Imara Jones: Hey fam, it’s Imara. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast where we tell trans stories to save trans lives.
Well Mother’s Day is on Sunday May 8, that’s just one day before my birthday of May 9, just saying. And Mother’s Day raises the central question for everybody – “What does it mean to be a mother and what is mothering all about?” You know, in our community it means so many different things some of us can have functioning relations with our mom. Or we can have people who stepped into the role who are not our biological mothers who are our chosen family of parents be important. Or we may have lost a mother, which brings up so many different things regardless of what kind of relationship we had. Or how they came to be our parents either through chosen family or through biological family. And the mere presence of trans women in particular shifts totally what it means to be a mother overall. The ability to be able to fill so many roles that are not linked to biology, underscoring this overall question for us – what does it mean to be a mother?
So, today we are going to talk to trans mother writ large, Ceyenne Doroshow to unpack all of this and to get new insights into mothering for our community in all of its various ways. I have to say that this episode is slightly hard for me because of the connection between Mother’s Day and my own birthday. My own mother died 10 years ago and that connection sometimes is a sad one. And so all of you who have experienced that as well, my heart goes out to you. But we’re gonna learn a lot from talking to Ceyenne, and I can’t wait for you to hear our conversation. But, like always, we’re gonna start out with a little bit of trans joy.
As I think about the state of things for trans people this Mothers Day, something that brings me joy is seeing parents that love and support their trans kids. I mean, it just makes my heart so full. I mean, we see them on TV, we often see their moms standing right beside them. These moms want what every mom should want although sadly not enough. One of these moms is Ngozi Nnaji. Her daughter, Andraya Yearwood, is a runner from Connecticut who was the subject of viscous attacks from people who didn’t believe she should compete in high school sports. We outlined Andraya’s case in the first episode of last year’s Anti-Trans Hate Machine. Ngozi has been beside her daughter from day one of this terrible assault on her daughter. But like a lot of parents of trans kids, she was afraid to initially, it wasn’t all about bravery. So this Mother’s Day, we spoke to her about supporting and loving Andraya as she moves through the world and what her example says for other parents who are trying to do the same.
Ngozi Nnaji: “My kids have termed me the helicopter mom but I don’t think it goes without reason or warrant right because the society that we live and the things that Black kids, Black children, trans children have to deal with. We pay such a critical role in the lives of trans people right because when they are questioning themselves and the world is questioning who they are, we have to be the ones to remind them that they’re beautiful and unconditionally they are accepted. I would tell any parent that you know first its about making sure they understand that you love them no matter what cause that will sustain everything. That will overcome everything. Knowing that they have that support they can look to that. They can find a safe haven in that. Also just be careful not to let your own transition as a parent get caught up. If you get caught up in that then you lose sight of what’s important and what’s kind of the positive in all of this.
Imara Jones: Ngozi Nnaji, mother of 4, including a beautiful trans girl, Andraya, you are trans joy.
I’m excited to welcome a pillar of our community to the show. Ceyenne Doroshow is a powerful force who mothers and supports countless people in our community, helping us rethink and expand what family can look like in the process.
Ceyenne is a performer, activist, and organizer in the trans and sex worker rights’ movements. Because of her visionary work, GQ magazine called “the godmother of the Black Trans Lives Matter Movement.”
Ceyenne’s the founder and executive Director of G.L.I.T.S., Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society, which provides housing to Black trans individuals in need. In November 2021, G.L.I.T.S. opened a 12 unit residential building for this purpose. An effort for which she has raised millions of dollars, and was recognized by NYC Times Square’s 2020 New Year’s Eve celebration for doing so.
Ceyenne’s an absolute force of nature in the fight for Black Trans Lives, which is why she’s been featured in places like Vogue and Time… and now on this podcast.
Ceyenne, welcome to the show! Thank you so much for joining us.
Ceyenne Doroshow: Good morning. Good morning. Thank you. Thank you.
Imara Jones: Of course, of course, we should add other adjectives as well like legendary and iconic to you. So I’m really thrilled to be talking with you today. Why don’t we start out in an unexpected place, which is, what does mothering mean to you, personally? And what does that look like in terms of how it guides you in your life and your work? Because there are literally countless of people in New York, dozens and dozens, hundreds of people for whom you have served that role. So I’m just wondering for you, where does that come from? And how do you define it,
Ceyenne Doroshow: it comes from a lack of support as a youth, it comes from, you know, my own oppression. Early on, it comes from one thing, that sense of security in parenting, when we were parented way before we had gender pronouns, prepared that way, before I became transgender, and wasn’t a transvestite or drag queen, according to society. So my parenting, it’s odd, but it’s kind of an ironhand, I really look for the best and community. If we inspire community to inspire theirselves, I can’t do the work, you have to do it for you. And I parent that way. But certainly, if you show me you are looking at tomorrow differently, then I can help you get there.
Imara Jones: So you grew up in Bushwick, New York neighborhood, as you said, that wasn’t always the most supportive in you being you. And I am putting that mildly and kindly. The violence that you face in so many ways was real. And I’m wondering if that was a part of what encouraged you to be what you didn’t receive in your community for other people, or if it was something else,
Ceyenne Doroshow: I was brought up kind of in that threshold of change, where girls were just starting to express themselves but still being thrown out and ostracized by their families. But clearly, when I, I would say transition, because because of the oppression I suffered from addiction, domestic violence, parental abuse, mental abuse, and you go through enough and decide Enough is enough. And I didn’t want anybody else to go through that. I didn’t want my friends to go through that. So I kind of wanted to be sort of like a caretaker to community that was in crises does not always work out well. But nine times out of 10. It’s the eight, nine and 10 that get it, the rest of it, it may mess up. And we have to be happy for the eight, nine and 10 that really get it.
Imara Jones: For the people that you help pull across the finish line in some way. I mean, one of the things that I’m curious about is how did you become the go to person in New York for people who were in distress and crisis for being literally Black and trans? I think I first heard about you as the person who people could call if they were coming out of Rikers. That was that was actually how I first heard about you.
Ceyenne Doroshow: How this started was people were calling me from other countries. I had always traveled and did outreach wherever I was at, and I recorded it, I put it on social media. I started to get calls from trans women in crisis from all over the world. And then I figured out a way to get them here, through conversation through understanding, I can’t just bring you here for nothing. And from bringing you here, you got to go to school, you got to do something with your life. Otherwise, there’s no need. And it started that way. And so then everybody started calling me, ironically. And then COVID happened. And of course, with a pandemic, my heart was broken. When I had already seen these terrible numbers of people dying out here. I seen our queer community die in jail, our trans community die in jail. So me and a group of volunteers and wonderful people in New York City, and around the world, decided to bail them out a bailout fund, bail them out. So they can isolate in place, rented Airbnbs to put them in so they can sustain gave them a Amazon account so they can order what they need to sustain, also gave them cash allotments, so they all had cash to sustain while COVID was going on. And all of this without being policed. So imagine having somebody or an organization like G.L.I.T.S. step up privately – because I don’t – I’m not a government funded organization. But seeing the need to sustain people getting out of jail when we have all these orgs in New York City that did not do that work. That didn’t care to do that work. That didn’t care enough about humanity, people behind bars to do that work.
Imara Jones: And can you talk a little bit about how G.L.I.T.S. started because G.L.I.T.S. of course was before the pandemic or started before the pandemic
Ceyenne Doroshow: Yes, G.L.I.T.S. started because a young woman, a young cis white woman robbed me and my my guests my personal property, which was my cookbook, use me use my body use other trans women to promote her own tom foolery. But of course, use Black trans women to get funding. After that tragedy, I vowed never to work for another organization again, I also vowed not to partner with organizations that don’t do the work they say they do. That inspired a young man named Gregory Jobson to actually file the papers for me for an LLC, the whole time I was helping community and doing all of that. I was also volunteering at a food bank for seven years taking care of people every week, creating different ways to implement new programs around food and security. So imagine doing that work and doing the very important work of making sure my community gets prioritized. Wanting to never work for somebody gave me my own policy, my own ownership as a Black trans woman. It gave me my life, my idea, my vision for what I want for people like us.
Imara Jones: When did you get the vision that G.L.I.T.S. could be even bigger – that what you’re doing in a smaller way you could do in a much, much larger way?
Ceyenne Doroshow:I think I’ve always had that I’ve always had the belief that a Gay Men’s Health Crisis was not a place for me that a gay center was not a place for me. And that I was just allowed places, a corner, in these spaces G.L.I.T.S. is about the complete community. And it says it in a name, but gays and lesbians living in a transgender society, and I wanted to identify that in the name of G.L.I.T.S., but I also wanted to platform that we are all inclusive to community. There’s no racists there. There’s no colorist there. There’s no handicap anything here. It’s all we’ll take it all. All in the hopes that we help people sustain a better tomorrow.
Imara Jones: in so many respects. I think that you bridge like a lie of The life of our modern community, you’re kind of sandwiched between the youngest of the young right now and Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia, and so many in that now historic group of people. And having been able to see this arc and this progress, I’m wondering when you look at it, what’s giving you hope? What are you living to see that you didn’t necessarily know that you would? And what’s given you a lot of concern at this moment?
Ceyenne Doroshow: Why not start with what gives me hope, a young woman in UCLA Vanessa Warri becoming a doctor as we speak. She is graduating in June with her Master’s,
Imara Jones: She’s gorgeous.
Ceyenne Doroshow: That has been dedication that has been me biting my nails and supporting her and being there for her and helping her get a vehicle so she could get to school. Imagine a Black trans woman becoming a doctor of research. When people say we don’t have our community doesn’t have a history and research. And we need to be researched. She’s going to do that work, A. Twinkle Paul who’s going to school right now to be a lawyer, who came in this city and immigrant, a trans woman, a sex worker, and now sitting in John Jay University. But there’s the young Brianna Lee, who now has her own agency called Black Trans Blessings. And she’s in her 20s. This is the work. This is the work to inspire and mentor these kids to do the work when I can’t do it no more. To see that path and that blueprint be set to change in an ever changing world. These kids are growing up in acceptance. I grew up in sheer degradation. I grew up in the epitome of hate, and abuse and violence. And they’re growing up in a new world where it’s okay to speak and say “I am Black. I’m trans. I am proud I am here.” It’s amazing.
Imara Jones: That’s in that extremely hopeful column. And it was so interesting because even in your conversation, you kind of outlaid, what mothering and parenting is about even as you celebrate what they’ve been able to achieve. But what are the some of the things that also right now are giving you some concern or a lot of concern in the moment that we’re in,
Ceyenne Doroshow: that the government doesn’t understand what funding means for a grassroots organization that is actually doing the work for a Black trans woman to receive millions and millions of dollars and not run away? That’s special, but actually to create and do what she set out to do to take those couple of million dollars and put it right into real estate, put it right into a place. So we could stop homelessness within our own community. So we are not evicting our own kind. It’s easy to say you want to house people. But if it’s not the people who reflect the consumer, the client, the person that is living in that institution, then they’re always going to be insecure, if Rikers Island has to close housing and programming needs to be connected to all the bells and whistles that help people thrive, not fail. And that’s our role was a failing Institute. It’s a it’s a pit, a hole of drugs and abuse and abuse from the staff and abuse from the very people that stay there. What about creating a reentry program for the LGBT community that don’t put them in harm’s way? We just had a trans woman die in SRO. Last month, a trans woman that has been calling G.L.I.T.S. And she’s been very nice. I’ve been sending her food, care packages, just loving on her from afar, to find out that this young woman died in her apartment and nobody knows how it stuff like that that makes me think this systems fail and give me concern. When sustainability doesn’t look like what the government’s creating. It looks like what a Black trans woman named Ceyenne created, and these ideas that community give Chi in to do this work. So my concern is that they’ll only be a G.L.I.T.S. when I want it to be so much more. When there’s so many more organizations. We have to think out of the box. I’m concerned that this system keeps putting people in rooms where they can’t grow, put them in one bedroom apartments, SRO system makes thousands and thousands of dollars, or for one individual a month, you would not put that same money into an apartment for one individual. So how does the system work? My concern is that the government doesn’t see anything past paying the government. When I have a staff of all young people, my concern is that I won’t be able to pay them, because I won’t have funding. And they’re doing the work, they’re doing the work, that helps me keep it together, they’re also doing the work of picking up the pieces and picking me up when it’s all too much. My concern is that my heart will give out before I can change the world.
Imara Jones: I’m sorry that it means that I’m just taking a moment to get myself together before I keep going. Well, the good news is that you have a big heart. We’re counting on your heart lasting a really long time. Um, one of the things that you spoken about was also just the concern of the overall environment that we’re living in. So not only just everything that you described, that Black trans people in particular continue to have to deal with, in terms of all of the intersections of oppression that haven’t really gone away, right, those things are still there, the murder rate for Black trans women, poverty, all the rest of it, that’s still very much a real part of life. But the concern that you also have about just the overall environment and the attacks that are coming from state legislators and different types of governments all across the country. So it’s not only the neglect that you’re talking about, but it’s now like these other attacks that are just numerous. Can you talk a little bit about the way that that’s also another thing that you’re thinking about?
Ceyenne Doroshow: Trump did this when he was in office, he wanted to attack the queer kids in school and take away gender neutral bathrooms. So as this keeps progressing, and people keep trying to erase, gay and queer and trans women, we are looking at what slavery looked like all over again. We are literally as Black trans women trying to make it and survive in this world, and queer and gay and gender non conforming and BIPOC and all the other things that are out here – we are starting to look like the new slaves in a played out movie called The New Roots. Because you are now targeting our community. I’m going to keep in mind, people are using the Ukraine, the Holocaust. Are we not still living that? We’re still being killed. We’re still being oppressed. We’re still being hung, beaten, set on fire. And nobody’s looking at this, like it’s a new brand of slavery. When the government is at the lead of this. Something needs to be said. And something needs to be said to whoever writes these bills and laws if one of their children turns out to be gender non conforming, trans or any of it, would they want their child to be ostracized, to be hurt, murdered, killed, any of it? Where’s our 40 acres and a mules as a community? My concern is that we’ll never get it, or we’ll never see tomorrow.
Imara Jones: As a person who’s dedicated her life to helping young people and youth. And we understand that a lot of these bills are targeting young people. And we know from surveys and also just what we’re hearing from across the country that it’s increasing suicidal ideation amongst young people who are trans and gender non-conforming and nonbinary like these bills are even just the talk of them as having an impact of making people self harm. I imagine that for someone who spent her entire life focusing on young people that one this is just unconscionable, like this is a hard thing to to even contemplate, like how people can do this to kids.
Ceyenne Doroshow: But I need these young babies to fight for their own freedom and space on this earth. Because life is worth living. I just need you to fight for it. I need you to go to school and become the best you can be. So you could change this world – be a kickass, judge, doctor, lawyer, senator – we need to be in all those seats, actually making the real changes.
Imara Jones: A lot of parents of trans kids listen to this podcast. And I’m wondering, what do you say to those parents right now who feel that the world is against them? What would you say to them, kind of in this moment, as a person who has mothered and parented countless, young trans people?
Ceyenne Doroshow: Embrace your child. Embrace them, and culture them, give them cultivation. Give them what they need to succeed. Give them the education. Sit with them. Mentor them. Find mentors for them. Find elders to talk to them. Also. And I hate to say this, but I see it as something that would have saved me screen their friendships, screen and be involved in their friendships. So you have the chance to create change within their lives, the more you are effective in your child’s life, the more they will succeed, don’t let gender identity be the reason to erase them. Let that be the reason to protect them.
Imara Jones: And then what do you say to the kids who are TGNC? Who may be living in a home that’s hostile to them? Or don’t feel that they can reveal who they are because they live in a school or a jurisdiction that’s hostile to them and who they are? What do you say to those kids? What have you said to those kids?
Ceyenne Doroshow: I say always, you can always call us. You can always email us. Reach out for support. And you may not be ready to reach out and physical support. But go online, find a support network that’s safe. The Trevor Project is a safe place. True Colors is a safe place, reach out to organizations like that, and G.L.I.T.S. to find your sustainability in your identity. By doing that you’re able to create a safeguard for your life and sustain and if you ever need us, we are always here no matter what country state borough, you’re in glimpses about being an international caregiver, not just national.
Imara Jones: As we end, I want to do something that we don’t do enough to mothers, which is to give them the opportunity to express what they want for themselves. You know, we often talk about our mothers and talking about what we need from them what we want from them, pick their brain for advice, as we’ve just done. And I want to, as a person who is sitting on that other end of this microphone, ask you “What does Ceyenne want for herself moving forward? And what are the dreams still left for you to fulfill as a person?”
Ceyenne Doroshow: That made my eyes water because I don’t know, I have given so much of my life to this work. I don’t know what I want. I know I need a vacation. Do I have time for that? No. I know I need the country, maybe a nice quiet place with running water. But I just want people, what I need is for people to educate theirselves. What Ceyenne needs for herself, is for people to do better at trying to sustain, build your safeguards, build your communities, your market, so you never have to fail yourself. And that will help Ceyenne eventually get a vacation, get some downtime, go away rest a little.
Imara Jones: Well, you are loved very much by community in ways that are large or small. Whether or not it is taking a call at 2am for someone who is in need, or being in a fashion magazine, or speaking to a 10s of 1000s of people at the historic, the first ever Brooklyn Liberation March. You are an icon and a North Star. And everything that you’ve shared with us during this time underscore the fact that mothering comes from deep inside of us. It has nothing to do with biology. It’s so much more profound than that. And you are a gift to us. And I just want to thank you so much for taking the time today.
Ceyenne Doroshow: Thank you so much. I really got to run now [laughs].
Imara Jones: Thank you so much for listening to the TransLash Podcast and stick all the way to the end of the show for something special.
First though, before I go to our credits I want to give special thanks to MosDef522, (I wonder if that’s really Mos Def?) for giving us a 5 star review on Apple Podcasts.
Mos Def says ”Ms Imara and her team produce one of the best podcasts out there.” We’re not gonna disagree! “It’s informative, smart, compassionate, and, just, bless you all.” Mos Def than you so much for your kind words! And if you listening right now want to give us a shoutout about our show, then head over to Apple Podcasts and leave us that 5 star review! You might just hear your review on air just like Mos Def!
The TransLash podcast is produced by TransLash Media (that’s us!). The TransLash team includes Oliver-Ash Kleine and Callie Wright. Our intern is Mirana Munson-Burke. Xander Adams is a contributing producer to our show, and our digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK records. TransLash podcast is made possible by the support of the foundations and, like, PBS, viewers like you!
What am I looking forward to this week, over the next few weeks? Well, I’m still alive, which is always a point of gratitude. But I never quite make a big deal of my birthday. I don’t know why, the pressure to do something on that very day and to organize everybody seems a bit much for me so I always take a low key approach. I might do more this year because it’s been a couple a years since I’ve actually been able to celebrate whatever that looks like for me. But, we’re still in a pandemic, y’all, and the idea of bringing people together and just acting in a state of revelry when we are where we are… it feels weird, it just feels strange. It’s like the Met Ball happening on the same night abortion rights are rolled back. So, it doesn’t quite gel to me. So that’s kind of why and what I’m thinking and then I also am going on a retreat with a group of people called The Movement To End Violence, it’s a cohort of various leaders who work in anti-violence. We have our cohort meeting for the first time in person in two years, so I’m looking forward to meeting that with the gazillion covid protocols we have in place so that we can all try to stay healthy at a time of a pandemic and… yes! It’s still a pandemic. So those are the two things that I’m looking froward to but my birthday is one of them. We only get so many breaths and heartbeats so to the degree that we still have them and get to witness another year around the sun, it’s a good thing.
ICYMI: Listen to Episode 19: Trans Motherhood
Subscribe to receive alerts: translash.org/connect
Learn more about TransLash Podcast with Imara Jones.