By Imara Jones, originally published by teenvogue.com
We as transgender people possess a power right now stronger than that of those trying to erase us: The ability to imagine our future. In fact, at this moment in history, it is utterly necessary that we stake a claim on a transgender future. That is why I have spent the last year crisscrossing the United States talking to the smartest and bravest trans people I know.
The result of these conversations is my documentary, The Future of Trans, which explores an undeniable point: Because transness is about living out new possibilities, we represent the very ideals of what the future could be. That’s because the future is one without gender conformity or the need to perform gender roles. It is where we will be able to live our authentic selves rather being defined by the expectation of others. It is also a place where we will be defined by what we create rather than what we consume or destroy. This vision is why the future is trans.
With trans visibility in media at historic highs, as evidenced through hit shows like FX’s Pose and HBOMax’s Legendary, not to mention the new feature-length documentary Disclosure with actress Laverne Cox, it might seem strange that a trans future is even in question. But behind this greater visibility harsher realities driven by forces who believe that trans people should not exist loom.
Trans people face attempts by the federal government to deny us full equality, despite the Brooklyn Liberation March earlier this month (the largest gathering for transgender rights in the history of the country), as well as the positive ruling for transgender rights by the Supreme Court just days later. If some conservatives have their way, equal access to schools, healthcare, and even passports could become a thing of the past for trans people. With this oppression, on top of the epidemic of fatal violence against Black trans women, the idea of a trans future can start to seem almost unimaginable. That’s why we must envision ourselves 50 or 100 years from now to know what we are fighting for.
But beyond these forward-looking motivations, there are others for me which are far more personal.
Growing up, so many of us who are trans find it difficult to imagine a future for ourselves. This is true for both people like me, who spent most of our childhood in the 1980s, and those who are young adults now in 2020. The lack of trans visibility in all walks of life, professions, parts of the country, and even our families can make it hard for us to see what life might be like for us as adults, and as elderly people. Without the ability to see ourselves in the future, life can seem like a place marked only by obstacles and loneliness.
This absence of space for myself as a child was damaging and painful in ways I continue to unpack well into my adulthood. The hostility I felt both from within my household and the outside world led me to exist as two people within one. The first was the boy on the outside who everyone saw and wanted to see. The other, the actual person, was the girl who had to hide inside the other like a Russian Matryoshka doll.
I practiced being a boy so much that it became a habit. The more I tried to live up to external expectations the more I lost my real self. As artist Chella, who is in The Future of Trans, said to me once, “I didn’t have language for what I was so I didn’t have language for who I was.” I have spent years separating myself from who I learned to be versus who I am. That journey will likely continue for a longtime still. The past always shows up in unexpected ways.
But it’s that past that helped me imagine a way forward. It’s why I went on my journey, speaking to other trans people about how they navigated growing up trans, and how they plan to continue that journey into their elder years. My past, our past, is what conceived The Future of Trans. I want kids everywhere to see trans people right now validating who they are. I want them to know that they will have an existence, despite what the world tells them. The bottom line is that there is no time ahead without us in it. Angelica Ross and Dominique Jackson of FX’s Pose, artists Alok and Shea Diamond, and many others have powerful things to say about this in the film.
The eight year old girl inside of me still needs to hear this message.