When I began conceptualizing a new framing of my identity as I navigate the world, I found solace in the transgender community and subscribing to the narratives of this movement. As an early investigator of gender and complicity in the normative structures of society, transness seemed revolutionary. Transness to me was a radical pushback against the oppressive systems that sought to keep me trapped and isolated. However, as I have intensely come to interrogate my navigation of trans identification, I’ve found that transness in it’s contemporary understanding is a lie.
This idea of being trans is a fallacy for it not only stipulates that all trans people are fighting the same battles, but it also creates this illusion of radical visioning that turns out to be counterproductive and a mechanism for reinforcing the policies we have sought out to destroy. The new era of trans-mobilization in no way revolutionizes gender navigation or narratives. It does not even act in complicating gender at all. What we have created is an alternate reality that looks as though systems have been blown up, and looks as if we are doing advanced work, but, when taking a step back, we see that this reality is a direct mirror of our initial harsh reality. We have created a system that reinforces cycles of oppression in all realms and have reimagined the binary in a more nuanced yet repetitive manner.
Transness operates with this understanding that we all are fighting the same battle when in all actuality, that has never been true. To politicize transness as a colonized person forced into enslavement and struggling against centuries of generational marginalization, subjugation, silencing, policing, and othering has an entirely different framework than white trans narratives. And as our movement operates solely under white systems, the movement in and of itself is completely irrelevant and useless for the mere fact that the value and radicalness of what transness can indeed embody are sucked out as it’s fed to us through the same system that seeks to destroy us.
I used to integrate this understanding of transness and intersectionality through a mathematical framing. I saw our journeys as state functions – leading to the same end goal though the paths to get there were quite different. However, I’ve realized that in al actuality, our experiences are in no way comparable state functions. And to operate under a mainstream trans narrative in no way allows for this to possibly occur. We have been living an illusion of radicalism when we are merely engaging the same repetitive systems through reductive logical reasoning.
To operate on a trans binary defeats the radicalness of trans thought. To reinforce the norms and values of limited gender constructs defeats the radicalness of trans thought. It was through my experience as a black person seeking refuge in this system and still feeling uncomfortable and silenced that I realized that there was something wrong.
In 2014, I was filmed for three days and interviewed extensively to share my lived experience in a documentary on MTV and LOGO as a trans woman in America navigating the Southern University dynamic. I spoke about criminalization, sex work, murders, unemployment, homelessness – all centering the black experience. When it came time for the documentary to air, not only did my segment in the hour-long special last for a mere 2 minutes towards the end of the program, but most of the nuance and complexity of my experience had been edited out as well. After further investigation and hearing about the editing process and how the executives at MTV sought to edit out all of my parts completely as they did not “appeal to the audience”, I realized how racist this movement has become or has always been.
We have operated in a structure highlighting visibility and inclusion as success for trans people. We have become a community centered around possibility models, respectability politics, and celebrity. As trans has become the new thing and everyone seemingly can get a piece of the cake, neoliberalism has infiltrated our perspectives around what revolution truly looks like. This, more specifically, has affected our black and brown communities in more dynamic ways. We have begun to feel comfortable with the idea that if we work hard enough, we can excel. We have started to use our exceptions as symbols of possibility and reform of a system. But these are all lies. This is all a repeat of what we already have known and endured. This focus forces us to ignore the actual afflictions of the underprivileged, working-class black folk who don’t align with the gender norms while navigating white, capitalist spaces.
Transness as radical thought can only work if we realize that our liberation means fighting not only against a gender norm but also fighting against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, racism, and so much more.
Transness as radical thought looks like decentering whiteness, assimilation, and the state in general and focusing on fighting against anti-blackness and racism.
Transness as radical thought requires us to realize that conceptualizations of what embodies cisness and transness are predicated on white narratives and logic. And furthermore, it requires us to rid ourselves of this lie that cisness (especially for black and brown people) has ever existed!
Our contemporary framing of transness and the trans movement seeks literally to erase the complex and dynamic identities of people of color, specifically black people. As black people, coming into our consciousness of transness is not as much about reimagining as it is merely taking back what was stolen from us. Black femme power intimidated our oppressors so much that it was demonized, restricted, and controlled. Reclaiming that right to black femme magic is a political identification against the state, and so this current trans movement seeks to control further the ways in which we interrogate our gender so that we cannot threaten the systems to the potential that we have the power to.
Much like mass incarceration or Jim Crow, the transgender movement is, in a way, a mechanism to control and maintain black people. Through framing our awakening under capitalist ideologies and white narration, we are not truly allowed to embody the revolutionary consciousness that we used to have access to. We are consistently lied to and provided this alternate reality that we believe to be revolutionary when it’s just the same system fed to us on a different plate with a few ingredients switched out. This has forced us to feed into this idea that we will win by “utilizing master’s tools” or by working our asses off to become exceptions to our demise.
I believe that we will win when we truly allow ourselves to envision a genderless world where we can do what the hell we want to do with our bodies and not rely on the state to validate or affirm us.
I believe that we will win when we begin to embrace our blackness and our black history in its totality and use it as the framework for our navigation and interrogation of transness.
I believe that we will win when we become committed to holding ourselves accountable and working to dismantle the systems of oppression that we have so subconsciously created and invested in this movement.
So I write this to ask – what is black trans womanhood imagined outside of the framework of white femininity? What is black trans manhood imagined without the pressure of fulfilling the white hegemonic ideal? I implore black trans people to keep these questions in the back of your minds as you awaken into the conceptualizations of liberation of your bodies. I, myself, have for so long been shackled through trans womanhood identification and logic that now, embracing a non-binary narrative seems so foreign. But it shouldn’t be foreign. This is how we should be comfortable.
Let us work towards freedom.