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 8th. That’s just one day before my birthday on May 9th; I’m just saying. And Mother’s Day raises the essential 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 fractured relationships with our mom, or we can have people who stepped into the role, who are not our biological mothers, who are a part of our chosen family of parents, be important, or we could have lost a parent, and that brings up so many different things because what type of relationship we have or how they came to be our parents either through chosen family or the 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 fundamental question for us, what does it mean to be a mother?
So today, we’re 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 and 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 birthday. My mom died ten years ago. And that connection sometimes is a sad one, and so for all of you who have experienced that loss, my heart goes out to you as well. But we’re going to learn a lot from talking to Ceyenne, and I can’t wait for you to hear our conversation. But like always, we’re going to start out with a little bit of trans joy.
As I think about the state of things for trans people this Mother’s Day, something that brings me joy is seeing parents love and support their trans kids. I mean, it just makes my heart feel so full. These youth are amazing and brave. And when we see them on TV, we often see their moms standing right beside them. These moms want what any parent should want. Although sadly, not enough. They want the children to thrive.
One of these moms is Ngozi Nnaji. Her daughter Andraya Yearwood is a runner from Connecticut who was the subject of vicious attacks from people who didn’t think that she should be able to compete in high school sports. We outlined Andraya’s case in the first episode of last year’s Anti-trans Hate Machine and Ngozi, she has been behind 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 turned me into that helicopter mom, but I don’t think it goes without reason or warrants, right? Because of the society we live in and the things that you know, black kids, black children, and trans children have to deal with. We play such a critical role in the lives of trans people, right? Because when they’re questioning themselves and the world is questioning who they are, we have to be the ones that remind them that they’re beautiful and unconditionally they are accepted. I would tell any parent that, you know, first, it’s about making sure they understand that you love them no matter what. Because 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. You know you get caught up in that- that you lose sight of what’s important and what kind of the positive and all of those.
Imara: Ngozi Nnaji, mother of four, including a beautiful trans girl, Andraya, you are a 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 to 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 in GQ magazine called her “The Godmother of the Black Trans Lives Matter Movement.”
Ceyenne is 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 and effort, for which she has raised millions of dollars. And was recognized by NYC Times Squares 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, where she belongs. 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: 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 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’d does that come from, and how do you define it?
Ceyenne: It comes from a lack of support as a youth. It comes from you know, my own oppression early on. It came from that sense of security in parenting when we were parented way before we had gender pronouns comparative 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 iron hand. I really look for the best in the community. If we inspire the community to inspire to yourselves, 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: So you grew up in Bushwick, New York. Uh, neighborhood, as you said, that wasn’t always the most supportive, and you being you, and I am putting that mildly, and kindly the violence that you faced 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: I was brought up kind of in that threshold of change, where girls were just starting to express yourselves but still being thrown out and ostracized by their families because of the oppression. I suffered from addiction, domestic violence, parental abuse, and 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 the community that was in crisis, does not always work out well. But nine times out of ten, we have to be happy for the 8, 9, and 10 that really get it.
Imara: Hmm. To the people that you helped 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: How this started was, people, will calling me from other countries. I had always traveled and did outreach wherever I was at. And I recorded it, and I put it on social media. I started to get calls from trans women in crises 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 have seen our queer community die in jail. Our trans community dies in jail. So, I and a group of volunteers and wonderful people in New York City and around the world decided to bail them out of bailout funds so they could isolate in place. Rented Airbnb to put them in so they could sustain. Gave them an 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 police.
So imagine having somebody or an organization like G.L.I.T.S. step up privately. 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 enough about humanity people behind bars to do that work.
Imara: 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: Yes, G.L.I.T.S. started. Because a young woman, young sis white woman, robbed me and my, I guess my personal property, which was my cookbook, used me. Use my body, use other trans women to promote her own tomfoolery, 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 filed the papers for me for an LLC. The whole time I was helping the 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, and my vision for what I want for people like us.
Imara: When did you get the vision that G.L.I.T.S could be even bigger? That what you were doing in a smaller way you could do in a much, much larger way?
Ceyenne: I think 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 in it a name. The 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 a platform that we are all-inclusive to the community. There’s no racist here. There’s no colorist here. There’s no handicap anything here. It’s all. We’ll take it all in the hopes that we help people sustain a better tomorrow.
Imara: In so many respects. I think that you bridge like a lot of the life of our modern community, your kind of sandwich between the youngest of the young right now and Marsha, Pete, Johnson, Sylvia, and so many and that now historic group of people and have 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 giving you a lot of concern at this moment?
Ceyenne: What I’ll start with is what gives me hope. A young woman at UCLA, Vanessa Warri, is becoming a doctor as we speak. She is graduating in June with her Master’s.
Imara: She’s gorgeous.
Ceyenne: 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 our community doesn’t have a history in research, and we need to be researched, she’s going to do that work. A twinkle[?] Paul’s, whose Governor’s School right now to be a Lawyer who came in this city, an immigrant a transwoman, 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 shear 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 am trans. I am proud; I am here.” It’s amazing.
Imara: That’s an extremely hopeful column, and it was so interesting because even in your conversation, you kind of outlaid, what mothering and parenting are about even as you celebrate, what they’ve been able to achieve, but what are 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: 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 [laughs] that 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 a house, people. But if it’s not the people who reflect the consumer, the client, the person that is living in an institution, then they’re always going to be insecure.
If Rikers Island has to close, housing and programming need to be connected to all the bells and whistles that help people thrive, not fail. What about creating a re-entry program for the LGBT community that doesn’t put them In harm’s way? We just had a trans woman die in sorrow last month. A trans woman 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’s stuff like that; that makes me think these 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 the community gives Ceyenne to do this work. So my concern is that they’ll only be a G.L.I.T.S when I wanted to be so much more. When there are 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 and put them in one-bedroom apartments as the sorrow 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 this system work? My concern is that the government doesn’t see anything past pay in 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: I’m sorry that hit me, so 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. [Laughs]
Imara: So we’re counting on your heart, lasting a really long time. Uhm, one of the things that you’ve 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. Can you talk a little bit about the way that, that’s also another thing that you are thinking about?
Ceyenne: Trump got 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 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 there are out there. We are starting to look like the new slaves, and they played out a movie called the New Roots. Because you are now targeting our community. I’m going to keep this in mind. People are using Ukraine, the Holocaust. Are we not still living that we’re still being killed? We’re still being oppressed. We’re still being hung, being 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 as 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 Forty acres and a mule as a community? My concern is that we’ll never get it, or we’ll never see tomorrow.
Imara: As a person who has 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 hear from across the country that it’s increasing suicidal ideation amongst young people, who are trans, and gender non-conforming and non-binary, like, even just to 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 even contemplate like how people can do these to kids.
Ceyenne: My Funeral Director called me last year, it could be rather late, and he never calls late, which concerned me, but he had another young person that had committed suicide, and he wanted to make sure I was okay. It’s all affecting my mind. It-it-it-it’s the reason why I do this because I never want to see somebody at the end of their road, especially if they’re young. There’s always tomorrow, and there’s always a place you can call. 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 forward. I need you to go to school and become the best. You can be. So you can change this world. Be a kick-ass judge, doctor, lawyer, or senator. We need to be in all those seats actually making the real changes.
Imara: 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, at this moment as a person who has mothered and parenthood countless young trans people?
Ceyenne: Embrace your child. Embrace them and culture them, give them cultivate Innovation, give them what they need to succeed, give them the education, sit with the mentor them, find mentors for them, and 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: 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: 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 for 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 sustained, and if you ever need us, we are always here. No matter what country, state, barrel [?] you’re in. G.L.I.T.S is about being an international caregiver, not just national.
Imara: 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 talk 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 where are the dreams still left for you to fulfill as a person?
Ceyenne: Oh! That made my eyes water because I didn’t know. I’ve 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 heard. But I just want people. What I need is for people to educate yourselves. 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: Well, you are loved very much by the community in ways that are large or small. Whether or not it is taking a call at 2:00 a.m. for someone who is in need or being in a fashion magazine, or speaking to tens of thousands 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 underscores 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: Thank you so much. I really gotta run now.
Imara: Thank you so much for listening to the TransLash Podcast, and stick around 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 mosdef for giving us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts Mosdef says, “Ms. Imara and her team produce one of the best podcasts out there.” We are not gonna disagree. “It’s Informative, smart, compassionate, and just. Bless you, all.” Mosdef, thank you so much for your kind words. And if you are listening right now and want to give us a shout-out about our show that head on over to Apple Podcasts and leave us that five-star review. You might just hear your review on air, just like Mosdef.
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 the 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.
The TransLash Podcast is made possible by the support of foundations and like PBS listeners like you.
What are we looking forward to this week coming over the next couple of weeks? Well, there are two things, first of all, my birthday. Yay, I’m still alive, which is always a point of gratitude. Uhm, but I never quite make a big deal of my birthday. Uhm, I don’t know why the pressure to do something on that very day and to organize, everybody just seems a bit much for me. So I always like to take a low-key approach. I might do more this year because it’s been a couple of years since I’ve actually been able to try to celebrate whatever that looks like for me. But you know we’re still in a pandemic, y’all, and the idea of bringing people together and just, you know, acting in a state of revelry when we are where we just feel weird, you know, it just feels strange. It’s like the Met Ball happening on the same night as abortion rights are rolled back. It just doesn’t quite-doesn’t quite jell for 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 Move 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 a gazillion COVID protocols that we have in place to make sure that we can all try to stay healthy at a time of the pandemic. And yes, it’s still a pandemic. So those are the two things that I am looking forward to. Uhm, but my birthday is one of them, Uhm, we only get so many breaths and heartbeats. And so, you know, to the degree that we still have them and are able to witness another year around the sun. It’s a good thing.
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