written by Bryanna A. Jenkins & edited by Xem VanAdams
I first began my transition in 2008. At that time, I would have never imagined as a black transgender woman from Baltimore City, that I would see a day where other black transgender women were being recognized nationally for their contributions to entertainment. In recent years, it has become commonplace to witness my sisters dominate television screens, grace the covers of magazines, be included in conversations about feminism and also receive admiration for their beauty, poise and decorum. Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Isis King, Madison Hinton and Amiyah Scott all exist as shining beacons of excellence amongst black transgender women. I applaud each of these ladies who are birthed from the struggles in our community, but use their platforms not only to entertain the masses but to educate and consistently advocate for change amongst the treatment and acceptance of all transgender people.
However, my high is interrupted and I am slapped back to the reality that black transgender women are facing a state of emergency. One of the gifts that the increased media visibility of black transgender women provides is that is has amplified our multiple oppressions.
I’m forced to remember that 17 of my sisters: transgender women of color spread across this country have been senselessly murdered in 2015 alone. I remember that two weeks ago our community lost 5 sisters in one week — with 3 bodies identified in a single day. I have to face the hard truth about a large majority of my sisters being murdered at the hands of men of color who each lady was engaged with intimately or romantically. Every time I see a new headline detailing the story of how one of my sisters has been callously murdered, I think of missed conversations about how necessary it is for black families especially to embrace their children who are transgender and to also continue loving, protecting, and pouring into them. I also think of missed conversations about how space needs to be given to black men who are trans-attracted – helping each one to understand and accept themselves so that they can love transgender women instead of hiding or harming them in fear of social repercussion. I remember that when most of my sisters’ deaths were reported, they were each mis-gendered, misnamed, and vilified in the news. And the one thing that I remember the most is that the same people praising the Amiyah’s, Janet’s, Isis’ and Laverne Cox’s, are the same individuals excusing and condoning the murders of black transgender women on ground level.
There is an ironic dichotomy between black transgender women who have received media visibility and black transgender women who maintain regular everyday lives.
The same people who look to mainstream transgender women as a source of information and entertainment fail to see the humanity of everyday black transgender women whose bodies are constantly under social and physical attack through systems of patriarchy and white supremacy.
There exists a hard misconception regarding the idea that since a few black transgender women have “made it”, that somehow all is well with the black trans community as a whole. I know that is not the case. Black transgender women exist at the intersection of multiple oppressed identities. In America, the oppression of being a person who is black, female, and transgendered is a unique experience that more often than not leaves most black transgender women at the fringes of society. We are most disproportionately affected when it comes to homelessness, unemployment, victims of violence and harassment, faced with discrimination, difficulties accessing healthcare, and being murdered in drove numbers.
Society is still very much uncomfortable with having real conversations about transgender people. The common understanding of our lives is limited to our body parts and neglects our lived experiences. Our narrative has been neglected for so long or has carelessly been clumped into the real stories and tales of gay males.
Additionally, black transgender people have always existed within the structure of the black community at large, but we have always been erased from cultural consciousness due to social levels of hate and intolerance. The experiences of black transgender women have been separated from the experiences of black people as a whole. The increased media visibility has ignited the process of black transgender women socially realigning with the black community in this current climate of black liberation movements.
“Blackness” or what it means to be a black woman in America is diverse and it is indeed varied.
I believe that the work truly begins by having intentional inclusion of issues that affect black transgender women interwoven into movements that are working to address black liberation such as: #BlackLivesMatter. The inclusion would help to change the trajectory of how black transgender people are not only talked about in social spaces but how our humanity is protected and uplifted.
It also remains important for those trans women who start to receive mainstream media visibility to continue bringing the issues of black transgender women to the forefront – using their popular platforms to help dismantle systems of oppression that work to diminish and devalue our lives.
There is a lot of work that still has to be done that will not only involve the visibility of more diverse black transgender women but it will also involve SOLIDARITY from those cisgender people who call themselves friends and allies to our community. Intentional efforts of using cisgender privilege to interrupt patterns of discrimination and erasure for transgender people will be vital if we are to fight for the liberation of the black transgender women we love to see entertain us online, via television or otherwise.
I am hopeful that I will still be living to see a day where black transgender women will not only be celebrated for their contributions to the world at large, but we will also be celebrated for living our most authentic lives — free of judgment, ridicule and shame.
Bryanna A. Jenkins, B.S., M.A.
The Baltimore Transgender Alliance
Founder & Director
Trans Activist, Writer
Facebook: Bryanna A. Jenkins