Raquel Willis Keynote: Outfest 6th Annual Trans, Nonbinary, & Intersex Summit

At the 6th annual Outfest Los Angeles Trans, Nonbinary & Intersex Summit in West Hollywood, California, on July 23, 2022, attendees shared an afternoon of storytelling, dialogue and laughter. This year’s summit was a time-capsule titled Manifesting Our Future – a call to action to imagine ourselves 50 to 100 years into the future and to leave behind a record of our stories. The Summit featured a keynote speaker, the incredible Raquel Willis.


Raquel Willis is a Black transgender activist, award-winning writer, and media strategist dedicated to elevating the dignity of marginalized people, particularly Black transgender people. She will be releasing her debut memoir about her coming of identity and activism with St. Martin’s Press in 2022.

TransLash was in attendance at this event and recorded an IG live, but Meta/Instagram unfortunately shadow-banned our video in the USA and worldwide. To make this conversation accessible, we ripped the IG Live video for YouTube along with a transcript, below.

TRANSCRIPT: Raquel Willis Keynote at Outfest

Raquel Willis: …Who made this festival possible this year. And of course, the folks who are returning who have always been a part of Outfest. It’s such an honor for me to be here. I am an east coast girl nowadays. Okay, shout out to the east coast. And I don’t like to call this the best coast, but I’ma let y’all have it. Because the weather is really serving something much better than what was going on in New York.

So, yeah, I’m just so honored and humbled to be here today to deliver this keynote. And also just so glad to share space with so many folks that I love in community, and that I admire. Just a few, Uncle Cazembe Jackson, of course, Pidgeon Pagonis, Jack Qu’emi, I hope I’m pronouncing that right. Zackary Drucker, Nori Reed, Jes Tom, and so many others who will be showcasing, speaking, and performing, I give it up to y’all because we are in this interlaced tapestry of storytelling. And we all do our part and it’s so beautiful to see how it unfolds time and time again.

So, I guess I want to kind of start off and just give it up to Outfest history. I did a little research before I showed up just to know a little bit more. This is my first time being in this physical space at Outfest. I was a part of a conversation during the pandemic, but it is so great to be here today. And, one of the things that I marvel so much in the history of Outfest is just the fact that y’all are 40 years deep into this work, ya know?

And it’s not easy even in this time to elevate LGBTQIA plus brilliance, but the fact that y’all have been doing that for so much longer than even many of us have even been alive is just beautiful. That’s not shade, my bad. But it really isn’t shade. It actually is a testament to the sheer audacity that it takes to kind of slice through the queer media blackout. And, particularly since it started in the ’80’s I just see so many similarities between that time, you know, a devastating pandemic, ongoing attacks against our community legislatively, and of course the ire that we draw.

But I think that it’s so beautiful that we’re able to continue to push through that as a community, as trans folks, as non-binary folks, as intersex folks, and everyone else as well. I think what I also draw from that power is that no matter what our community faces, the hardships, the struggles, the strife is that we take ourselves seriously and we take our stories seriously. We take our voices seriously. And that is a radical thing for us to do throughout time. I also just think about the power of our artists, producers, documentarians, storytellers, and those who make their visions possible, and how it should never be underestimated. I come from a background of studying journalism but then doing community organizing.

And I know how difficult it can be for a lot of our storytellers to be taken seriously. So often there is a skepticism about the role of the artist, a skepticism about the role of the documentarian in movement work, in progressing our communities on the margins forward. But, so much of that is important because we have to leave those bread crumbs for the next generation coming up. They have to know the folks who have been fighting. They have to know the folks who’ve been crafting visions of liberation and documenting what they’ve been through, so that they can then craft their own stories.

I also think that it’s radical, even beyond that, to see our lives as valuable. As queer and trans and non-binary and intersex folks, we continuously get all of this ire and all of these messages that we shouldn’t exist. And for anyone of our experience to commit to making products about our experiences and to then produce them and then share them with the world, that is fucking radical. And that is fucking powerful.

So, I want to give some love to the folks who maybe are on, you know, on the edge trying to figure out whether they’re going to continue to create. ‘Cause it takes a lot of energy to continuously put yourself out there. I hope that you see, even if it’s just one screening or you hear just one person’s testimony on what they created, that it encourages you to take that leap, to take those risks, and to create. Because you got a whole community out here boo, that wants to see you shine. That want to see you [inaudible].

And it’s hard, you know? We live in a time where any given day we hear about some act of mass violence, this ongoing epidemic of violence that’s largely against Black and brown trans women folk. We continue to see the erasure of the experiences around mental health in our community, the experiences around suicide within our community. So I know it’s hard, but I hope that those little nuggets you pull from today and from these weeks of programming will be enough to get you through, to get you to where you can create those works that we so desperately continue to need. All right, so I’m gonna reel it back a little bit.

So, I am in the midst of edits on my memoir, which will be out in less than 30 days, so write that down. But, it draws a lot out of me to go through these edits. I was just telling someone right before this my editor was like, “I need you to go deeper.” I’m like “Girl, the world’s got a lot from me over these, what? 31 some years. It’s like how deep you want me to go?” And then I’ve already spilled so much of my experiences on the page, it’s like therapy.

But you know, I have to remind myself that I became a writer, I became a storyteller, a cultural organizer because I saw immense potential in what I consistently told myself: that I belong to be here, that I belong here on this earth. I see that immense potential is so much of the work that is being shown at Outfest and beyond and so much of the things that our people continue to create. And I really do believe that stories are an organizing tool. It’s what’s kept me going in my life, it’s what kept so many other folks going through their lives. And, we have to continue that work.

I grew up as a young Black person figuring out, you know, that they were queer and trans in Augusta, Georgia. Yes, right in the heart of the south. And queer media was so essential for my survival. 15 or so years ago in Middleland High School, I wasn’t surrounded by affirming images of queerness, much like I’m sure many of you weren’t. I was isolated.

But it was a saving grace of queer books that I bought at Barnes and Noble and like hid under my bed and hoped that my parents didn’t see. That got me through, it was the queer movies and the TV shows that I discovered on LimeWire. Those were the days. Anyway, but it was those movies and TV shows with depictions of our people that got me through. And of course I have to make sure I deleted that search history. Nonetheless, it was those things.

So, if you feel like your work doesn’t have impact, if you feel like you aren’t getting the accolades you need, you aren’t getting the shine that you need, just know that the impact of what you do, what you create, what you commit yourself to, it is immeasurable. I have people come up to me all the time who are like I saw this thing or I heard this thing and I’m like, oh, you saw that? You heard that? You never know who is consuming the things that you put out into the world. So that means you better show up, you better make sure it’s in line with your values, and you better respect it.

I like to think that what we create and document should have an understanding that there is a hidden audience of queer, trans, non-binary, and intersex youth in mind. And yes, you know, there was this poll that came out last year, I know we’ve been hit over the head with it a lot, that’s like so many more people are identifying as LGBTQ. And so many of us are like child, we’ve been trying to tell you. But obviously there’s a lot of fear mongering it it.

But, I think about gen Z. There’s an assumption that, oh the kids are all right, they’ve got it covered, they’ll figure it out for themselves. And I don’t buy into that mindset. I think we have to continue to fight even when we supposedly get ours, right? Even when we move out of the town that we thought we couldn’t stay in. Or we leave the job that we thought couldn’t ever affect us. We have to continue to pay it forward. Because the bigoted, Christo-fascist forces against us they are hell bent on silencing us––not just silencing us, they want to demolish us. And we can’t allow them to dim our light. And we definitely can’t allow them to dim the lights of those who are coming up behind us.

This year, I was honored to work on the Trans Youth Town Hall, in partnership with Logo, and had so much support from orgs like GLAAD and so many other folks. It was beautiful to hear directly from trans and non-binary youth about their hopes and dreams and fears. What I’m reminded of is that with each generation coming up in their own version of the hardest times that we continue to find new ways to soar beyond our imaginations, our ancestors’ imaginations, and that’s a beautiful thing. So yes, in some ways the kids are all right, but we can’t give up, we gotta continue to fight alongside them.

When I think about someone like Marsha, I think about someone who discounted, undervalued in so many different ways, probably had no idea of the lasting impact of just living authentically, just calling truth to power. And so I hope that can be a reminder to us that that is a part of manifesting our future. It’s about living authentically, creating authentically in the hardest of times, under the most dire of circumstances.

And even if it eventually leads us to our demise, or whatever, or they finally get us, they won’t actually get us. What we produce in the world, the flowers that we’ve left behind, the bees that we’ve pollinated, will continue to be here.

So it’s about leaving those bread crumbs for the next generation of queerlings and enbies and all of our descendants that we don’t even have labels for yet. So I wanna leave us off with a little kind of call and response, I love a little call and response. And the speech needs flavor too. I’m about to start like Viola Davis, stop crying. Nope, reel it in. So repeat after me. Dear world,

Crowd: Dear world,

Willis: I am not a mess.

Crowd: I am not a mess.

Willis: I am real as hell.

Crowd: I am real as hell.

Willis: I am not a possibility.

Crowd: I am not a possibility.

Willis: I am potential.

Crowd: I am potential.

Willis: I’m not your commodity.

Crowd: I am not your commodity.

Willis: I am the master of my story.

Crowd: I am the master of my story.

Willis: Again.

Crowd: I am the master –

Willis: I’m gonna get there. You know, it’s the southern drawl, like I get a little, you gotta give me a little faith. Dear world,

Crowd: Dear world,

Willis: I am not a mess.

Crowd: I am not a mess.

Willis: I am real as hell.

Crowd: I am real as hell.

Willis: I am not a possibility.

Crowd: I am not a possibility.

Willis: I am potential.

Crowd: I am potential.

Willis: I am not your commodity.

Crowd: I am not your commodity.

Willis: I am the master of my story.

Crowd: I am the master of my story.

Willis: Okay, thank you.


Outfest, established in 1982, is a queer arts, media, and entertainment organization that empowers LGBTQIA+ storytellers and clears pathways to visibility of their work by all members of the public.

The 6th annual Outfest Los Angeles Trans, Nonbinary & Intersex Summit showcased a multitude of trans, nonbinary & intersex experiences as a vision for the future. This year’s summit was a time-capsule titled Manifesting Our Future – a call to action to imagine ourselves 50 to 100 years into the future and to leave behind a record of our stories. While trans, nonbinary and intersex people have garnered varying levels of visibility, the goal of this year’s summit was to unpack how visibility can shape our collective future. Storytelling is a manifestation of our imagination and the futures we dream of as trans, nonbinary and intersex people. The future is ours, the future is here, and right now more than ever, we have the power to manifest it. https://www.outfest.org/

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