Imara Jones: Hi, fam. It’s Imara Jones. Welcome to the TransLash podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives. This week, we’re not talking about Dave Chappelle. We’re celebrating Latino/Latinx Heritage Month, which means that I get to talk to some incredible leaders working at the intersection of trans and Latinx liberation. First, I’m sitting down with Jennicet Gutierrez, the groundbreaking leader in the fight for trans migrant and immigrant rights. She’s been working for years to free trans people in ICE detention and to preserve the human rights and dignity of all.
Jennicet Gutiérrez: A lot of people don’t see immigration as an LGBTQ issue. In the end, actually, it is. Immigration is an LGBTQ issue.
Imara Jones: Then I will be speaking with Afro-Caribbean activist Joela Rivera, co-founder of The Stonewall Protests in New York City.
Joela Rivera: To them, I’m like a goddess, that my transness is a gift.
Imara Jones: Now before we get started, I want to thank all of our listeners who are writing short podcast reviews, and tweeting out about our show. It really helps get the word out and helps TransLash grow. One comment from YodaforYou really brightened my day. And it’s not only because I’m a Star Wars fan. YodaforYou says, “Y’all, this podcast is everything. I learned so much from each episode, and can’t get enough of Imara’s love and wisdom–” Right back atcha YodaforYou. “I will never stop listening and recommending. Much love to the TransLash team.”
Now, if you tweet at TransLash Media or leave a review on Apple Podcasts, we might read your comment on the show, so do it. Now with that, let’s get to some Trans Joy. Today we’re going to revisit one of my favorite Trans Joy segments from last year. It highlights a group doing essential work called Trans Queer Pueblo. Let’s listen back.
Today, something that’s making me smile is the mutual aid efforts of a justice organization in Arizona. Trans Queer Pueblo is a collective of Trans and Queer migrants of color. They’ve raised over $200,000 to support those in their community who’ve been impacted by the pandemic. The organization has also liberated at least eight immunocompromised people from ICE detention centers since the pandemic started. Here’s Dagoberto Bailon, co-founder of Trans Queer Pueblo about their efforts:
Dagoberto Bailon: We strongly believe that in order for us to be free, we have to be the ones leading because we have experienced all of the oppressions. And so it makes sense that when we look at the pandemic, we understood actually the effects that this was going to have in our community. Because we have seen this time and time again, whether we’re fleeing our countries, or whether our countries were in civil war. And so we understood that we needed to create this fund with a purpose, far more than just paying rent, but also a way to give our membership tools so that they can come out of this stronger than when the pandemic started.
Imara Jones: Dagoberto, thank you so much for the vital work you and Trans Queer Pueblo are doing. You are Trans Joy. Now, onto the heart of our show. Today I am so excited to be speaking with the magnificent Jennicet Gutierrez. Jennicet is a transgender immigrant from Mexico, and she is a leader in the fight to end the detention of trans migrants and immigrants. Trans and gender non-conforming migrants in detention are extremely vulnerable and are at higher risk for receiving abuse and sexual violence. Jennicet made waves a few years ago when she interrupted President Obama at the White House and called for him to release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention. She was escorted from the building, but that didn’t slow her down. She’s currently the national organizer for Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, an organization that works at the national and local levels to advocate for trans and queer Latinx folks through grassroots organizing at the intersection of trans and queer rights, as well as racial justice. She prioritizes uplifting the voices of trans women of color in her racial justice work, and is dedicated to fighting against all oppressive political and social institutions. And full disclosure, Jennicet and I are both members of the Move to End Violence. Jennicet, thank you so much for joining me today.
Jennicet Gutiérrez: Hi Imara, thank you so much for having me.
Imara Jones: So I’m wondering if you can take us to young Jennicet, if you can take us to the trans girl that you were in your upbringing, if you can talk about what that experience was like and about how you were experiencing the world as a young person?
Jennicet Gutiérrez: Yes, thank you for asking that. I think oftentimes, as we become more visible as a community, and are living our truths as adults, a lot of people, especially the opposition, forget that, right, that we’re human beings. You know, we were children at one point in our journey. So I can share briefly a little bit about my upbringing. I was born in Tuxpan, Jalisco, Mexico, to a single mother, she took care of nine children. And ever since I became conscious of my existence, Imara, I’ve always felt a strong connection to my mother, to my sisters, and I used to watch, you know, telenovelas, soap operas, and I always felt connected to the actresses, you know, the acting, that makeup, the dresses and all of that. So that’s when I started to really know that this is who I am, as a person, this is who I am, as a human being.
I remember growing up and will be around the house, putting on my mom’s shoes, the dresses, at some times even my grandma’s, you know, may she rest in peace. You know, I was expressing myself as who I am. But then when I started to, you know, get involved in festivals, and I wanted to put a dress on and be with the girls, I was not allowed to do that, right? And there was the point when I was in junior high, when, every Monday we pay tribute to the flag in Mexico, and had a ceremony. And there was a group of girls that played the drums, and a group of boys that were playing the trumpet. And I did play one time, but then the principal found out and the following week, I was not allowed to join the girls, I was told if I wanted to then I can use to trumpet. So I just like, “I’m done,” you know, so. So the idea of me, coming to terms with who I am has been since
I’ve been conscience of my existence, right? Questioning my assigned gender at birth, challenging all those expectations. And I remember one time, I was around probably seven or eight years old, and I was at the neighbor’s house, and I totally got dressed up for the first time. They put like nylons, they put a dress, makeup and a wig on. And, you know, I just feel so comfortable with myself, I was so happy. When I saw myself in the mirror I just saw like, “This is who Jennicet really is.” And to the point where I asked to be taken a photo of it, right, and I was so proud of that picture.
But I knew that I couldn’t really show everyone. And I had a friend who was older, a gay cis man–who identified as a cis gay man. And I show him the photo and he told my sister, and then my sister told my mom and you can just imagine right there, what the reaction was, like, really not good. And, and, you know, I was told not to go back to that home again, and I just remember my mother saying like, “Boys don’t wear dresses, they don’t wear makeup didn’t wear, you know, high heels or things like that.” So those are some of the recollections that I can share that come to mind.
But I do believe that it is critical, especially now with the, so much anti-trans legislation that is happening across the country, targeting the youth, right, trying to legislate our existence our bodies and even punished us if we don’t play the role that they assigned to us.
Imara Jones: Yeah, no, I thank you for that. And we spent the summer focusing on specifically the forces behind that legislation. And you’re absolutely right, they are targeting trans youth. So you grew up clearly loved, but also with a family that was enforcing gender roles. And you grew up in Mexico. And I’m wondering when all of those forces essentially came to, and collided with, the United States of America. What brought your family here and what was Is your experience when you crossed that border?
Jennicet Gutiérrez: When I came to the US, I was 15. And just like many other families, who struggled financially, because of lack of jobs, lack of resources in our hometowns in our countries, our family made the difficult decision to migrate to the US. So my mom, single mother with nine children, had a small business to sustained, you know, her, her children and, and feed us and have a roof over our heads. So things were getting really difficult. And my older siblings started to make the journey up north. And they were settling in in LA. So I remember my brother came, and I wanted to be here along my brother, and they’re like, “Well, you need to finish in junior high school first.” And so I was able to finish and then came to the border. And I just remember being like, “What’s really going on?” Right, I was 15.
And there were two attempts on my end to cross the border without documentation, and it is one of the scariest things I’ve ever felt emotionally. So there was the first attempt, I remember, giving a document that didn’t belong to me. And when we started to walk through the lines, because we were walking through it, and I just felt my heart, you know, palpitating harder and harder, I was sweating. I was nervous. And this lady was guiding us, me and my sister. And she said, “Do not move lines to stay with me.” And here I am walking and walking and but there was so many people, and I think I changed lanes. And then the ICE officer started to question me and so I got deported.
And then the second time, I was more like nervous, “What’s gonna happen am I gonna get through?” And I remember walking around a park in Tijuana, and this other lady with her son was telling me like this time, we, you know, this is what you’re gonna do. And we went through the same lanes that I had previously attempted. And she said, “I’m gonna walk with you. And then there’s going to be a point where I’m going to leave you, and then my–” her child “–is going to tap you on your back. And when you hear that tap, you just start walking, walking, and then you just don’t look anywhere and just go through it.” I remember feeling that top of my back from the child, and I started to walk and walk and walk, and don’t look back, I didn’t look sideways.
And I just kept walking and walking until I got through and I honestly don’t know how that happened. But then we were able to settle in LA. I remember, I started school a month later, it was a very eye-opening for me. And then I just started to continue to come into terms with who I am. And it was the struggles and it was challenging for me,
Imara Jones: Can you talk to people who may not understand what it actually means to be searching for and unveiling who you really are as a person, your trans identity, within the context of being an undocumented immigrant to the United States?
Jennicet Gutiérrez: Yeah, those are two very complex intersecting identities that I feel as a human being cannot be compromised. I am a trans woman, I am an immigrant person living in the United States, and I cannot, for whatever reason, go into any space and say, “Okay, right now, I cannot speak about being trans because you’re talking about immigration, and you’re talking about these issues,” or vice versa. I cannot go into an LGBTQ space, and say, “Today, I don’t want to talk about my immigration status.” I think it is those pieces that make who I am, and my experience, so profound, that I just can’t compromise that and a lot of people don’t see, you know, immigration as an LGBTQ issue. In the end, actually, it is, immigration is an LGBTQ issue. You know, for many years, Imara, I couldn’t share who I was, right?
When I started to get jobs and, and had to do whatever I had to do to survive, to, to have the basic needs. I had to sort of hide my trans identity and also don’t disclose my immigration status, because if I will say anything, there was the potential for me to be fired, right? So, you know, these are the things that we carry as individuals, and there’s so many people in this country who are struggling with both identities, and sometimes even more, right, so for me to be able to now openly talk about both, and how difficult it’s been, but yet I am determined to continue to fight. And that’s why to me, there is no compromised, in terms of fighting [for] my LGBT community or for the immigrants rights.
Imara Jones: One of the things that I think would strike anyone about you, and I think is apparent from this interview, is just how gentle you are. And forgiving, and open, and all of the things that we want everyone to aspire to be, but that you don’t necessarily associate with an activist, right, with a warrior, with somebody who is a fighter, with someone who is willing to challenge the President of the United States in his own house. And so I’m wondering if you can talk about when you decided to become an activist, and what is the part of you that draws on that strength?
Jennicet Gutiérrez: Now that I’m in the movement, and just like, grateful that I had a strong mother, right, that with all hurt her own personal struggles, that she instill very good values in me, that I still carry on, even if she doesn’t maybe realize, right? How, like profound work she did, as a single mother, every experience that I’ve had of rejection, of violence, were like, sort of getting me ready for this very difficult social justice work that I’m involved. And when I was invited to go to the White House, I sort of started to learn about, you know, the violent history, and how that people’s house was created.
But for me, like, I–again, I was carrying so many things, and I just, I was just getting really tired, I was really, really tired of hiding, I was tired of living in shame, and having to deny myself, right, to my, to myself, first and foremost. I was tired of having to deny myself to my family, and to my community. So when I was there, then I started to see how people were all like, super happy to be there to celebrate and to hear the President speak. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the injustices, especially trans immigrant woman faced in detention centers and prisons. And I just couldn’t just sit and be complacent. If I had that opportunity, I had to go and, and speak up. And that’s what it went down.
Imara Jones: You move around the country a lot, you speak to a lot of groups, you go to a lot of protests. And I’m wondering when people who are trans and people who are migrants come up to you and say, “I am here because of you, and I thank you so much.” What does that make you feel? How does, how do you experience that?
Jennicet Gutiérrez: It’s a really good feeling. It makes me feel seen, it makes me feel affirmed and loved. Things that I wasn’t embracing myself, right? So to be in that position, to inspire other individuals to be themselves. They share very personal things about their journeys. And I’m just thankful that they trust me enough to be in the position that I am in. So it is something that I never imagined I was going to be doing and, and inspiring people, but again, I just try to see pieces of me in them as well, because I know when other community members are struggling to find themselves, like, in some way we all struggle with them.
Imara Jones: Well, thank you so much, Jennicet. I really appreciate this conversation with you. I think the only way that I can end is one of the ways that I ended a conversation with Cecilia Gentili, which is when I said that the United States is a better country because you chose to be here.
Jennicet Gutiérrez: Thank you love. Thank you. That means a lot, yeah.
Imara Jones: We all look forward to following your leadership.
Jennicet Gutiérrez: Likewise, Imara. And I know you will continue to do really beautiful things with the community. So I’m really, I’m just really honored to be in this fight alongside you and so many other powerful people.
Imara Jones: That was Jennicet Gutierrez, a leader in the fight for human rights for people at the intersections of trans, migrant, and immigration identities in the United States and around the world.
I hope you’re all excited as I am today to be speaking with the wonderful Joela Rivera. Joela is a Black trans woman and Afro-Caribbean revolutionary activist with ancestry from Trinidad, Tobago, and Puerto Rico. She is dedicated to creating a future where Black and brown trans people thrive and are loved. She’s based here in New York City, where I am, born and raised in the Bronx, where I am not. And she’s the co-founder of The Stonewall Protests. Each week, she helps to bring out hundreds of people to the streets to fight for abolition and Black trans liberation. Joela began organizing the protest last year after the murder of George Floyd.
The Stonewall Protests started by demonstrating and practicing civil disobedience outside the Stonewall Inn. Now the group is active throughout the city. And they’re helping distribute mutual aid to vulnerable trans people. And did I mention that Joela has done all of this, and she’s just 20?! Joela, thank you so much for joining me.
Joela Rivera: No, thank you so much. I really, really, I mean, all our interactions are always so brief. And that’s so unfortunate, but I’m so happy to have this privilege to do this with you.
Imara Jones: Thank you, thank you. Yeah, they’re always kind of in the heat of battle. I wanted to start out because I think that it’s really important when we think about Latino, Latinx experiences and trans identities that we understand the breadth of the entire community, which includes, of course, Afro-Latinx identities spanning the Caribbean, and what that means in terms of your experience and how you see yourself. And I think that’s really condensed in your experience. So I’m excited for this conversation. And in order to kind of have context for who you are, I’m wondering if you can actually just tell us about your parents, and where they grew up and what that means in terms of where they come from, in the Caribbean?
Joela Rivera: Both my parents are first generation. My mother, both her parents were from Trinidad and Tobago, and my father, both his parents were from Puerto Rico. My father actually spent a lot of time living back and forth. He always appreciated that sense of belonging that he got, living in Brooklyn and in Puerto Rico. And what I grew up seeing was, as a child, I couldn’t tell when I was in Puerto Rico and when I was in Brooklyn, because in Bushwick, for example, or at least back when I was younger, Bushwick was predominantly Puerto Rican, I was always immersed in the Puerto Rican culture and understanding, especially as New York Ricans. And one thing I always admired about my father and my grandmother, were, they never would refer to us as Latino or Latinx or Hispanic.
I never heard that term growing up, because my grandmother always knew who she was coming from Puerto Rico, my father knew who he was. And we were African people, we were a part of the African diaspora. And these, this new terminology did not apply to us, did not apply to our ancestry, especially when a lot of people who do identify or refer to themselves as Hispanic or Latinx, don’t even acknowledge that same ancestry. And on my mother’s side, she was immersed. I mean, she did not have the opportunity to actually live in Trinidad, but she was immersed in the culture here. The house that she grew up in, were filled her her aunties, her uncles, her great-grandma, her grandma, obviously she grew up also in their mindset as well.
Religious-based ignorance. So that’s where now Trinidad meets the Bronx, where she broke out of that mold because she was able to actually experience other people and not experience an island of just people where everybody thinks the same and everybody believes in the same thing.
Imara Jones: I’m wondering as you were growing up in this, this world of exposure to different cultures, but also rooted kind of in the same experience, how you blended them or experienced them as a person?
Joela Rivera: So that’s the thing. Living in New York, a lot of people will refer to it as a melting pot of culture but not even 5, 10 years ago, it was more so not a melting pot, but segregated. That you had all these cultures in, in one city, but they were all in different neighborhoods. And that’s kind of how I grew up, I grew up understanding that there was a very strong difference between being Trinidadian and being Puerto Rican. Like, going to school, I was so confused. Because I…on Trinidad, you’re Black; in Puerto Rico, you were Black. And that’s why I always refer to myself as Afro-Caribbean, because I don’t want to erase any part of my experience. And I feel Afro-Caribbean is a powerful term, because in the Caribbean, we’re all the same.
Like our culture is all the same. Our languages are only different because what country decided to colonize us and leave their little stamp on us. But other than that our history are all the same. We came from the same place, we are indigenous to Africa. I’m just happy that I have come to that conclusion. And that that my childhood and growing up did not help me come to that conclusion, I can tell you that.
Imara Jones: How did your childhood not help you to come to that conclusion, I’m wondering what you said about being in school, and “I’m Black, regardless of what language I’m speaking or where the country of origin is.”
Joela Rivera: So when I came to school, a lot of people in the Bronx, one of the biggest populations is not even Puerto Ricans, but Dominicans, and Black, Black people, either African American or West Indian. And when we were younger, in middle school, everybody was confused by the last name. And then confused by the texture of my hair, how my hair would grow out, I didn’t make any sense. Like my, my presence did not make any sense. And on top of that, I’m transgender. But that is just–so that was just everything was just not making sense to nobody. And it was just unfortunate, because the people that were, you know, telling me that I was Spanish were darker than I was, telling me that they weren’t Black either. I feel like I grew up with that, like having these kids say all these things with afros on top of their head, dark skin, Afro-centric features that would look at you and say, “You’re not Black, and I’m not Black, either. We’re Spanish.”
Imara Jones: Regardless of the language you were speaking or the community, that you found yourself, the things that other people were trying to impose upon you to separate your identities…you saw them as being unitary. I mean, that’s even the way that you’ve talked about them here. And I’m wondering if you can talk about that understanding and how it intersected with your growing understanding of your gender?
Joela Rivera: When I would look in the mirror, I knew I was a woman. And I didn’t need anybody to tell me that. Because I had my ancestors telling me that, I had my Black trans ancestors telling me that. And every time I looked in the mirror, or every time I looked on TV, every time I looked outside, I related to the experiences that I was seeing. Black experience, sex worker experiences, transgender experiences, because all of that again, and people will pretend like none of these things have been in front of our faces, but it has always, I mean, transgender people, sex work, Blackness, whether that be police brutality, or culture, has been in front of all of our face, it has been in front of my face. I just was paying attention. That, that’s how I knew.
Imara Jones: What for you is the complexity that you had to navigate of being Afro-Caribbean and trans? What are the particular you know, challenges and/or gifts that originate from that?
Joela Rivera: My transness is Afro-Caribbean. And this is the culture before whiteness ever touched it. Our embrace of beauty, of art, of humanity, of the body. And it is unfortunate that we hurt each other. Specifically that I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, when I know, or the last time I ever saw majority of my family in Trinidad, I understand will be the last time I will ever see them. Because I will never be able to walk into their house again.
Imara Jones: Can you explain why, for your family in Trinidad, that was the last time that like you, last time you were there was the last time, why is that?
Joela Rivera: Because I now respect myself. And I now love myself to not even put myself in a position like that. My family is overzealous Catholics.
Imara Jones: Even in Trinidad, Trinidians are Catholic?
Joela Rivera: Yeah. What frustrates me, what always frustrated me was that I am literally doing God’s work. But at the end of the day, I’m doing this work with a dress on and with heels on. And for that…doesn’t matter what I do, I am wrong, and everything that I do is wrong. Many of them, mostly my aunties, will never allow me in their home, all of them will deadname me, will misgender me purposely, and I don’t deserve to be in that type of abuse. Nobody does.
Imara Jones: And then how does your Puerto Rican family interact with the fact that you are a trans woman?
Joela Rivera: I really believe that my Puerto Rican family are more aware of their ancestry, of their Blackness, of the African culture that was taken away from them. And that’s why they have always been so supportive, and never questioned anything. I never had to explain myself, because they, they have some form of Christianity, but my grandmother, she practices Hoodoo, you know, that’s her religion, that’s her way of life. To them. I’m like, a goddess, that my transness is a gift. So it’s very, it’s two very different experiences.
Imara Jones: Yeah, just for people who don’t know Hoodoo is, is a religion of people of African descent in the Caribbean, and also the southeastern United States, which is based upon, infuses West African beliefs as a fundamental part of its religious belief system. All of this is so rich in terms of like, these various identities and how they form an intersect with you, for so many people who identify as Latino, as Latinx, or Hispanic, there is sometimes this idea that there is a conflict between being trans and/or being your racial or ethnic identity. And for you the way that you’re describing it for you, these two things are actually one in the same. They’re not separate.
Joela Rivera: No, exactly. And I think that just goes back to people’s lack of education on their own cultures. But all I ask is to really look deep into yourself and ask yourself, “Why do you love being from here? Why do you love your flag? Why do you wave your flag with pride? Why do you glow and glisten, when the sun hits you? Why do you make sure to wear your hair out? And puff it out into your afro? Why don’t you do anything to hide your big lips and your big nose?” Because that, that, you love that, cause that is who you are. That is telling the story. Your skin tells the story of where you’ve been, where your ancestors been. Your transness does the same thing. It’s just another feature of you, doesn’t define who you are as a whole. But you have been made so perfectly. Because, again, each one of us, I truly believe, is here to tell a story, is here to relive a story, or is here to allow our story to have a ending.
Imara Jones: You are who you are in your complexity–and 19, by the way, a teenager technically. Just want to state that for the record. That’s why every time you’re like, “When I was younger,” I was like, “But–what are you talking about?”
Last year, you’re 19, and you’re living in New York City with these complex identities that are layered: Black, Afro-Caribbean, which includes Trinidadian and Tobagoan ancestry and Puerto Ricoan, Puerto Rican ancestry, and then on top of that you’re trans. And then George Floyd is murdered. And what was the thing that brought those, all those things together for you, that compelled you to want to hit the streets every day, for over a year?
Joela Rivera: Because I knew I wouldn’t die. It…just living in the Bronx alone, when somebody would be murdered by the police or when somebody would be fed up with something, they would lead their own revolt, and either get imprisoned, beaten or you wouldn’t see them again. And now then came this moment in history where you had your whole community that’s gonna stand behind you. So for me to just one day randomly get up because I was fed up–no, I always been fed up. But now when you have your community there, that’s…that’s what made me feel like I can fall back on something that I will be safe. I felt secured, being able to go out.
Imara Jones: You’re in this situation where as you said, “I was fed up every day,” and suddenly you realize that everyone else was fed up. And that somehow gave you a new sense of courage?
Joela Rivera: Yes, yeah.
Imara Jones: Right, a new sense of like, wanting to go out there and to sort of be out in front, to point to injustice that you were feeling all along.
Joela Rivera: It speaks to our power, when we are a collective. I know that if it wasn’t for this movement, who knows where I would be right now? Because we all gave each other power. And we all helped each other find our voice, and find our calling and find our passion. And that that’s why I am truly grateful.
Imara Jones: You guys were on the streets for probably nearly, what, 400 to 500 days. So that’s a really long time. And in that you were saying that you felt safe in the beginning. But there were so many times when you were arrested by the police, you are assaulted during those arrests, and a whole host of other things. And I’m wondering if for you, as the protests were did you continue to feel safe, or those experiences just made you want to continue even more?
Joela Rivera: So I’ll be honest, when it came to the sense of safety, it was more so an overall generalization. But when I was actually out there, the first weeks, I was very quiet, I did not want to be leading nothing. I just wanted to be a part of a community where we all agreed on racism in America. And I would bring my pride flag out. At that time, I was not socially transitioning, and I was still allowing people to refer to me as he/him. And it was not safe to have a pride flag in these marches. And I always make this note, and I don’t believe that this is tearing down the movement, but it’s helping us understand the reality of the Black community.
You know, I had Black men that were very angered by seeing that flag in any march involving Black people. That’s when it became like it, now there needs to be a safe space, because I know, Black trans people, Black queer people that wants to be out here because this is their fight too, but can’t because they’re scared. They’re scared to even step outside, so God forbid, stepping into an environment where they know nobody. It didn’t have a name for like three months, because it was just, it was just here, we’re meeting this day, just to feel safe, specifically to cent–center, of course, Black queer and trans people, but also to center the education of Black cisgendered people as well.
Imara Jones: Centering an idea within an idea, which is of the essential nature of Black trans liberation to Black liberation overall. I think that that’s a really powerful thing that you all brought to these protests that kind of came out of this larger protest movement, which I think is one of the reasons why it continued even beyond when the George Floyd protest stopped is because it was, it’s a really essential idea that people found compelling and wasn’t being said.
Joela Rivera: Even still, we barely say the names of Black cisgendered people. I mean, how many people have passed away? Although in the community, we were still very made aware of the Black cisgender people that were being murdered by the police, rightfully so. Now, how do we put Black trans women in that same category? How do we build in our community, a need that Black trans life taken, hits us just as hard as a Black cisgendered life taken, and that was really the basis of continuing, marching, especially being able to march in neighborhoods all across the city.
Imara Jones: Yeah, I think for me, you know, I went to the very, very, very first one. And I distinctly remember you and your story of what it was like to be Afro-Caribbean and trans and young in a city and to feel constantly preyed upon by everyone. And I think that for me, that was an example of all of the identities that you are and what it actually means to be all of the things that you are in America in this moment, was the fact that you have to contend with so much and it was a really powerful moment for me and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Joela Rivera: I really appreciate those things because I really, when I–when I speak, it’s not like…it comes from the heart. It’s not a story or it’s not rehearsed. For all of us who spoke, for all Black trans women that do speak, it is our own experience, that we are sharing with you. Our own trauma that we are sharing with you, and how we are still these monumental figures in front of you, sharing the pain of people that we know will never be able to speak, or we know can’t speak for themselves, and you share their stories. Every week, I got up there. And I said, how my week went, and everybody was able to witness my transition. And I just feel that truth. And I really appreciate when people see it.
Imara Jones: Lastly, I wanted to ask you, what is it that you’re ultimately fighting for? And what I mean by that, is that, what do you hope that by having protested for hundreds of days in New York City, and gone to Puerto Rico to protest there as well, and continuing to fight against all the injustice is that you see, what do you hope that the 20-year-old Joela, the 19-year-old Joela is doing, so that other Afro-Caribbean trans people don’t have to do when they’re 19 and when they’re 20?
Joela Rivera: I want a world where you speak for yourself, where you decide the life that you want to live, where life is the first priority. When the most oppressed person or oppressed group of people in this society is liberated, is seen, is heard, is looked up to, of course being the Black trans women in this country. That, that–and all this sounds like a fairy tale, I know. And I get it a lot. Abolitionist practices and ideas do sound very unrealistic.
But isn’t that so sad that we think that way, that…thinking that everybody can be fed one day, that thinking that everybody will be housed one day, to think that nobody will be murdered because of their sexual identity, their gender identity, their color, how they look? Why? Why can’t we live in that world? Why can’t we live in a world without currency? Our indigenous ancestors did. And that’s really what I’ll be working on. And I think the best way to do that is just by talking about it, and practicing it in my own life as well.
Imara Jones: Well, and then also dressing up in sequined dresses.
Joela Rivera: Oh, well, of course naturally.
Imara Jones: That’s the other part that you left out. And I know that I speak for everyone is that if this is what you’re doing at 19 and 20, we can’t wait to see what 25 and 30 looks like. It’s going to be quite something. And quite a show. And thank you so much for the courage and the bravery that you displayed. If this society was better, you wouldn’t have had to do it at such a young age.
Joela Rivera: No, but I am, honestly, I couldn’t have asked for anything else in my life. I, I am blessed in the fact that I know what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I know what my dreams are and my dreams are becoming realities. Thank you so much for allowing me to share that.
Imara Jones: Thank you so much. That was Joella Rivera, who is the co-founder of The Stonewall Protests in New York City.
Thank you for joining me on the TransLash podcast. Now listen all the way through to the end of the show for something extra. If you liked what you heard, and I hope you did, because you listened all the way through, please go to Apple podcasts to rate and review us. You can listen to TransLash wherever you get your podcasts. Please check us out on the web at translash.org to sign up for our weekly newsletter. It’s awesome and includes a weekly video from me.
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Alright, TransLash family, what am I looking forward to? Well, I’m looking forward to the eventual pickup of a show that I got to hear about at a pitch, where they you know, pitch different shows and ideas and people get together and say, “this is good,” or “this is not” and you know, “people should actually develop it and turn it into a television show.” And it’s actually done by two listeners of this show. Ari Darnell and Maddy Smith, and their program that they pitched is called Camp, and Camp is a comedy about a camp, a summer camp, which advertises itself as a conversion therapy camp, but actually is a an affirming space for LGBTQ youth, which is hiding that fact from the rest of the world. And I thought it was so brilliant because conversion therapy is a real issue for so many young people in our community, and this program would not only provide a way for us to be able to relieve some of the stress and angst that people have accumulated and trauma from experiences like this, but also highlight this issue for the rest of the world. And so there are lots of people who can actually help them get this to all of us, Comedy Central and a whole bunch of other places.
So I’m hoping that it gets picked up and giving them a shout out that it happens. And the other thing I’m looking forward to really quickly is just seeing how our community continues to respond to Dave Chappelle. It’s so weird, our relationship with entertainment. It is both a way that we can center ourselves and our humanity, like through programs like Camp, which hopefully will get picked up, but at the same time is a place that causes us a lot of pain and is why the world is arrayed against us in so many ways. So this ongoing, sort of way that we unpack all of this and find a way to make the entertainment work for us is something I’m actually looking forward to over the next couple of weeks.
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