Imara Jones: Hey fam, it’s me, I’m Imara Jones. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast. A show will retell trans stories to save trans lives. Well, we’re nearing the end of Black History Month, and during this month, as you all know, we have worked to highlight sort of the most serious issues facing the Black trans community here in the United States, specifically mass incarceration and the carceral state, but there’s so many parts of our experience that are about joy and empowerment and the use of our voice, especially in the world of audio like this show, so today we’re going to speak with 2 people who are using their voices as advocates, and hosts of award-winning podcasts. First, we’re joined by activist and host of Marsha’s Plate Diamond Stylz.
Diamond: It was like, yo, like you can buck up against the system, and everybody thought I was gonna lose, and I think part of me thought that I was too, but it wasn’t about winning, it was about fighting.
Imara: Next, I’ll talk to a journalist and host of ‘What A Day and FANTI‘, Tre’vell Anderson, but it was in that moment that I was like, you know what? The only way that I can truly kind of make spaces that I’m in safer and more welcoming for myself and hopefully others, in turn, is by being, just by being me.
Imara: Even though both of these conversations are chocked full of joy, you can never have enough joy, so we’re gonna start out like we always do with some more. In this instance, trans joy.
With an increase in visibility around Black trans issues, it’s more important than ever that our community has ownership of the ways that we’re made visible, so I wanted to highlight the work of an up and coming photographer who is showing the world what Black trans beauty and creativity look like. Lexi is a Brooklyn based Black, queer and non-binary photographer, using their camera to create spaces of healing and liberation. Working under the professional moniker, Alex Webster, her images have appeared in Vogue Paper Magazine and Dazed Beauty. Here’s Lexi to tell us more.
Lexi: When you look at my work, you’ll see that it is very Black, very queer, very colorful, very imaginative. It sort of positions us in worlds that are either from the space of portraiture or fashion or beauty, in which we take on something that’s a little bit larger than life. I was telling a friend recently that I often photograph people from below, so that when they’re seen in these images, they can be a little bit larger than th-the audience. There’s this beautiful quote from Tony Morrison where she said that she takes the fringe, she takes the sideline and makes us the center.
She makes herself the center and she’s referring here to Black people, and I, in a similar fashion, when I say people, I mean Black trans people. When I say people, I mean my Black queer siblings. I mean myself.
Imara: Lexi, you are trans joy.
I am so excited to talk with activist and podcast host Diamond Stylez. Diamond first became an activist at 17, when she successfully sued the Indianapolis Public School System to be able to wear a gown to prom instead of a suit. She continued her trailblazing journey by becoming the first openly trans woman to attend Jackson State University, a historically Black university in Mississippi. Since opening those doors, Diamond has been working to build positive images for the Black trans community across many platforms.
She’s the host and producer of the award-winning podcast, Marsha’s Plate, where she explores politics and pop culture from a trans pro-Black feminist lens. Diamond is also the executive director of Black Trans Women Inc., a national Black trans women-led nonprofit focused on social advocacy and building strong leadership in and for that community. On top of all of that, you can find diamond producing and appearing on CNN, ABC, Hulu, Insider, and many other projects that work to document the lives of trans people around the world.
Diamond is also on the board of the Transgender Law Center, where we both serve. Diamond, thank you so much for joining me.
Diamond: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.
Imara: 1 of the things that’s really clear about you is the fact that you have been using your voice as a trans person for most of your life, and I am wondering when you knew that your voice was important.
Diamond: I remember years ago, my mother used to wake me up at like 1 in the morning or something like that, and we would go to a restaurant and she would spend that time talking to me about how my week went. Like every single time, just, just, “Hey, so what happened in school? What happened at the park? What happened with your friends? What happened with”… just everything about my life. She did that for years, and as I got older, I got used to it, and I think for me, growing up with that type of mother that was conscious in that way, it just let me know that my experiences was important.
It let me know that it’s important for you to ask people what’s going on in their life, and so that was the spark in letting me know that it was okay for my-my voice to be heard. As far as using it, I just attributed to my mom. My mom always just said my voice was valuable and it was important for me to share my story, and she asked me questions. She wasn’t the type of mother that took the word of the teacher. She asked me what was going on as well. She just valued my opinion and my thoughts and worked me through working through my thoughts and just, it just was so important. My mother basically
Imara: I mean, she sounds like quite a woman, like if you are a reflection of her, then I can only imagine.
Diamond: Yeah, I love her.
Imara: That’s when you learned that your voice was important. When did you have the courage to start using it, and specifically to express that you were different gender-wise? Your story around high school that we said in the intro always strikes me every time I hear it, and to be so self-possessed at such a young age and to say it with such clarity, I’m wondering when you came into not only knowing your voice was important, but saying, “All right, I’m gonna use it and I’m gonna say some things that may not make people so comfortable around me.”
Diamond: To talk about when I started using it, I definitely have to talk about when I lost it, when I felt like I lost it, so my mom, because from birth, she just instilled this precociously about me where I can be curious and I can explore and I can say my thoughts. Like whenever people started to notice that I was effeminate, when people started to notice that I wasn’t this normal perfectly masculine little boy, when that started to be noticed, probably was around 5 and 6. I feel like people noticed it before, but because I was getting in school at that time, people outside of my home started to respond to my queerness and their response could be positive, it could be negative.
I never knew what it was gonna be, but usually as I got older it would be negative, and so I learned that the sound of my voice, the sound of it, was what people were clocking to be different. Like when I would speak, and so I learned that I need to be quiet, so a naturally precocious and talkative child turned into a really quiet child so people wouldn’t notice that I had an feminine voice, and so this started to happen around, you know, third grade started to get worse around third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, all the way until probably like 7.
I just got tired of the bullying. I got tired of um, not being myself. I got tired of feeling like I was being punked, feeling like I was being just constantly attacked, not just by students, but by teachers, by my uncles. It just felt like everybody had something to say about the stuff that I didn’t feel like I could control, and so there was this 1 incident in junior high school where I just blew up on somebody and I got in a fight.
I just blew up, and the win of that fight, because I beat the person up. It just sparked something to me. I said to myself, because the response to that fight was people stopped. They didn’t stop forever, but for a long time people stopped bothering me because I put my foot up somebody’s tail, and so around seventh grade is when I really said, you know, I’m gonna just, I’m gonna start talking. I’m gonna start being more productive in classes, and cause I used to love being a studious kid and answering questions, but as soon as I would answer questions, somebody would say how gay I sound, and so I just started saying F that, and not far after that is when my mom got caught up in the ’94 crime bill and she went to prison.
Once my mother wasn’t in my life. When I went to a group home, I had nobody, in regards to that I cared about their opinion of me cause my, that my mom was the opinion that mattered
When I got in a group home, these, some people, I don’t know, I don’t care about them, so I… it-it gave me a freedom. You see what I’m saying? so when I hit uh, 12, 13 between junior high and high school in ’94, I said, I’m not gonna be a boy no more cause this is not what I wanna do, and so I transitioned from the summer between junior high and high school. That’s when I decided, “Hey, I’m gonna start living my life, living my truth and living my life that I feel like is more comfortable for me, and being that my mom is not here and you know, there’s nobody to tell me no, and there was no consequences to it.”
It just gave me the freedom to be myself, and so yeah, that’s when my voice as a queer person really just started, just came back strong.
Imara: The adversity though, the painful, made you bolder in a way.
Diamond: Absolutely. Definitely.
Imara: How was it [inaudible] on you.
Diamond: There are so many places across the country as you know, where the idea and the expression of trans kids is coming under assault. I mean in the state where you are joining us from right now, Texas, you know, essentially is criminalizing trans youth and the people that help them and love them, and that’s why I think this story is so important. The 1 around your decision to fight your school, to wear a dress to prom.
Imara: When did you first say, “I’m gonna do this?”
Diamond: I had a strategic plan on how I was gonna transition. I said at 12, I’m going to slowly make my clothes tighter. I’m gonna slowly grow my hair out, I’m gonna slowly start to wear things like makeup, but slowly. Natural lip gloss. I’m just gonna build it up until I am where I want to be, and that literally was well how I planned everything, so that summer I said that I’m gonna wear tighter jeans, I’m gonna wear more colorful clothes, I’m gonna do all the stuff that everybody said I can’t do, and I’m gonna slowly bring it on. I’m gonna start getting my nails done. First it’s gonna be clear, then it might be a little French tip, then it might be a little Black, then it might be another
I’m gonna slowly just get ’em acclimated to this vibe that I’m giving, and so along with my personality being, you know, um, I was never like flamboyant but I was… I had a quiet femininity. I was never loud, but it just was very subtle and I just started to do that, and I think that worked because nobody really said anything to me. Like when I would come with a little bit more, it would be so subtle that nobody said anything, so by the time I get into my junior year, I’m in full hair. I got on hormones when I was 16 cause I lied to the doctor and told him that I was 19, and I got a prescription.
Got on hormones when I was 16, and once I got to my senior year, it was full on. You know, nobody said anything to me, so when my Principal came around and told me that I couldn’t wear a dress to the prom, it was surprising because you wait 4 years to start saying something to me about this. When I have been wore girl clothes for now at this point, you know, 4 years, something has been queer about me, uh, in a, my style of dress, and you wait till 2 days before to tell me that I can’t go to the prom, and while I didn’t have plans to go to the prom, because I was with a downlow dude and he was gonna take a cisgender girl to the prom.
Imara: Was he in high school with you?
Diamond: I didn’t wanna see that.
Imara: He was in high school with you. Okay.
Diamond: Yeah, he was in school with me, and I didn’t wanna see that that would’ve broke my little high school heart, and so I didn’t plan to go to the prom, but because she told me that I couldn’t and I felt it in my spirit that it was wrong, this is wrong. She can’t do this, something about this is wrong, and I went slightly crying, not crying in the sense of devastated, but just anger crying, to my English teacher, and she says, “Don’t tell nobody I told you, but call these people.” And she sent me the number to the ACLU and I called them and they took my case and everybody said that I would lose.
Everybody said that I wouldn’t win, and first of all, they didn’t think it was gonna be enough time because she told me on Tuesday, prom was on Thursday, but ACLU said, “Hey, call the news tonight on Tuesday night.” They said, “Call the news, get, see who will take… get… put you on camera and talk about it, and then I’ll work on”… his name was Kenneth Faulk, and he’s like, “I’ll see if I can move it up faster in regards to getting a court date.” And he did, and it worked, and they got me on the news on Tuesday night.
It kind of went, I don’t know, I wouldn’t say viral, but it got all over the city where everybody was calling me, and by Thursday we were in court and they were having me testify and the principal testify and the dean testify and the judge said, you know, I don’t think y’all should stop her from going to the prom, and I won, and it was amazing, amazing feeling.
Imara: First of all, I hope that that footage you have of these interviews of you in high school somewhere,
Diamond: The project from ABC Pride to be seen was nominated for a GLAAD award, and you know, you know cause you were too, so yeah, it was an amazing project and they showed the footage and I hadn’t seen it in years, and I was like, “Wow, that came a long way.”
I loved it. It was so nostalgic. I cried when I seen it cause I hadn’t.,..
Imara: Of course.
Diamond: Because that moment was such a prideful moment for me. It was like, yo, like you can buck up against the system, and everybody thought I was gonna lose, and I think part of me thought that I was too, but it wasn’t about winning. It was about…
Diamond: Fighting. It wasn’t about winning. Like even if I would’ve lost, I still would’ve felt good, because I didn’t let y’all just railroad me. I tried, and so the fact that I won was just a cherry on top, and it was amazing.
Imara: I mean that’s kind of a theme throughout your life. This connection between fighting and pride and then the courage to be yourself even more like that seems to come up a lot, and I just think that again, at this particular moment in time, it’s so important to have people to hear this and to hear your experience. Uh, because there are parents that listen and kids that listen, and you’re an example of what happens when you do that. You know that there is a future
Diamond: Having allies that are willing to support you.
Imara: That’s right.
Diamond: Having that kind of dedicated crew of adults and friends, because in that moment there were multiple adults that were supporting me. I had somebody who drove me to the prom, you know, and there was a teacher who wasn’t necessarily condoning it, but she gave me some thoughts afterwards. Like, “Hey know that this is gonna follow you for the rest of your life.” And she may not have thought about it innocent, it may have been negative in her regards, but for me it made me think about, is this something that I’m gonna be proud of later? I knew that it was, it is something that I knew that I was gonna be proud of.
Imara: Yeah, I think that that’s right in terms of like having allies and people who support us and love us because none of us, no matter how brave or strong or whatever adjectives people want to use, we still don’t get anywhere alone.
Imara: We always have to have people with us. Like I think about my sis girlfriends who taught me how to put on makeup, you know what I mean like no one gets to wherever they’re, they’re going by themselves. That’s the myth.
Imara: This theme of standing up and fighting for yourself, so you won this case kind of a landmark, ACLU case as a teenager. You were able to go to the prom, by the way, what did he see you there? And did you see him with his “girlfriend?”
Diamond: I did. I did. I did, but um, I was so bombarded with cameras and people, me on that it was almost a socket to you [laughter]
A socket to you moment. Like, you know. Yeah.
Imara: It was a sideshow as to what the main event was.
Imara: You forgot about them. Amazing. Amazing, so you continue to go on in your life, you go to Jackson State, which is a historically Black university in Mississippi where you continue to have to fight, and there it seemed like the harassment and targeting was at a totally different level. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Diamond: Absolutely. Bullying has always been around. I always had to fight. I remember my first fight probably was in like third grade. Violence was always a part of the bullying. It was never…
Like I don’t remember not having to fight, but what I do remember, like I said, when I would fight, it was stop it. Like stop it in the sense of, yeah, they might say something when I walked past and I’m not close enough to say anything back, but it was no longer like violent. Once I fought back, the violence from them stopped. Like they… there was no more pushing me up against the locker. There was no more throwing something at me. There was no more of that. Once I fought somebody at 1 point, which is sad, but that’s just the experience that I had, and so I was already in the mindset to fight in regards from elementary to high school, all that kind of stuff, so once I got to college, I thought that we’re adults now.
Imara: This Is gonna end.
Diamond: This is gonna end. We’re-we’re too mature for this. How to… bully what? Of course not, child, please bully. We, we see that with the legislature. These grown old White men bullying us now
Diamond: When I went to college, it just continued. It was like just some older high school, except it was more outta control because you know, at least high school part of teacher’s job is to control their students.
Diamond: In college, professors don’t really do that cause we’re supposed to be adults, so they don’t be out in the hallway controlling kids, they don’t do all of that once you get to college, yeah, it’s, you are adults and so, you know, know it got bad. Another difference that happened in college was, it wasn’t just boys. It started to be cis girls who were bullying me saying little negative stuff, and ostracizing me usually always had some kind of cis girl ally or another queer person, ally, but when I got to college, even the queer people were avoiding me.
You know, this is 2000, so transness just wasn’t where it is now, and so gay boys wouldn’t wanna hang out with me, they wouldn’t wanna sit with me in the cafeteria. I was so not used to that. Even the gay boys claiming that they weren’t gay when it was so obvious.
Like they literally… it was a group of them that would… I remember I be, I was a RA at 1 point, uh, and they would come down and hang out with me, but in the daytime they would not be around me cause they were claiming to be straight.
Imara: My God.
Diamond: Like, uh, like all 5 of them. Or I’m like, “Yy’all really are claiming that y’all… y’all think people don’t know?
Imara: People are buying it and y’all think people are buying it.
Diamond: Yeah. I was like, whatever, but my freshman year, what got me to like, it was super, super negative. I remember I was in my, um, room and somebody knocked on the door. Now I never felt safe because I’m in a boy’s dorm. They put me in a boy’s dorm when they should have put me in a girl’s dorm, but because they put me in a boy’s dorm, I never felt safe, but I’m gonna deal with what I’m gonna deal with, and so I heard somebody knock on the door, but I just knew not to just open the door, but I cracked it to see who it was, and I guess they thought that I was gonna just open it up, but I didn’t, and they threw water that they had boiled and got so hot.
Imara: Oh my goodness.
Diamond: That it was scaling, and so they tried to throw, it was of 3, they tried to throw boiling hot water on me, and because they were trying to harm me to that level, for me, this is not just bullying, y’all are trying to hurt me. Y’all are trying to scar me. This isn’t just, “Oh, you’re calling me a F bomb.” You’re actually trying to harm me, and in high school and junior high, yeah, somebody had try to, you know, punch you or push you, but it didn’t feel like this. Like this could have disfigured me, and so I knew that from the lessons of my past that I had to fight somebody, and so I went downstairs and I said, “I can’t fight all of these boys, so what can I do?”
I went downstairs, I got this mop bucket, not this mop bucket, but this mop and it’s this industrial mop, but if you take the, the little… the-the mop part off, it looks like almost like a pitchfork. It’s not a pitchfork, but it almost looked like it’s this metal part on it, so I took the mop thing off and it was just like this wooden handle with the metal thing on it, and I went back upstairs and I was like, look, I took the-the metal thing and I knocked on everybody’s door, knocked on, on everybody’s door just to get them to come out. I say, “Look, y’all want me to be a man while y’all sneak and try to harm me. If you want to harm me, harm me in my face right now, right here. All of you m MFs, all of you, whoever wants to harm me, do it now where I can see you since you the big man, be a man and fight me like a man. Come on, you want me to be a man, I’m gonna treat y’all like a man. Let’s go.”
I was so aggressive and so telling them, you are not gonna make me be scared of you, and they’re just quiet, and the dude, he didn’t have anything to do with it, but some guy in the… like a further down the hallway, he says he real loud and he says, “I don’t care what nobody say, but that that-that it just pumped all of y’all because y’all been sneaking and talking crazy about him, and here you go and he giving y’all a chance and y’all silent.”
In that moment, nobody tried to fight me, but everybody went and told what happened, so it just spread across the campus, and from that moment, people stopped bothering me. That kind of directly. Yes, when I walked past they would say something or whatever and they would say, you know, say little he/she shit behind my back, but the violence stopped. Nobody tried to fight me, so yeah, it just, it got really, really bad. It got bad where, you know, teachers was being shady, students were being shady. Cis women were being shady. Gay boys were being shady. It didn’t stop until probably my, the middle of my sophomore year, and then it got a little bit better.
Imara: 1 of the things though that is the case is when people experience things like this, they’re 2 responses, right? We-we can either become less of ourselves or more of ourselves, and no matter how tough things got, you always continue to make that choice. Is that what has always been the case for you? That is to say that it just is the hallmark of your life? Or was there ever a moment where…
Diamond: What’s the other options though, unlike other people, my mom was a drug addict, go in and outta prison. When my mama dropped me off at college with $20 in my pocket, I had nothing else. Barely had clothes. There was nobody who I was their child. I was their responsibility. Especially once I, once I transitioned, nobody in my family messed with me, and so only person I had was my mom and she had addiction problems. I just didn’t have the support at all, so there was no-nothing for me to, for me to fall on. There was no home to go to. My mother was homeless, so there wasn’t… there was no option to not be who I am.
Imara: You’ve gone from using your voice to stand up for yourself and to be yourself despite the adversity, to using that voice in a much wider world and going on to found Black Trans Woman Inc, and of course Marsha’s Plate with your 2 co-hosts. By the way, we should let people know that it’s uh, it’s a very vigorous conversation, always with you, Maya and LJ. I’m wondering, I’m just wondering what the seventh grade you, you, right before you decided to stand up for yourself saw what you were doing now, saw how you’re using your voice, saw how powerful you’ve become in that, what you think that seventh grade version of you would think about where you are now.
Diamond: Nothing of what I am… where I am now is what I could imagine when I was younger. We are in a total different spot when it comes to trans people and their visibility, the possibilities of what we could be. We got Emmy winners, we got award-winning shows. We have athletes, we have… we just, in seventh grade, those things were not even a possibility. You couldn’t do that.
Think of ’94. I-I couldn’t think of us being on TV. That wasn’t a possibility. I remember I come from a singing family and so my cousin, my cousin, her name is Kiki Wyatt.
Imara: Oh, your cousin’s Kiki Wyatt?
Imara: Oh my God.
Diamond: Yeah, and so she was just now getting into her, like she was being signed with different recording artists. She was… you know, she, she almost was on in Destiny Child, so she was coming into this world of opportunity cause she’s a singing heifer, but we all can sing.
Imara: Big time.
Diamond: Yeah, so we all can sing, and so that was something that I wanted to do. I wanted to be a songwriter and singer and I-I-I wanna say I’m not a professional, but I do it. I post it.
Omar: I get it.
Diamond: I wanted to do that, but because I transitioned, that wasn’t even in my dream box. It was something that I couldn’t even fathom being possible at all because it just was… I didn’t see any examples, and so many doors were not open because you running around here trying to be a girl, and so that’s what they would say, and so they wouldn’t give me certain opportunities, so fast forward to where I am now. I’m like, I couldn’t even dream this up, I love the growth in our culture.
I love the growth in our community cause even our own community, the inner community has grown past, you know, even valuing possibility so much, valuing different ways to be a woman. In ’94. You could only be this particular type of woman, hyper femme.
All that, but now it’s so many ways that we can manifest our womanhood and manifest who we are and opportunities that I’m just in awe in where we are. Even with the negative that’s happened, I’m in awe. My seventh grade self would definitely be in awe.
Imara: That’s amazing for people to hear. Lastly, um, at the end of each episode of Marsha’s Plate, what do you hope your listeners are coming away with?
Diamond: Oh gosh. On Marsha’s plate? Well, we have different segments, so we have the segment… our whole theme is like a cookout. Each individual host brings something to the table and we don’t know about what the other hosts are gonna bring just to keep the spontaneity, and our job as individuals is to bring like the research and the backstory of what we are bringing to the table, but the other hosts don’t know that we’re gonna bring that.
Recently I added a segment called Gender Euphoria and wrote a song and everything for it, and because it started to be really, really heavy at 1 point in 2021, we were going to Austin every week to fight these legislation, and so it was so heavy and so negative with so many people passing, and then my mom passed in, um, December of 2020.
Imara: Oh wow.
Diamond: All of the heaviness just said, I need to have something where I’ll show agent every time ends with something positive, and so gender euphoria was what I created, so I want them to come from March’s play first, getting information, having fun, hearing the conversation from Black trans people who are unapologetically Black, unapologetically trans, and you know, it is unapologetically feminist, and so definitely get that entertainment and learning moment, but at the end, what are you finding joy in your life?
What is bringing you gender euphoria? Because we know what gender dysphoria is. What is making you joyous about being who you are? What is bringing you joy? Because I think that’s important, and so overall I want Marsha’s Plate to be a listening experience that bring you joy even through the heaviness.
Imara: Well thank you so much for joining us and thank you so much for the power of your fight and the power of your voice, so appreciative.
Diamond: Thank you for having me. I appreciate you.
Imara: Of course. That was Diamond Stylez host of Marsha’s Plate and long-term fighter activist and organizational leader.
I can’t wait to get into this conversation with award-winning journalist, podcaster and social curator Tre’vell Anderson. Tre’vell has been spreading their special brand of sleigh across print, journalism, television, and podcast for years as the host of What a Day and FANTI, they bring their pop culture and political expertise to today’s most important issues, but Tre’vell isn’t just killing it in the podcast game, they also have served as the editor at large for Extra Magazine, the director of culture and entertainment at Out Magazine and have covered every major red carpet event in Hollywood.
They’ve appeared on networks like MSNBC, NPR, Good Morning America and Entertainment Tonight, and have served as the president of the National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles. It would take too long to list all the awards that Tre’vell has received over the years, so I’ll just mention that they were named to the Roots 2020 list of the 100 most influential African Americans and Empower Congresses 40 under 40.
Tre’vell also wrote, We See Each Other, a Black trans journey through TV and film, which I can’t wait to read when it comes out This May. Tre’vell, thanks so much for joining me.
Anderson: Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.
Imara: Um, we’re mutual fans of each other, so this is gonna be fun. 1 of the things that I am wondering about is that for podcasts and podcasters right? The thing that we have to do is to know first of all that we matter, and when you look at your bio, there’s so many ways in which it might be easy for you to grow up thinking that you did matter, grew up Black, gender nonconforming in south Carolina, so many of the intersections that can be erased, and I’m wondering when you had a sense that you mattered, that you mattered in the world.
Anderson: In the grand scheme of things, I’m just beginning to kind of assert and feel that I matter, and that my voice matters. Particularly within a context of like journalism. I’ve always been a loud, expressive child, if you will.
Um, but so much about my upbringing and so much about my kind of formal education, has been about constriction and restraining and dumbing down and dimming my light, right? My mom was in the army and you know, she is a stickular[?] for-for structure and…
Formalities, and my grandmother was a pastor and she helped raise us.
Anderson: You can imagine it is as bad as you can imagine, I promise, and then I went to a school like Morehouse as a budding non-binary person of trans experience at the time, and had to deal with a whole nother set of restrictions and expectations of how I was supposed to show up and move through the world, and that didn’t help when I entered into journalism and began further building my voice and unfolding into my truth, because so many people just told me that the way I was doing things wasn’t the way that I was supposed to do them.
Right? And so over the years, by moving from different outlets, by starting podcasting, realizing the uniqueness of my voice and the importance of my voice, and my ability to bring up things or surface things or see things in a particular way that others don’t, I think has kind of now been the wind at my back, right? In terms of just moving through the world and carving out space for folks like myself.
Imara: I think 1 of the things that we should just, um, let people know is that Morehouse is a all male…
College in Atlanta, Georgia created for Black men and through a very specific lens. Your church mm-hmms are amazing, and now I know you get ’em from your grandmother.
Imara: Fantastic, and with all of that structure and structure and restraint that you’re talking about, I’m wondering how you began to actually free yourself and move those layers off of you, because when I see you now, you come across as the embodiment of freedom. Like everything about you is transgender, nonconforming, personified in the best sense of every imagination for our community like you-you look like freedom, so how did you go from all of these strictures and constraints and the shoving into the shoehorning, into a specific idea of who you were supposed to be into a much broader, freer actual self?
Anderson: Yeah. Um, you know, it started at Morehouse, ironically.
Imara: That’s ironic. How did that happen?
Anderson: Well, you know, it was 1 of those things where I was just kind of being myself. This was before I even latched on to any sort of gay, queer, trans, non-binary language, right? But there were other students at Morehouse who recognized that little special razzle dazzle within me before I recognized it myself, and so there was a community of folks at Morehouse, folks who had already come out, right? Folks who had been, you know, their full selves for a lot longer, and I realized that Morehouse, that I have always been somebody who’s going to run toward a challenge.
I’ve always been somebody who’s just been like deeply engaged in the spaces in which I find myself, and so at Morehouse I was in every student organization. I was running the student newspaper, I was running the community service program, I was an RA, and I began to realize that there were people around me who were recognizing and seeing something of themselves within me, and because I was an overachiever, I was, you know, I was knocking everything out the park. Not to toot my own horn, but baby I was handling it, and while I was at Morehouse, I decided for myself, that’s when I stopped wearing suits.
Which at a school like Morehouse is a big thing to do, when every day, folks are dressing up in suits just to go to class, and that was a big deal, and I remember there was an award ceremony and I was being recognized for GPA or something, and that was my first kind of like campus event where I wasn’t wearing a suit. All the other people who were being recognized or wearing a suit, I had on this cow neck situation and these bright yellow pants, and there was a professor at the school who was making jokes about me, or commentary about me to another professor on stage.
She did not know that that professor was 1 of the professors I looked up to. He was my advisor, and so later that day he’s recounting to me these things that this woman says, not thinking that I would take any offense to it to be clear, but I did take offense to it because I’m like, “You are worried about the clothes that I got on ma’am when you should be worried about my GPA, which I’m being honored for here.” You know, like, it just didn’t make sense to me, and then from there on out, I ended up making a big deal about it.
I emailed the president of the college, they made her apologize, blah, blah blah, blah, but it was in that moment that I was like, “You know what, the only way that I can truly kind of make spaces that I’m in safer and more welcoming for myself and hopefully others in turn, is by being… just by being me. Right?” And that meant wearing what felt most appropriate to me. That meant calling out people who were, you know, saying things that they shouldn’t have said, and over time that voice has grown. There’s been challenges along the way, don’t get me wrong, my time at the LA Times, my God have mercy.
There has always just been kind of an inner resolve that thing that made me go, “You know what? Yeah, it’s difficult. Yeah, sounds like they might wanna fire me right now.” But the alternative was not something I was interested in. I wasn’t interested in being silent. I knew just kind of deeply and innately that like what I was saying, how I was moving through the world, that there was just something that pushed me to continue doing it, and now I feel like I have the language to articulate what I see as, you know, know 1 of my purposes in this world, which is to be my fully unfolded self as a [inaudible] says in service of creating space, not only for myself but for others.
Imara: You began to bust out of these constrictions and at Morehouse and then find your way as a young journalist to Los Angeles, and I’m so curious about that early experience, because what’s fascinating is that on the outside, right? Everyone thinks that LA is over the top and glamorous and be yourself and eccentric and wild and you know, the ability to burst free, which that would be appealing to someone at that stage as you were, but what is the reality about LA is that it’s deeply conformist, right?
Deeply conservative, everyone tries to fit into these narrow boxes out of a culture of fear, and I’m wondering if you can just talk a little bit about that cause it’s also deeply relevant to what you do now, so how did you find LA?
Anderson: Yeah. I first wanna say, going back to Morehouse, I wanna share 1 particular story. There was an article written, um, early in my time at Morehouse at Vibe Magazine titled The Mean Girls of Morehouse, and it was an article that hyper-focused on a group of students on campus who were gender nonconforming at the time. You know, they had their pumps on and their lipstick and their bags and they-they were called the plastics on campus, which was a-a nickname that they received from, you know, the straight contingent and cis contingent on campus in reference to the movie Mean Girls, hence the name of the article, Mean Girls of Morehouse.
The folks who were featured in that article, which kind of ignited conversation and discourse on campus CNN came to campus. It was a big deal at the time. That was kind of the earliest idea of difference and possibility and imagination and and creating ourselves, and so when I finally graduated Morehouse, I ended up going to grad school at Stanford, got my master’s in journalism. Another experience that there was a lot of just push and pull between the type of stuff I wanted to cover in that program, which centered queer people, centered trans people, centered Black people, and what the program was telling me I needed to do in order to be a “journalist”
After graduating Stanford by the skin on my chin, I feel like [laughter], I made my way to Los Angeles in a diversity fellowship program at the Los Angeles Times. We know now that this Diversity Program, which at the time was called the Minority Editorial Training Program, was 1 of the few ways that people of color got into the Los Angeles Times newsroom. If you look back over the history of that program, the majority of the people of color at the time who were working at the paper came through that program.
You’re right that LA presents itself and we have this-this idea of LA being this kind of, you know, bastion of liberal ideology and acceptance, but you’ll be surprised how conservative it can be, and throughout my time at the Los Angeles Times, which I was there for 4 years, which coincided even more so with me just coming more into my voice personally, and my identity personally as well as my voice and identity journalistically, I kept finding myself wanting to center Black folks and queer folks and trans folks and being told time and time again by my editors that like, “Oh, we already have somebody who covers the Black stuff.”
Or “We already have somebody who covers the queer stuff.” And there’s not enough of Black people or not enough queer trans people for us to have more than 1 person doing it, but that’s when I stumbled through that program on entertainment coverage and the entertainment section at the LA Times was interested in the fact that I wanted to cover Tyler Perry movies with rigor, because that’s what was the center of part of the center of my focus and my interest areas because of that grandmother, right? Who loved going to Tyler Perry place and then Empire and then Oscar.
I always say that OscarSoWhite gave me job security because I was already covering diversity and entertainment prior to that moment, and then that moment happened and I feel like the LA Times was like, “Oh, we’ve got this little”… at the time.”Then Black boy who’s been covering these things all along, keep them around.” And it was in that moment that I discovered that, you know what, I can do the thing that everyone else does. I can, I can cover the White folks from here to Mozambique if you want me to, but like the thing that really makes my work sing and my perspective sing and different, is the fact that I put on a pedestal Black folks and queer folks and trans folks right alongside all these other White folks, you know, that-that y’all wanna focus on.
From there, I think I’ve just been able to cultivate that perspective, that voice and it’s kind of worked out for me in a weird way. Um, and that’s not to say it hasn’t had its hiccups and its struggles cause baby, honey, there have been plenty, but it’s worked out in the long run.
Imara: As you say, you cover entertainment with rigor, but you also covered that industry in a way that makes it queer, makes it Black, makes it trans in a way, right? That’s kind of 1 of the things that you bring to your entertainment coverage, and I think that it’s so interesting because those are the things that LA tries very hard not to be, even though we know that those things very much shape culture and popular culture at the same time.
Imara: That was kind of what I was, you know, thinking about in asking the question.
Anderson: Yeah. I mean, Black folks, queer folks, trans folks, we are the backbone of this industry, right? We see this changing a little bit now, but we don’t get the cover stories, we don’t get the A 1 above the fold placement of our stories. We don’t get big packages that explore the complexities of how we move through various spaces, and that’s what I’ve always been interested in kind of claiming as center because I often wonder about like, what if all of this stuff was represented differently in our media prior to me, prior to this moment, and how that might have changed or impacted my upbringing, right?
Let alone my parents’ upbringing or my grandmother’s upbringing. That’s 1 of the things that I talk about in my book When We See Each Other, a Black trans journey through TV and film out May 9th is about how this history of what is ultimately erasure that our media has participated in and embolden, how it has IRL real life impact on the imaginations and possibilities that many of us think about and dream about. The beauty though is that many of us dream nonetheless, we dream without having the representation anyway and are able to actualize ourselves and our communities, but I do often think about what if we didn’t have to do that in spite of the world that we’ve been given.
Imara: Yeah. We’ll come back to the book in a second, but 1 of the things that you did is you went from covering entertainment strictly as a journalist. I mean you still do that, but strictly as a journalist to… and this is where I’m talking about the curing it, making it Black, making it trans, but at some point you decided to do this podcast FANTI with your co-host Jared Hill, which takes you from actually an observer to what’s happening to actively shaping conversation, giving your opinion, doing things that you’re not necessarily encouraged to do as a journalist in a big way. Still with this take on entertainment, and I’m wondering what made you decide to do that? When did you decide to cross that threshold in your career?
Anderson: Yeah, it started at the LA Times. I just, you know, I began writing pieces that were more personal that grew out of the truth of my experience, and it was those pieces that seemed to be resonating most. When America’s Next Top model was canceled. I wrote a piece about how Andre Leon Talley and Ms J Alexander kind of inspired me and were possibility models for me early on. When Prince died, I wrote about how he pushed up against, you know, all of these gender norms in his work.
I was writing about the death of Lady Chablis and Alexis Arquette and the importance of their visibility in different ways for the community, and those were the pieces that were… that I most enjoyed writing, but also that the audience seemed to respond to, and then I went to Out Magazine as their Director of Culture and Entertainment under, you know, our mutual love Raquel Willis, who was our executive director.
Executive editor… excuse me, and being at Out magazine a Publica… a-a, you know, gay men’s publication that we were trying to make more queer and more trans where I was allowed to truly, you know, take the mask off to truly, you know, right from the truth of my experience and have that also be considered journalism.
That’s really when the floodgate opened, and shortly after I started this podcast with Jared called FANTI, like you mentioned, FANTI is a poor manto that we created between fan and anti because on our show we wanna have complex and complicado conversations about the gray areas in our lives, the people, places and things that you are huge fans of, but also have some anti feelings toward like Tyler Perry for example. Um, and to be quite honest, you know, at the time I was president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, Jared was my Vice President.
We were hosting events and meetings together and everyone was like, “Oh, y’all have a dynamic, y’all. I-I would watch that show, I would listen to that show.” And so we started a podcast that really kind of has allowed us to-to learn in public, which has been a journey, but to also kind of share our thoughts, our experiences from a place and in a space where Blackness, queerness, transness, non-binary-ness[?] is centered. It has really been a-a great lesson set of lessons and experience to meld kind of this traditional journalistic approach that is very important to me and the work that I do.
With the validity of our experiences because we’ve lived them, and oftentimes in journalism, the truth of our experiences are not sufficient. It’s gotta be corroborated, it’s gotta have some data behind it, it’s gotta, you know, all this other stuff and so on. FANTI, I feel like we can give you the data, we can give you that traditional type thing, but we also recognize that like our experiences are enough as well.
Imara: Yeah. I mean it’s so funny though that those standards aren’t equally applied. I say this all the time. I’ve said it to the LGBTQ Journalist Association where it’s so fascinating that only certain people get told that they can’t cover things in a non-biased way, because of who they are, so they’ll tell a trans journalist, “You can’t cover the trans community cause you’re of that community and you can’t do it non, in a non-biased way.” But no 1 tells a White person that. You can’t write about white people in a non-biased way.
Anderson: Exactly. Right.
Imara: No one ever says that. No one says, “Oh wait, you’re from the… you’re from New York, you can’t write about this.” Or, you know, “You’re White, you can’t write about this community in Missouri.” No 1 never says that, and it’s-it’s a double standard. Right, and I think that one of the things you’re talking about are ways that, you know, this podcast format gives you a way to circumvent that double standard in some really powerful ways, and successful ways and ways that are-are really galvanizing people.
Anderson: Absolutely. I often say that, you know, objectivity is a machination of White supremacy and that objectivity is in reality subjectivity just from the perspective of those who are in power, and for us on our podcast, we purposefully upend all of that, because we recognize that it is, it is not of use nor has it ever been of service to the communities that we come from, and the goal and the hope, I think through my work is that I am further defining what journalism can be and what it can look like and opening up space for us to kind of take an interrogative lens right? On this industry and the foundations that we oftentimes are still trying to uphold.
Imara: Last thing I want to ask about your book, I’m particularly interested in it, namely because it comes out on my birthday.
Perhaps principally because it comes out on my birthday, May 9th, but 1 of the things that you are doing is taking the entire set of experiences that you talked about in this conversation, and you put them in this format so that the rest of us can understand and have insight, and I’m wondering if you can just talk about what led you to write, We See Each Other a Black trans journey through TV and film.
Anderson: What led me to write that book? My God have mercy. I think, I think it…
Imara: I’m sure you asked that when in the middle of the book.
Imara: When your agent was like, where’s my chapter bitch, I’m calling you-you not answering. I’m going to voicemail.
Imara: You’re past deadline. You ain’t gonna get this cheque.
Anderson: Listen, literally, there came a moment in the middle of writing the book where the book changed into what it currently is. My initial vision for the book was that it would just be more of a reported kind of archival experience tracing and tracking, you know, the history of trans images since the beginning of moving images, and I had envisioned it as a more… for lack of a better word, like clinical approach or like traditional journalistic approach to it, but in the course of writing I was like, “Ugh.”
The motivation was not there. It wasn’t jumping off the page and the way that I wanted it to, and I realized that like, again, the core of most of my reporting that has been most important to me has been my personal journey and my personal story, and I realized that, you know, over the last decade of… or so of being in this industry, I’ve been able to witness this moment of trans representation and trans visibility, and documented in a way that few others can talk about, and so that’s when the book changed.
For me it was about weaving kind of my personal story and personal identity and the conversations that are most important to me as a Black non-binary person of trans experience, alongside this history of trans images in hopes of creating something that can be a reference point and a resource right? For our history, but also can unlock potential possibilities for someone else who might not be as aware that they actually belong to a long line of trans brilliance and trans excellence that we just don’t know about, because folks like Ajita Wilson, right? Have been all but erased from that type of conversation, and so I wanted to kind of give these people these images and the complexities of this conversation around visibility and representation to give it its due, and I hope that you all will think that I have done that once you get a chance to read it.
Imara: On May 9th.
Anderson: On May 9th.
Imara: Well, I think that everything that you do is engaging and exciting and insightful and undoubtedly this book will be, of course FANTI is of course all of the writing that you did, um, at the LA Times. I mean, we can have an entire podcast probably about the conversations that you had with your editors to get some of those…
Anderson: My Lord,
Imara: I, uh, that’s what I said, uh, we could do do an entire podcast, but just the discipline and rigor and focus that you have on having these conversations, and broadening our perspective on culture is something that you’re very serious about all joking aside, and I know that personally, I’m truly grateful for everything that you do.
Anderson: Thank you. I also wanna say I’m grateful for you. I know you know your impact and you know, we lift you up as much as we can. I especially do, but I’m so grateful for you as well. Thank you so much.
Imara: Thank you. That was Tre’vell Anderson, whose book is coming out on May 9th, my birthday.
Thank you for joining me on the TransLash Podcast. Now listen all the way through to the end of this show for something extra. If you like what you heard, please go to Apple Podcast to rate and review us. You can listen to TransLash wherever you get your podcast. Check us out on the web @translash.org to sign up for our weekly newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @TransLash media like us on Facebook, if you dare and tell your friends. The TransLash Podcast is produced by TransLash Media the TransLash team includes Oliver Ash Klein and Aubrey Calloway.
Xander Adams is a contributing producer to the show, and our sound engineer digital strategy is handled by Danielle Capistrano. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of CzK Records. TransLash Podcast is made possible by the support of foundations and listeners like you.
There are 2 things that I’m excited about. The first is that at the end of next month, the second season of the Anti-Trans Hate machine, part 1 of season 2 comes out on Trans Day of Visibility, so if you’ve listened all the way through this podcast, you’re getting a teaser because we haven’t really spoken about that, and we’ll be doing a lot in March to get you ready for all that new content, but if you haven’t signed up for it already, go to the Anti-Trans Hate Machine, uh, podcast link. You can find it where you’re listening to this podcast and sign up for it.
Now, it’s a separate podcast y’all, and if you want all of the episodes at once, go there and get them on drop day, so sign up for that, and then the second thing is that at some point in the next couple of weeks I think, we are going to launch my own personal TikTok page, so that will be funny and interesting I hope, but I don’t have a date yet. It’s just still in the works, so those are the 2 things that I’m looking forward to that should happen over the next couple weeks, and if y’all have signed up for our newsletter or follow us on social media, you’ll find out exactly when these things happen.
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