Monica Roberts

2008-The Year Of the Black Transperson

Filed By Monica Roberts | December 20, 2008 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: African-American, hate crimes against LGBT people, media, Monica Roberts, transgender, transgender POC, year in review

Ever since Christine Jorgensen stepped off the plane in New York from Denmark in 1953, the media coverage concerning transgender people has been disproportionately focused on white transgender people.Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for cookie fields

What little coverage we have garnered has been limited to African-American oriented publications such as EBONY or JET, focusing on us when the subject turns to transgender prostitution or repeated inaccurate, insensitive and sensationalized stories filled with incorrect pronoun usage about transwomen who lost their lives to anti-transgender violence.

We had hopes after Los Angeles transwoman Cookie Fields' story was published in the iconic pages of ESSENCE magazine in November 2006 that it would usher in increased positive coverage for transgender people of African descent. Those hopes were dashed as we went right back to the usual fade to invisibility in not only African-American oriented media, but their larger mainstream media friends as well.

This year, there were encouraging signs that the media blackout African-American transpeople have frustratingly endured and fought for decades may finally be starting to lift.

Whether it was some African-American transwoman blogger whose commentary got posted on this blog, the Bilerico Project, and other various spots across the blogosphere to Isis King and Laverne Cox's star making turns on reality TV shows, 2008 will arguably go down as the year that Black transgender people got long overdue recognition and face time.

I'm proud to have played a small part in it when I became the Bilerico Project's first African-American transgender blogger in January. I not only was quoted in various articles and blog posts, in recognition that my TransGriot blog is continuing to grow and gain new readers I was asked to write guest posts for various blogs as well in addition to being invited to speak at various events.

While my transbrothers have gotten even less attention than we have since 1953, they nevertheless got some of this new media love as well.

There was a documentary released called Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen that's garnered attention and racked up film festival awards. Daisy Hernandez's Color Lines article Becoming A Black Man and Nick Mwaluko's Huffington Post story gave some transbrothers an opportunity to tell their stories as well.

Nick's story was interesting because it gave us the opportunity to read about a continental African speaking on transgender issues. Nigeria's Mia Nikasimo did the same a little later and it highlights the fact there are transgender peeps on the second largest continent on the planet as well.

ts-isis_laverne.jpgIsis King's history making turn as a contestant on Cycle 11 of America's Next Top Model and Laverne Cox's time on I Want To Work For Diddy drove home the points that we are beautiful, intelligent and are driven to succeed in addition to giving us positive TV face time.

While Isis didn't win the big prize of the modeling contract she was seeking, she became a role model to many people in the process. In addition to the numerous media interviews she conducted, she made an appearance on Tyra's Emmy award winning talk show. Laverne since her turn on I Want To Work For Diddy is working on various projects, acting and producing a documentary.

08DNC Invesco-Ness and Marisa1.JPG

And in a year in which we proudly witnessed the historic campaign that resulted in Sen. Barack Obama becoming the first African-American elected president of the United States, history professor Dr. Marisa Richmond not only was there to witness history being made in Denver, she made it herself as the first African-American transgender delegate to a major party convention.

But just as these positive things were happening for us, the joy was tempered by the fact that we still have a long way to go before we are accepted by all our people. Too many times the anti-transgender hatred and violence we face comes not only from people that share our ethnic background, but from the people that are supposed to protect and serve us as well.

Those points were driven home by the shocking videotape of Duanna Johnson being beaten in a Memphis police station and several African-American transwomen across the country being murdered. Duanna's story became more tragic as she was found shot to death November 9.

ts-victor juliet mukasa1.jpgIn addition to Nick and Mia speaking their truths about transgender issues, African descended transpeople across the Diaspora made headlines as well with Kellie Telesford's Jamaican-born killer being acquitted in London, the suffering of our transgender brothers and sisters in Jamaica and the bravery of transgender activists in Uganda such as Victor Juliet Mukasa and elsewhere on the Mother Continent fighting simply for the right for themselves and their transgender brothers and sisters to live their lives in peace.

And while we didn't (as of yet) add any new members to the African-American IFGE Trinity winners club that is currently me, Marisa Richmond and Dawn Wilson, there are proud African-American transpeople who are leaders in various cities such as Cydne Kimbrough, Earline Budd, Louis Mitchell and others not only working to make things better for transgender people, but the communities they reside in as well.

ts-rochelle evans1.jpgWe also got to hear from the next generation of African descended transkids like Rochelle Evans who despite facing some obstacles, are determined to do their part to ensure that they are ready and able to write the next chapters in our stories of success.

This year will close with the fact that African descended transpeople are beginning to have their stories be covered and told. When it isn't perfect or inaccurate, we're demanding it be done accurately and respectfully.

And what a story it is. We're doing our part to uplift the race by helping to uplift our communities, are breaking historic ground in various fields, and are shaking off the shame and guilt to forcefully stand up for our rights to simply live their lives.

We can only hope and pray that the positive upward trends for African descended transpeople continue into the New Year.

Crossposted from TransGriot

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Yes, well said Monica. Despite certain rabble here and there, I believe the signs are good. We do have reason to hope.

What a great post, Monica! Wow!

(Although - with you around it's always the year of the Black Transperson. :) After all, you're #1! :)

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 21, 2008 12:17 PM

Great post Monica! Thanks for continuing to put it out there.

And thanks for the honor of being part of the Bilerico family.

BTW, received my Bilerico Christmas gift Friday. ;)

I'm glad you cross-posted this over here!

Great post Monica....and while we are at it, how about more portrayals of in the media and highlighting of the accomplishments of African-American Lesbians; we are not an exclusively white club (speaking from personal experience, most of the women that I have been involved with over the years have not been caucasian) yet portrayals and role models of colour seem to have been excluded from the media for both the trans and Lesbian components of the LGBT community.

It is a worthwhile issue to persue.

True enough..

One of the major issues many GLBT peeps of color have is that not only the movement face has been cleansed of people of color, but snippets of GLBT have been monochromatic in hue as well.

It needs to change ASAP.