TRANSCRIPT: Lives At Stake, Trans Day of Remembrance 2020

Imara Jones: Hello, I’m Imara Jones and welcome to Lives at Stake. Lives at Stake is a series of monthly discussions about critical issues facing trans and gender nonconforming communities across the United states. Lives at Stake is a co-production of my project TransLash and The Green Space. Visit TransLash.org and thegreenspace.org to follow our work. Well, November is the month in which we hold elections, and yes, we made it, we’re still here, we’re still alive today.

But November is also Trans Awareness Month, and this Trans Awareness Month there are so many breakthrough and historic events that we have to celebrate as trans people, such as the election of Sarah McBride, the first ever state Senator who is trans to be elected in the United states, and also Mauree Turner who is black and Muslim and the first known nonbinary person to be elected to a state legislature. 

But Trans Awareness Month culminates tomorrow in Trans Day of Remembrance. And that’s the day that we commemorate all those lost to trans violence and tragically this year, 2020, is the year in which more trans people have been murdered than any other year on record. Here to help us unpack these two extremes, these two head spinning extremes, is Samantha Allen, who is a journalist and author of Real Queer America: LGBTQ Stories from Red States, and also Melania Brown, who is the sister of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx woman who died in police custody at Rikers Island last year. And we’re going to end today’s program with a really powerful performance from Mojo Disco, a black transwoman artists that was performed first at a Trans Day of Remembrance event last year that we did at Samsung 837. That performance encapsulates so much of the emotion and the power of Trans Day of Remembrance that we wanted to share it with you again. 

There was no reason for us to try to top it, and it’ll be how we conclude. Now, we always like to begin this show with gifs and memes that are getting us through, that are light and funny because so many of the things that we talk about on this show are heavy. You know, we didn’t know that starting the year. But a lot of the ones that we’re starting with today are going to focus on those that focus on Trans Day of Remembrance, or on trans people. So this first one I thought was really funny and interesting one, because it’s so perfect for the age of COVID, a scratchy voice leading you to panic, but then you realize that it’s, for those who medically transition, it may just be changes associated with whatever treatment you’re on to fulfill yourself and to become yourself. So you might have a scratchy voice, that has nothing to do with COVID. We should all finish the year being that lucky. And this next one is really powerful for me because it’s reflective of the thousands and thousands and thousands of images that you can go online today, #transawarenessweek, or Trans Day of Remembrance, of trans people documenting their own stories documenting their own journeys, in every way imaginable, in every place imaginable, across the country. 

And those stories are so inspirational to me. And this is just one of thousands. But of course ultimately this particular meme by house of resilience is what this day is all about. It’s just all about the power to be ourselves and to be our full selves and to be our human selves. Too bad we have to have a week to commemorate that, and a month to make that point, and of course, the day that underscores that so many people don’t see us as human, which is how we have so many people who are not with us at this moment. But with that, one other thing, as always, as I tell you in the show, this is an interactive show. So that means that you have to interact. So of course, however you’re watching us, on YouTube or on Facebook, make sure that you join the conversation and send us your questions using the hashtags Lives at Stake, or TransLash, so #LivesAtStake, #TransLash. We will be sure to include your comments and questions within that. And of course you can also follow along with the conversation or amplify the conversation on Twitter and Instagram using those same hashtags and we’ll be sure as well to include your comments and your questions. Now onto the heart of our show. 

So this Trans Awareness Month marks a historic set of breakthroughs, especially electorally, for trans people, and here to help us unpack how this happened, despite a year in which so many trans people were murdered, and a year in which so many trans people, specifically in red states, are facing a slew of anti-trans legislation, is Samantha Allen, who is the author of Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States. Samantha is not only an author of books, but also a journalist and has a PhD from Emory University. Samantha, thank you so much for joining us.

Samantha Allen: Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure to be here with you.

Imara Jones: Of course, of course. So besides everyone needing to buy your book, and it’s, we’re entering holiday time, so it’s a great holiday idea, I’m wondering if you can just help set the stage for what happened on election day with the number of trans people that had all of these electoral wins in places that are not only where you would expect, such as blue states, but also in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

Samantha Allen: Yeah, so, you know, while everyone was anxiously watching for that big presidential result, I was busy documenting all of the transgender wins on election night. And what happened was transgender representation in state legislatures, nearly doubled on election night. So we saw, you know, if you think back just three years ago, Danica Roem in Virginia was the only out transgender state legislature, state legislator in the United states.

And now, as of 2020, we’ve got Danica Roem in Virginia, Brianna Titone in Colorado, Gerri Cannon and Lisa bunker in New Hampshire both won reelection, and then as you mentioned earlier in the show, Sarah McBride is now the highest ranking transgender public official in the country. Taylor Small won in Vermont, Stephanie Byers won in Kansas, Mauree Turner who you mentioned earlier in Oklahoma, we’re just seeing these transgender victories in state legislatures nationwide, not just in the expected places, you know, the blue states, but in places like Kansas and Oklahoma too.

Imara Jones: What do you think is behind these victories? I mean, as you say, it’s a dramatic explosion in representation in all these places that you expect and not expect. What’s driving these victories?

Samantha Allen: You know, so I’ve interviewed probably about 65% of these candidates over the course of my journalistic career, and what almost all of them tell me is that when they saw Danica Roem win in Virginia, they realized they could do this too. And I think this is a dynamic that’s going to be familiar to any trans person, whether you have aspirations to run for office or not. If you just see another trans person doing something that you didn’t know as possible for you, it unlocks potential for you. And so that’s how you get this like almost domino effect of Danica Roem winning and then three years later, the number of transgender state legislators almost doubling. It’s almost that simple, to just see someone else chart out a path for you.

Imara Jones: Right, and it’s why representation matters. And we forget that representation can be, can have an exponential impact on a situation or a group of people. I’m wondering if you could just dive a little bit deeper, given the fact that you’ve spent so much time documenting the stories of queer people, trans people, across the United states, particularly in red states, if you can just dive in and explain some of these wins, like Mauree Turner in Oklahoma. I mean, who would ever think that? Or, as you say, wins in Kansas or even Brianna Titone, she had a really tough race, I think in an area that leans Republican. And so what do you think is helping trans people win in these places that are not necessarily trans friendly?

Samantha Allen: Yeah, so, you know, I think often trans folks in these places have witnessed attacks on trans people in their state legislature. They’ve been sitting at home, like not in the halls of government, watching legislators try to file bills that attack our restroom rights or our rights to change our identity documents to be more in accordance with our identity. And at some point I think people are just saying enough. Like I guess the only way to stop that is to go stop it myself.

And I think, I just think that’s so inspiring to see, you know, when I talked to NGOs, you know, PACS that work on getting LGBTQ people elected, they all have this saying, they say if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, right? If you’re not there to make the decisions, your rights are going to be up for grabs. And I think increasingly we’re seeing trans people in these places that have been thought of as being more traditionally hostile to LGBTQ folks say, no I’m going to be at the table to take us off the menu.

Imara Jones: And then in that, what do you think, how do you think they’re able to get people in these places to respond to them? So we’ve spoken really powerfully about how individual trans people just say, you know what, I’m going to go out and do this. I’m sick of taking it. I’m going to go out and I’m going to be a part of the processes and I’m going to win. What do you think is happening for people, for the electorate, even in places where Danica is? I think that her district is also purple-ish, I don’t think that it’s overwhelmingly blue, to be responsive to trans people in these places? What’s happening with the electorate?

Samantha Allen: Yeah, people are meeting trans people. You know, if you look at like public opinion polling like several years ago, almost no one in the country knew an openly transgender person. Of course, they probably met transgender people who they didn’t know were transgender, but years later that percentage keeps going up. People are meeting transgender people. They’re realizing that they’re their friends, their family members, their coworkers. And you can see like, again, with public polling data that even in these more conservative parts of the U.S., the overwhelming majority of folks do support LGBTQ protections, non-discrimination protections. So I think people’s hearts and minds all across the country have been shifting in the right direction as they meet more queer folks, LGBT folks, trans folks. It’s just a matter of getting that political power now. And that there’s been a bit of a gap there that we’re starting to close.

Imara Jones: And given the fact that you’ve looked at all of these races, excuse me, from the beginning since Danica Roem, to where we’ve ended up now, as you say, you’ve spoken to, you know, the majority of people that have run for office and who’ve won who are trans, I’m wondering if you can just tell us what you think is the significance of these wins?

In a broader lens of history, what do you, where do you think, where are we in this moment, do you think, and what do you think is the, as I say the significance much more broadly of these wins for where the country might be going with respect to us?

Samantha Allen: Yeah, I think it’s a moment of coming out of the shadows. You know, I recently talked to a lot of folks in New Hampshire about the significance of having, not just one but two transgender state legislators in the state house. And, you know, just everyday trans folks in New Hampshire were telling me like that they found that inspiring.

Maybe they want to run for office, or maybe they feel more comfortable or safer being out in their small town. I think it has this huge cultural impact that can be hard to trace because you can’t really quantify it, but you talk to trans folks on the ground and you get this overwhelming feeling of hope when you see wins like this. You know, I think in our LGBT movement, for too long, you know, I think sometimes leaders of our LGBT movement more broadly, we’re kind of scared of letting trans people own our stories, or meet the public or interact with the public.

There was concern of like, oh, people are going to be afraid of trans people or not know how to categorize us, or not know what to do with us. And I think what we’re seeing with these huge groundbreaking wins, these very public-facing victories, that when people get to know trans people, they like us you know? It’s hard to stop that, it’s hard to un-ring that bell.

Imara Jones: Yeah, and let’s hope that that bell keeps being rung larger and louder and harder. I, it’s so funny, ’cause I think about things like, you know, Lala as you know, who works at ACLU for the longest time, she’s had this whole campaign, personal campaign Lala for president. And as she talks about it, she does it because she wants people to think that there can be a trans president, right? Like that we should be dreaming big, in these places and these moments, in terms of, as you say, like shifting the way that people think of us.

Lastly, one of the things I want to ask you about, given that we’re in New York, you know, New York City, you know, liberal, lots of trans people, very strong protections for trans people across the board and services, ironically has never elected anyone trans to any political office. That could change next year ’cause there are two candidates running for city council next year, but that’s never happened. But it has happened in certain red states, right?

And so I’m wondering if you can just tell us what you think that means? Why is it, why are places that are more hostile electing us and then places that are seemingly open to us, you know, that hasn’t happened?

Samantha Allen: Yeah, you know, when I wrote my book, someone told me a quote that kind of became the thesis statement which was oppression and opposition can build really powerful connections. So I feel like there is something about that atmosphere of a red state where this kind of like onslaught of legislative attacks can kind of band the LGBTQ community together, make people realize the importance of getting trans people in public office.

And that’s why I think you sometimes see red states, you know, showing up blue state counterparts in terms of setting some of these precedents. I think it has everything to do with people like reacting to some of these attacks. I don’t think that means we’re never going to see a trans state legislator in New York. I think that that will come soon, and I hope it does.

Imara Jones: Well, let’s hope it does too. But here’s to celebrating the powerful wins and changes this month, even at the, even as there’s so much difficulty in this moment. And thank you so much on Samantha for your work, for your work as a journalist, for telling our stories, for following these races, for believing that these are important, and to documenting the full range of who we are and not just in blue states, but also in red states. Thank you so much for coming on tonight.

Samantha Allen: Thank you for having me, a pleasure.

Imara Jones: Of course, that was Samantha Allen who is a journalist, author, of, my mind just went blank . Of, oh I have it again, author of Real Queer Stories: LGBT, why am I, what’s happening to me right now? I’m having a moment, it’s been a long week. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States, and also is a PhD from Emory University. You are watching Lives at Stake, and I am Imara Jones, it’s clearly time for me to take a break, and that’s happening next week.

Also remember to follow along, using #LivesAtStake and also TransLash, so that we can include your questions, comments as we move on. So from kind of the hope and the power of trans people being displayed, this, but so far, we’re moving on to what is one of the hardest and the most difficult parts of Trans Awareness Month and that is Trans Day of Remembrance, tomorrow. One of the things that has happened as I mentioned before at the top of our program is that 2020 is the year in which more trans people have been murdered than any other year on record. There’s so many reasons for that. 

But one of the things that is clear about the facts that so many people are not longer here, is that they leave behind friends and loved ones. And so often in the way that the deaths of trans people are colored, of color are covered, we never are able to hear the voices of those loved ones, meaning that we don’t really fully see them as humans, which of course contributes to how those people are no longer with us in the first place. And that’s why I wanted to speak tonight with Melania Brown, who is the sister of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx woman who died in custody at Rikers Island last year, last June.

I first interviewed Melania last year, and wanted to sit down with her one year later to talk about her journey of the family, her family’s journey, and what she’s just learned about trans people in America. Thank you, Melania, for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

Melania Brown: Thank you for having me and sharing your space with me once again.

Imara Jones: Sharing space with you is easy. First, I’m wondering if you can just remind, at first if you can just remind us of Layleen’s case. What happened to her last June?

Melania Brown: So Layleen, she was Layleen Polanco, I’m Layleen Polanco’s older sister, Melania Brown. My sister was, she caught a seizure while being held in solitary confinement at Rikers Island. Rikers knew about her medical condition. They, she even caught several seizures before they decided to place her back into solitary confinement and, you know, against all medical objectives of keeping her out, Rikers still decided to place her in solitary confinement, simply because of her gender identity.

It was nothing else. It was, now that I can speak more on the case, there was evidence brought up that they, emails were going back and forth that they didn’t know how to house my sister. So that cat is out of the hat. So my sister basically died for it, just being who she was, being true to herself. It cost her life. My sister died last year on June 7th, 2019.

Imara Jones: One of the most excruciating things about her death and why it’s so illustrative of why we have so many trans people who aren’t with us right now, is just how callous the guards were at Rikers about her. They were callous about her medical condition, callous about her seizing, and callous about her in death. You know, not being properly respectful of her and her life.

You mention how that, seeing that and knowing that, on top of her death, put a huge hole for your family, and I’m just wondering if you can just talk about how that’s impacted your family still one year later, and how everyone’s doing? How are you doing? How are Layleen’s nieces doing? How’s your mom doing?

Melania Brown: We’re taking, we, I mean, crying is our new norm. Rollercoaster emotions, not knowing how you’re going to wake up the next day is our new norm. My daughters, you know, they dealing with the emotions. They miss they aunt. They were very, that, those were her best friends. Like they weren’t even like had that aunt and niece relationship. There were best friends. They miss her very much. My mom, you know, she’s broken. Crying, for her, is normal now. Seeing how the video was released, and watching those correctional officers laughing while she was taking her last breath was very disturbing, and it was out there for the world to see, to see our pain, and to share what we were going through, and yet nothing happened.

The state hasn’t done anything, the government hasn’t done anything, the only thing that we received were broken promises from the mayor. I’m going to call them broken promises because those were promises that he made as far as ending in solitary confinement, and we’re in October and he used my sister’s name in vain to push it out there and grab the people’s attention. Because at the time everybody, my sister was, she still is a big movement, you know, which I also would like for her not to be just the movement, ’cause she is a human, but he used her name, he used her platform to get, grab people’s attention, and he has yet to do anything about that. So my family and I, we’re not okay. 

I don’t think we’re ever going to be okay. Layleen was, Layleen was like the rock that usually, you know, you always have a rock in the family that keeps the family pieced together, and she was that rock for us, and we don’t have her no more. So it’s a big, big hit for, you know, all of us. We’re still grieving. We miss her, we’re always going to miss her. Yeah, so, I take it day by day, and I’m trying not to cry, but it’s hard, it’s really hard. It’s really hard because I don’t care, like, what they needed to understand is, however they viewed her, that was, first of all, that was an opinion, their own personal reasoning of how they viewed her, but she belonged to someone, you know? She was our human, she was our person. Like, it’s not okay for you to rip people out of other people’s lives because you’re not okay with the way that they’re living their own life. It just makes no sense to me, to this day. So we’re still going through it.

Imara Jones: What do you have to say to people who say or act as if trans people aren’t connected to people who love them, you know? Aren’t, you know, somehow aren’t human. I’m always struck by, in so many of these cases, when you read about perpetrators, that the perpetrators don’t think that they did anything wrong. They don’t think that there’s anybody who loves the people that they have taken. And I’m wondering, what do you have to say to that? Like, what, if you had to say something to those people, what would that be? ‘Cause it’s common.

Melania Brown: Yeah. I mean, I will say that it’s very, just the way of their thinking is very inhumane. It’s not human, kind. The, you know, these are humans we’re talking about, like scratch everything that you’re, everything else that we’re talking about human being life, you know? And they be, like I said, we, these are our loved ones. Like, you know, you have loved ones out there.

Like it’s not okay because you feel some type of way, and I’m going to be honest, I feel like a lot of people that attacked the LGBTQ youth is because they’re not comfortable in their own sexuality. They’re not comfortable to come out. So they hate on those that do have that strength ’cause it takes a lot to be truly yourself. It takes a lot of strength to be exactly who you are meant to be. And I feel like these humans, these other people out there hurting the, you know, the community and stuff like that, I feel like you need to stop. Like, you’re, they’re humans. Like you you’re hurting, like, look at me. Like they took my sister away from me and she was, she was someone big in my life. Like, you know, she was my little sister, but I looked up to my little sister. She was my little sister that was my big sister. Like, stop it. Like this, if you don’t, you don’t have to like it. You don’t have to be around it, but you will have to learn to respect it. Respect other people’s space. Back up.

It’s not your life. Like let people live and let people be who they’re meant to be. Like, I just feel like, you know, if any, any of these people are listening, which I’m sure a lot of them tune in to things like this, like just back off, go drink your water and mind your business. Whatever other people do in their life is not affecting you. 

Whatever they decide to do with their own, their temple, because these are, these are our body that God, Allah gave to us. I’m Muslim. Allah gave me this body, and this is my temple. Who are you to tell me or anyone how to live their life? Like there has to be something very mental, something really going on in there, something really bad that you need help that you need to go out your way to hurt someone that’s not doing anything to hurt your life. Like, just stop, like enough is enough. And I had enough of, and I’m sure a lot of people had enough, you know? And this goes to, a lot out there, which I want to also put out there, because there’s a lot of, you know, that I’ve noticed this whole time of doing this activism work, you know, a year and a half after my sister passing, that I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of hypocrites. A lot of them out there.

Because they’ll go out there and they’ll scream black lives matter, right? Black lives matter, black lives matter. But what about black trans lives? Like what about them? They’re freaking black, too. They’re black. So you want us to go out there and scream to help you but you’re doing exactly what you don’t want people to do to you. You can’t scream, help, black lives matter and yet you’re hurting another life. Another life. Like it makes no sense whatsoever. To me, it makes no sense. Like, you guys need to back off, you guys need to like, accept life for what it is, and we are all, we all live with our truth, and we are all gonna, you know, live by it, die by it. If it’s not affecting you, mind your business. You don’t have to be around any, anything that you don’t like, you don’t have to be around any conversations that you don’t want to be around, but guess what? You do have to respect people’s space. And that’s what I have to say. Like I could say a lot more, but.

Imara Jones: Enough is enough, I think is all we should ever have to say. One last question is about your activism. You have, there’s so many ways that we can respond to grief and to pain. But one of the ways that you have responded to tragedy in your family is by standing up for trans people, for demanding changes in the criminal justice system, to an end to mass incarceration, to an end to solitary confinement. And I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit about your activism and why you chose that because honestly not everyone who loses someone even as tragically as you did does that, and you’ve got what you’ve done with your life since last June.

Melania Brown: Well, honestly I was never like a type of person like to speak in front of big crowds or even be around them. Like, you know, I’d get very nervous and I shut down. But my first, the first time, my first rally that I had, it was with the Anti-Violence Project, they got in contact with the family, and three days later I had a mic in my hand and it was very, you know, I was very nervous, I was very scared.

I had Eliel, you know, by my side the whole time which he has been helping me develop, you know? And so I still have a lot of more work to do ’cause this is all new to me but he has helped me develop into, you know, this activists and he’s still teaching me how to express myself. To me, it helps me. It helps me grieve.

It helps me, you know, just going out there and just when I go out there and I, I’m getting goosebumps, when I go out there and I speak, and I see so many humans, this community come together and so much love and so much hugs and so much like just, it’s just like it’s so, it just feels so right. Like, you know? And just to have all that love, that helps me. To know that I’m out there spreading my sister’s story which can help many other, you know, women. It helps me. 

Like, just knowing that, you know, her, she won’t, her death didn’t go in vain and good things, you know, it was horrible what they did to her, what if good things could come out of it and her death didn’t go in vain, then that helps me. It just, to me, it’s a grieving thing. Like, you know, when I come together and I see such a big community that comes and they stand up for what’s right, and they come out to hear my sister’s story, and it just, it feels like, I was just telling my therapist this last week, it feels like a safety blanket.

Like I’m, like I’m home. Like they got me, like I could fall here and I’m okay. Like they hearing me like, you know, it’s, and a lot of people that come out, you know, they’re going through these things themselves, they’re going through, you know, certain, the same things that my sister went through. Like, you know, it, they still going through it or they’ve been through it and, you know, just, if I could, if I could be that, to me, because a lot of the conversations that come out, you know, throughout the whole year I have, I got called a cisgender, I didn’t even know what that was– I didn’t even know, I’m like, okay. I didn’t even know what it was but I’ve been called things like, you know, but to me, it’s okay.

If you want to call me, I don’t really, like, I don’t really, you know, talk about my gender identity or what I do with my personal life because I am me, like you know what I’m saying? And everybody’s different. But if I could be that little line of like hope between this world that we’re trying to get to understand that we are all humans and we’re all in the same human race. If I could be that, you know, that little line like that little, that could bring everything together, to me, that’s more than enough. To me that’s healing. To me that’s helping me. Not only am I helping heal, but it’s helping me. Like, I can’t, I don’t even know how to describe it, honestly, it’s like a whole bunch of emotions, but I do know that I love what I do. And I love going out there. I love screaming to the top of my lungs, marching down the city. 

Like, it just helps me release so much anger because at first, honestly, my mind was everywhere. Like, I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to like go after whoever did whatever to my sister, like, you know, normal human thoughts when you lose someone that was very close to you. And then I started learning that, why would I do that? No. I’m going to let you do what you do, I’m going to sit back, I’m going to observe, and I’m going to come with a stronger strategy. I’m going to knock your whole, your whole show down, your whole plan down. I’m not going to hurt you. I could hurt you in a way that’s legal, and you can’t do anything about it. Like, you know, like just my activism work, I’m very grateful.

I’m very grateful for the Anti-Violence Project. I’m extremely grateful for Eliel because it has helped me so much. Honestly, if I didn’t have this, I probably would have been like in a mental Institute right now. Like I have my moments. I had multiple mental breakdowns. I don’t even know how I’m, I could still, you know, speak and talk and function as a human after so many mental breakdowns, but I’m extremely grateful for my work. And I’m here, this is just, this is me, this is my path, this is a purpose that my sister gave me, and like I always say, they took my sister, they killed my sister, ’cause my sister didn’t die, they killed my sister, but my sister knew I needed love. And my sister made sure that she sent a whole community my way. And I’m loved. And if I’m loved, you guys are loved by me and, you know, and I’m going to continue to fight. I’m going to continue to do what’s right.

Imara Jones: Well, thank you so much for joining us tonight. We, I know I speak for everyone where we are thankful for you and your work, and grieve alongside of you the loss of your sister, and are sending you and your family all the best, for what is going to be another hard holiday season. But I’m so grateful that you came on tonight, and for anytime that I get a chance to talk with you. Thank you so much, Melania.

Melania Brown: Thank you, thank you so much for having me.

Imara Jones: Of course. Bye, goodnight. That was Melania Brown, who is the sister of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx woman who died in custody at Rikers Island, the nation’s largest jail, last year. We’re going to end tonight’s program with a really powerful performance. One of the ways in which trans people often respond to the violence in society is through creativity and arts. Last year, TransLash created a program, a Trans Day of Remembrance program, at which Mojo Disco, a trans artist, wrote and performed a piece about what it is like to be a black transwoman in an extremely hostile society. We’re going to end our program with that performance tonight. As I mentioned, there was no reason for us to try to do anything new or to create a new artistic piece because that piece by Mojo stands the test of time. 

We want to thank you for joining us on this Trans Day of Remembrance program that we put together, which spotlights so many of the victories that we had this month and things to celebrate, and of course, tonight we end instead at the opposite end with mourning. Thank you for joining us at Lives at Stake, and we will see you next month in December. Check our website for the date of the next Lives at Stake program.

Mojo Disco: I couldn’t see this coming down my eyes, for I had to make the sax cry. I couldn’t see this coming down my eyes, so I had to make the sax cry. I’m tired. I’m tired of waking each day not knowing if it’s my last. Shaving my face to make sure I pass. I’m tired of training my waist to give me a shape. I’m tired of tucking my love with the stickiest of tape. I’m tired to do of all these things to make sure I’m alive. I couldn’t see it come down my eyes, so I had to make the sax cry.

See I’m a fat black transwoman. I’m not supposed to exist. With all of this body, these breasts, these hips. How dare she come outside and choose to just live. Speak truth to power with gloss on her lips. Being trans is a myth in a world full of cis, and no, I don’t mean sis like Ecogel and acrylic tips. I mean cisgender.

It don’t matter where you land, either. ‘Cause the straights give me they hate but the gays give me their fever. Yeah, we’re the alpha big gangsters. But I noticed that L, G, and B often aligned with the oppressor, to victimize the T. Now I don’t say it to be mean, and I don’t mean to be cruel, but when black trans women are being killed twice a month, what do you do? Do you normalize our spirits, or do you hush your lips in shame?

Do you misgender us in death so the families can’t be blamed? Do you tell our stories in humanizing form, or do you touch yourself in private mode while watching TS porn? See, unlike your tabs, trans folk can’t be closed, and no matter their resistance, our stories will be told. I had Marsha on my pen when I wrote this piece. 

I had Sylvia in my mind when I graced the page. Octavia on my lips when it’s time to speak. My mama and my movement when I burns my sage. Black trans women are here to stay. We have always been here, since the beginning of time. You can not kill the spirit when the soul is divine. You cannot make ugly a face so damn fine. Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise? That I dance like I have diamonds between my thighs? See a black poet named Maya Angelo taught me to still rise. So I will rise above this administration that is curating my demise.

We need access to healthcare. We need access to safe spaces. We need employment opportunity. We need housing. We need people willing to stand up and educate, the ignorance for the labor land always on us. We need the love of our families. We need lovers in the daytime, even if we don’t pass. We need not to be outed whenever you’re mad. We need our humanity, not to be reduced to sexual intercourse whenever we share our truth. ‘Cause at the end of the day, trans people don’t transition for you. We gonna take this to church. Clap for me. Slow it down y’all, come on. All right. Yes. Come on.

 ♪ I believe I have inside of me everything I need ♪ ♪ To live a bountiful life ♪ ♪ And all the love’s inside of me ♪ ♪ I’ll stand as tall as the tallest tree ♪ ♪ And I’m thankful for each day that I’m given ♪ ♪ Those that are good and the hard ones I’m living ♪ ♪ But most of all I’m thankful for ♪ ♪ Loving who I really am ♪

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Learn more about TransLash Podcast with Imara Jones.

Read transcripts from other interviews and Lives At Stake events here.

Read podcast episode transcripts here.

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