,
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    and we have always been transgressive.
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    Transgressive meaning
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    a violation of accepted and imposed
    boundaries of social acceptability.
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    Blackness is transgressive.
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    And once set free
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    from social acceptability,
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    blackness challenges the limitations
    of what gender can be.
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    We have always been fugitives here.
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    Escaping from gender surveillance
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    to claim our sovereignty
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    and right to exist and to live free,
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    to proclaim as beautiful
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    that which was made ugly,
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    to defy convention,
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    Black lives and trans lives
    and Black trans lives.
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    And yet, in this world, that fact
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    that Black trans lives make a difference,
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    make differences
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    and make a matter of mattering
    is doused by the fire hoses
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    of past and current denials
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    of our rights to exist and resist.
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    We must fight to be seen
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    as we see through fences
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    into the play yards
    that we are kept out of.
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    Scene three.
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    I am at school.
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    The bell rings, it's recess.
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    We line up to go outside.
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    Those made boys on one side,
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    those made girls on the other.
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    We file out of the doors.
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    The boys stopping
    to fill in the closed off street.
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    The girls and I,
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    walking across the street.
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    "Keep your eyes
    straight ahead," we are told.
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    Because there's a park across the street.
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    But there is a wrought iron fence
    that encloses that park.
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    This is where the girls and I play.
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    Mostly, I stand at the fence and watch,
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    as my fellows play ball in the street,
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    and be loud,
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    and be rough,
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    and be sweaty,
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    and I am behind the fence.
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    Accused of thinking naughty thoughts.
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    They have no idea.
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    End scene.
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    Sissified and bulldaggered,
    we are all made up.
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    Just boys in dresses and girls in suits,
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    the Black transgressive body
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    caught in fantasies of boxes and binaries
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    that make our genitalia
    representative of our gender,
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    and our mannerisms our sexuality.
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    Black trans lives are therefore
    written off as merely gay effeminate
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    or lesbian butch.
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    And the overlay of femininity
    on bodies marked as male,
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    and therefore as man,
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    adheres like a "kick me" sign,
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    except the consequences
    are much more deadly.
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    The majority of trans people murdered
    in this country are Black trans women.
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    Because when manhood
    is located between one's legs,
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    and defined in opposition to womanhood,
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    what's between one's legs
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    cannot be seen as having anything
    in common with womanhood.
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    And this same acidic wash
    serves to blanch trans masculinity,
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    making it fade into nothingness.
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    Black trans men
    become illusions of manhood,
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    women merely playing at being men
    because you can't get a real man.
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    Forever put in our place,
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    we are indelibly marked as "woman."
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    And at best, the looming threat
    of Black trans manhood
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    is contained, inoculated,
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    made more neutral, really.
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    Scene four.
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    I am with my therapist.
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    I tell her what I think about,
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    as my body begins to slowly morph
    into another version of itself.
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    What will happen as I move
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    from the social threat
    of angry Black womanhood
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    to the physical threat
    of looming Black manhood?
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    When will my neighbors
    forget to recognize me and my pit bull?
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    They've seen us nearly every day,
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    predawn or after twilight,
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    for what will have been
    over two years by then?
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    When and how soon
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    after I am no longer misgendered woman
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    will the cops be called
    to come and contain
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    and erase my presence?
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    How soon before the purse clutching,
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    the sidewalk crossing?
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    What does it mean to become a brute?
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    To turn my body
    into another kind of threat?
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    She's stunned that I'm already
    recognizing this.
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    I can't afford not to.
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    End scene.
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    Who can see me and my Black trans kin
    in the skin we are in?
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    Who dares to love us,
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    who holds us close?
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    To whom do we matter other to ourselves?
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    We're not looking for saviors.
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    We have each other.
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    As Lilla Watson said,
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    "If you have come here to help me,
    you are wasting your time.
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    But if you have come because you recognize
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    your liberation is bound up in mine,
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    then let us work together."
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    Let us work together
    to make Black trans lives matter.
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    The lived experience of Black trans people
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    out into the world.
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    And if you believe that your liberation
    is bound up with mine,
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    then I invite you
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    to make Black Trans Lives Matter
    your personal ethic
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    by being transformative,
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    loudly and mindfully.
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    You can do that in three ways.
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    Transform your thinking
    about blackness and gender.
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    Be loud by taking the risk
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    to confront false assumptions
    and other's fears and biases.
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    Be mindful and pay attention and believe
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    what Black trans people say
    about our own lives.
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    Being transformative loudly and mindfully
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    takes practice.
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    Just like getting
    someone's pronouns right.
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    Mine are they, them, their,
    and he, him, his, by the way.
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    And getting someone's pronouns right
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    and being transformative loudly
    and mindfully matters.
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    Because Black trans lives matter.
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    My life matters.
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    My body is a sovereign country,
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    and my first site of resistance.
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    (Applause)
Title:
Scenes from a Black trans life
Speaker:
D-L Stewart
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Team:
closed TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
15:19

English subtitles

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