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LGBT organizations and the white LGBT community only center, honor, and see Black and Brown Trans people when we are dead.

by Kay Martinez  It's Transgender Awareness Week and I’ve been feeling erased by the Trans community and LGBT organizations as whiteness continues to be centered. This week, individuals and organizations will participate in Trans Awareness Week to help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces. Yet how do these LGBT organizations internally treat their Trans employees, particularly their few Trans staff of color? Are Trans Black or Brown people in leadership positions? Are we tokenized?  I can’t help but side-eye these organizations’ performative allyship this week knowing how many climate reports I’ve read about the racism and transphobia within these organizations and my own personal experiences with them. I’m currently in Boston where folks expect me to celebrate the recent win on Ballot Question 3 during the midterm elections. Massachusetts voters faced the first-ever statewide popular vote on protections for transgender people from discrimination. The referendum would have repealed our current state law that protects trans people from discrimination in public places, including restaurants, stores, and doctors’ offices. A “yes” vote on Question 3 kept the current law as it is. I’ve found myself asking, how did we get this win? I can’t fully celebrate because the visual marketing campaign led by Freedom for all Massachusetts did not prominently feature any Black or Brown Trans people in their videos and it has left me feeling erased, invisible, and degraded by my hometown. As election day neared, the face of the campaign I saw everywhere was Ian, a white transgender teen. In the commercials, I saw close-ups of Ian and his family having dinner in their beautiful home, playing on their yard and enjoying their Rockwellian upper middle-class life. I looked at all eight videos on Freedom for all Massachusetts’ website and I failed to see any Trans Black or Brown people prominently featured. In the video entitled, “This November, Massachusetts Will Vote YES for Dignity & Respect,” news footage of one Black Trans Woman, Chastity Bowick, speaking is used for a few seconds which made me feel like they Google searched for some diversity to tack on rather than affording a Trans person of color a featured speaking role like the other white trans folks and allies they included. How ironic that a campaign fighting to protect Trans people from discrimination in Massachusetts excluded Black and Brown Trans people from full participation in the visual campaigning. Seems discriminatory to me. But why? Who were these advertisements for? [caption id="attachment_50231" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Kay Martinez by Rai McKinley[/caption] Massachusetts is 81% white.These ads were designed for white people to see the plight of Transgender people reflected in the upper-middle class struggles of Ian and his family so they would see themselves—and how could anyone vote to keep another white family down? Is an appeal to whiteness going to lead to Trans liberation for all of us? What Freedom for all Massachusetts’ ad campaigns showed me was that the voters of Massachusetts could never see me or my Trans Black and Brown siblings and deem us as worthy of humanity. Yes, the legal protections for Trans folks in MA are intact, so perhaps we won, but would the results have been the same with a diverse and inclusive ad campaign including people who looked like me?  Had I seen myself in these ads, I would have felt like I had a Trans community in Massachusetts that was truly fighting for my freedom. I feel like this organization did what white LGBT people and white cis-led LGBT organizations are currently doing and have always done to Black and Brown people, which is further pushing us and shushing us out of sight and out of mind to the margins because they think they know what’s best for us. Transgender Awareness Week is followed by Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual observance on Nov. 20 that honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. At TDOR ceremonies I’ve organized and participated in, Black and Brown death take center stage and are focused on because of the sheer volume of atrocities my communities disproportionately face, particularly Black Trans Women. I’ve also been to ceremonies where my dead siblings’ names were mispronounced by well-intentioned allies amid chants of "Black trans lives matter". LGBT organizations and the white LGBT community only center, honor, and see Black and Brown Trans people when we are dead.   Ever since the news of this administration’s plans to write Transgender people out of existence, my whole body has been tight. I’ve been breathing shallow breaths and experiencing whiplash every time I looked at my newsfeed. Every bit of legislative progress we’ve made on Trans rights is being knocked back and it takes a piece of my resolve with it. How can we chant, “won’t be erased” in the streets together as a community, when white Trans people and LGBT organizations erase us from within? That’s not freedom for all.  
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Although visibility has come far in the trans and gender non-conforming community, it is important that we keep our youth in mind.

Navigating my gender identity as a transgender woman has been an arduous yet fulfilling journey. I grew up during a time when trans visibility wasn’t gaining the traction that we see today. As a young child, growing up in a Southern Baptist family in North Carolina, I was always seen as the black sheep or “the one who stood out”. I loved to wear my grandmother’s high heels and I would wear towels on my head to mimic long, flowing hair. I was mocked and ridiculed in school when all the boys went through puberty, and I was the kid whose voice remained one octave higher than what was preferred. I was called every kind of homophobic slur you can think of, and often I didn’t feel comfortable expressing myself as I felt too alienated. In 2017, following the backlash behind Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Channel 4 interview, Laverne Cox took to twitter, and had this to say: “I was talking to my twin brother today about whether he believes I had male privilege growing up. I was a very feminine child though I was assigned male at birth. My gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that. My femininity did not make me feel privileged.” Laverne went on to say: “So though I was assigned male at birth I would contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition. Patriarchy and cissexism punished my femininity and gender nonconformity.” Many transgender men, women and non binary people alike, can relate to having felt punished growing up for not sticking to the status quo of the gender binary, because we were anything but cisgender, even if we did not have the language to understand it. We all know the challenges that come with childhood, as youth navigate school life, peer pressure and puberty, and growing up to find their place in the world. Adding on the layer of being TGNC (transgender/gender non-conforming), reveals a harsh reality. A survey conducted by GLSEN, reveals 65% of transgender students feel unsafe at school, in addition to facing verbal and physical harassment regarding their gender identity. According to The Williams Institute, an estimated 150,000 youth identify as transgender or gender non-conforming (TGNC), making the highest percentage of individuals in the United States who identify as TGNC. These statistics however, underrepresent the vast majority of youth who are unreported and those who have not come out yet.
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Reina Gossett is a visionary and her work deserves prestige and compensation. 

As a writer and an organizer, I get a warm flush a few times a month when I get a shout out on social media from my many peers and colleagues in queer feminist POC networks. The last one that gave me real pause was the incomparable make-up artist Umber Ghauri of Brown Beauty Standards who let the world know that I did one of my usual backstage hook-ups for a great campaign celebrating trans women’s beauty for the End Violence Against Women campaign. Reina Gossett is a historical researcher, writer, filmmaker and activist who has been receiving the antithesis of the aforementioned warm treatment that comes from community solidarity and compassionate collaboration. She’s been done real dirty in the furore which has surrounded the Netflix documentary film “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”. If you are unfamiliar with what I am talking about, Gossett accused David France, the director, of capitalizing on her years of  research and ideas for the film I spoke with David France, just to get a measure of the man. I was not interested in the pernickety back and forth of accusations, allegations, defensiveness and labored partial truth seeking. The expansion of digital media has enlarged the court of public opinion exponentially to an extent that would boggle the minds of television watchers. In this era where many are concerned about the not-that-new phenomenon of 'fake news', the thoroughness of journalistic endeavor hasn't been diluted across the board. It seems that David France believes that because he had "trans and gender non-conforming people from the very top of our production to the bottom of our production” that it could exempt him from criticism of his cisgender white gaze and perhaps even invalidate Reina’s claims that her labor was exploited.
Related: MARSHA P. JOHNSON’S LIFE ISN’T WHITE PEOPLE’S STORY TO TELL

I wanted to give those who read this and are getting any kind of transition surgery — or even just starting their transition in general — the tools to process the feelings they’ll probably feel.

For much of my life, I’ve had to hide who I am. Whether it was from relative strangers or just relatives, Princess, Alexzsa, Nykki, whoever I was at the time had to exist in the darkness. Although there are few men in my family, they cling to any person assigned male at birth and desire to subsume them in their toxically masculine, bro culture. Although some of it was less intense at times, my childhood included events where men in my family tried to shift me away from “female influence” and tried to get me interested in masculine or sport-y things. (Although sports aren’t masculine per se, they were certainly thought to be.) There was this need for me to be a “regular” straight, cis boy. But I could never be that. Although I realize that straight and cis people may not be able to understand the need for it, I ended up having to nurture two completely different personalities that never fully, truly had the opportunity to reconcile. I had to nurture the “ordinary latinx boy” façade while also developing myself as the girl/woman who I am. I became an expert in secrets, even hiding that I was taking hormones from my parents, they couldn’t tell that I was growing breasts until I had already and completely came out to them (before that, I was already a B cup). Having to learn how to hide everything I am makes it really easy for me to get the things that I need to get done, because I don’t need to worry about whether or not someone will approve of it or not. It allows me to function freely, because I could just hide it. I realize that this is deceitful, but when you’re a trans woman of color you sometimes have to move in darkness. A lot of the time, there is no letting our freak flag fly, so to speak. It was this history of basically having to move under the cover of metaphorical darkness that helped me survive the initial trials and tribulations of the closet and even non-closeted living. It helped me become confident in myself, my choices, and my choice of chosen family (which is, for me, a mix of blood and non-blood people). That said, though, it left me under-prepared for the biggest hurdle that I’ve ever had to face. December 22nd was a glorious, victorious day for me. After many years of dysphoria so bad that I wanted sometimes to do my own surgery, I finally had a genital surgery that I’d wanted: an orchiectomy. It was a magical day for me. I was so excited, so happy that instead of sleeping, I just stayed awake thinking. I was painfully tired by the time my surgery actually took place. It was a day where everything felt like lightning.
Related: OUR GENDERS ARE MORE THAN OUR BODIES: AFFIRMING TRANS IDENTITY BEYOND APPEARANCE

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