“I had to learn to hold on to all the parts of me that served me, in spite of the pressure to express only one to the exclusion of all others.” — Audre Lorde
The past 365 days continue to teach me to recognize my worth beyond the physical, acknowledge my grief and heal from it all.
I navigated life being harassed for my [un]conscious queerness. Too young I was to understand what it meant when a friend’s mother called me a bull dagger, too expressive when I was repeatedly called a d-ke. Too sinful when I chose to step out of a box that simply didn’t fit.
I lost count at the amount of times I was called a f-ggot, a tranny, a transtrender. I stopped counting because I began to realize the gravity of my existence. I could be fired from my job, I could be killed for living my life.
Rooted along the rural coast of the Potomac, policing my gender expression seemed to be the only means of emotional, social and physical survival. I came across Audre Lorde’s Transformation of Silence into Language into Action and soon realized that stifling my expression, silencing myself and my identity would not grant me a parachute of safety.
To quote Lorde, “We can sit in our corners [silent] forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners [silent] as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.” I questioned and shackled myself by way of conformity in my youth and transient fear over the past twelve months.
Lorde continues, “In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be […], what I most regretted were my silences.”
I rendered myself silent about my wavering faith, incessant doubt on my path to eternal damnation. I was silent about the harassment I faced from a professor as a first-year in college. I was silent about needing help. And of what do I fear? Being misunderstood? Disbelieved? Hated? Killed? The growing reality of the latter forced me, albeit slowly, out of my silence and required me to do more than live. I do not mean live in the manner that many White, queer folks are able. I am not afforded the same luxury anyway. But allowing myself to revel in the joys of my Blackness, gender, sexuality, disability, faith, culture, and my fluidity at its center; instead of what whiteness has decided for me, is living.
I’d be telling stories if I said survival does not require preservation. Centering my joy parallels alongside vulnerability, and while this is an act of resistance; I admit that freed vulnerability is commonly exploited. I learn this during my gap year of undergrad, working full-time at a historically white non-profit organization.
Situated in a southern state where legislation does not protect me on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, I left pieces of myself in the car before walking in each morning. Some mornings, I forgot to leave my queerness in the cupholder. Leave my chest in the trunk. Leave my gender on the backseat under my winter coat that I keep forgetting to bring in the house this spring. Short-term memory set me up for unwanted vulnerability and I am often a Black, trans non-binary spectacle for absorption.
My [white] coworkers and superiors openly inquired about my sexuality. I was indirectly referred to as a f-ggot during my second month of employment. Not because I’m “clockable”, but because of my jewelry. Before you ask why I hesitated to report it, remind me again if I should send this in an email or text to my cisgender, heterosexual, white supervisor. This same non-profit carelessly hires zionists and expressive white nationalists. My priority from that point onward centered maintaining my stealth status and sanity during the remainder of my contract.
I found community in two of my Black, cishet, male coworkers. They offered me the space to exist without masculine performance, and in an environment that suffocates its Black employees with unchecked whiteness, our conversations always feel like I finally reached the surface of the sunken place. I often question if I’ll disclose my trans identity, but in lieu of my safety, my employment and my sanity…I leave that label in the middle console.
I never found solace in being invisible. In being underrepresented. In being misunderstood. In possibly having my life taken for being Black or trans, or not trans enough, or too woman, or too man, or too gay, or too, or too, or too. I vehemently resisted the rigid confines of my gender assigned at birth; expression and roles. Once I recognized that I can be and am neither woman nor man, I was able to acknowledge the body that sustained me during my womanhood and release the harmful expectations of Black, cishet manhood based on my presentation and testosterone count. I spent years searching for the desire to live. And it is high time I go back and get it.
Prior to medically transitioning, I centered my trans identity around dysphoria, feeling relentless discomfort with my existence solely because of the way the world saw me and the ways in which the imperial west restrained me into a gender binary. Many folks that I encountered in the trans community found solace in this same acknowledgement but over time, I was subjected to the same gendered violence that I tried so desperately to escape during my adolescence.
“What’s the point of transitioning if you say you aren’t a man or a woman?”
Too feminine, too confused; too, and too, and too. As a result, I rejected and denied the body I owned 21 years. I denied myself the agency to look and love and live inside this shell. And still I found myself asking; Of what am I afraid? Being misunderstood? Disbelieved? Hated? Killed? The harsh reality of the latter forced me, albeit slowly, out of my silence and required me to go back and get it.
To Khalil, thank you for sustaining me in my identity, in our shared experiences with family, partners and life. Thank you for allowing me to explore what it means to exist freely. For unpacking each other’s trauma, bonding over the healing and all of the humor that comes with it.
To Ken, I am so grateful to you for connecting with me. Our paralleled experiences caused me to look inward about my faith struggle, and even further about what it means to define masculinity, embracing femininity and their implications.
To Kam, we go back a little further and I thank you for supporting me and trusting me with your truth and mine. I thank you for holding space for me to be without question or reservation as our friendship blooms.
To Charlie, the first Black, trans man I had the privilege of meeting. Shared intentional, transformational space with you encouraged me to unpack pain, joy and truth as I sat, contrasted against a full room of white, trans community. Thank you for sharing your truth about family. I carry this with me every single day.
To RC, thank you for befriending me, from OML, to CID, to Lanc, to OBC, to Rashford and Merion Gardens, to Saint Mary’s County and all the stops in between. Your peace, humor, intelligence and fluidity continue to teach me how to extend grace to myself and our community.
“[…] a totaling of differences without merging. I am also speaking of a love shaped by our mutual commitment to hard work and confrontation over many years, each of us refusing to settle for what was easy, or simple, or acceptably convenient.” — Lorde, Eye to Eye.
Unlearning and learning and living and loving have been at the core of our relationship, and I thank the universe for bringing us together to experience life, unapologetically.
To my father, thank you for manifesting love and acceptance in my dreams when it was time for me to spiritually come out to you alongside my family. You always pop-in when I need you most and I am forever grateful for this spiritual, healing connection between us.
And to my mother Kizzy, thank you for being strong when you shouldn’t have had to be. For doing it all with no blueprint. For writing your own story and actively healing from life. I see you, not only because of your resilience, but because you found purpose in mothering me with all your might. For worrying, and worrying, and worrying for my safety and wellbeing. For raising me with what you had, and then some. For loving the child I am becoming, at your own pace. For throwing in a “they” pronoun. For lighting your sage and blessing me always. For encouraging me to be myself, without concern for what or who I would lose. For living your best life and pushing me to do the same.
Sankofa — (san — to return; ko — to go; fa — to fetch, to seek and take)
There is no shame in returning to pick up what you left behind to sustain yourself. On this one year mark of my gender transition, I’m going back and embracing the confidence, balance and wisdom of my mother, Kizzy; my grandmother, Lois; my aunts LaKisha and Teresa, my uncle Johnny and our matriarch, Ann Clayton.
If mortality is imminent, if I am not afforded the luxury of life as long as my white counterpart; If I am not afforded the luxury of safety in the presence of a police officer; If I am not afforded the luxury of survival under this administration; If I am only afforded what I can carry on my back, then it is required of me to go back and get what I lost, forgot, forgone, or have been stripped of.