BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Identifying as anything other than the norm can be isolating. At best, you become the token at the party, the token friend; at worst, you're excluded, silenced, abused. Coming out and identifying as transgender or nonbinary can be scary, especially considering the current political climate. It's vulnerable to be ourselves, but especially when that self is being discriminated against, and even killed.
As Human Rights Campaign has reported:
In 2016, advocates tracked at least 23 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers, some of whom have been arrested and charged, while others have yet to be identified. Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victim’s transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into homelessness.
While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.
Sadly, 2017 has already seen at least 28 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.
This is why it's especially important to celebrate the activists in our community who are fighting to normalize identifying as LGBTQIA - and fighting for equal rights. To be yourself is a political act, but it's an act worth doing, for others and ourselves. For the future.
Here are some real-life superheroes you should know about:
1. Meredith Talusan
Talusan is the senior editor at Them, a magazine focused on the LGBTQIA community, as well as an incredible writer. They have written powerful articles about gender nonconformity, being transgender in the age of Trump, and what dating is like for the nonbinary and trans community. From their piece, "Being Trans, and an Immigrant, Under the Trump Administration," at The Atlantic:
After my own experience with the INS in 2001, I endured the indignity of going to Thailand with my male Philippine passport in 2002 to get reassignment surgery. I could have gone back with the doctor’s note that ratified my womanhood afterward, but I found myself too traumatized to go through all the steps necessary to become a U.S. citizen, to have to face all those people and endure their judgment of my gender identity alone, not knowing if I would even get what I wanted, under a Bush administration that was particularly unfriendly towards everything I am—trans, immigrant, person of color.
So instead, I didn’t leave the country for nearly a decade, too scared to go back to the INS, and just as scared to travel as a man. I missed my brother’s funeral in the Philippines in 2005 because I didn’t have my papers in order, and yet I still couldn’t bring myself to risk the hostility of federal authorities. It was not until after the rules changed that I was able to naturalize in 2012. I still found myself needing to go back to the INS with a pro bono lawyer, even though I was perfectly capable of following the procedures on my own and had no arrest record—a straightforward case. But I needed the lawyer there, to know there was someone on my side, in case the officer refused to follow the law, or to treat me with a modicum of respect.
2. Jayy Dodd
Dodd is an amazing writer and poet who writes about their identity as a black trans femme, particularly what gender nonconformity means for them and the meaning and power of names and naming. From their essay, "Gender Non Conformity as Peak Blackness," at Medium:
I choose the term gender non-conformity as an especially interesting & particular word. Gender, as it intersects with race provides a large context for how this concept is structured. The Black body was brought to the nation as property, inhuman, identified in weight. Our sexualized & gendered bodies were crafted & documented from the pedestal of white captor. Our bodies were branded & bred. Black women’s bodies were made mule of scientific discovery & labor force alike. Black men’s bodies where castrated from their minds & soul. But even these distinctions of men & women were biological determinations, we were sorted like animals in a taxonomy.
3. Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Espinoza is a poet and transgender activist raising awareness through writing and social media, which can be connective for other transgender people in the U.S., as her honesty makes it easier for people to feel less alone. From her poem, "Poem (Let Us Live)," at PEN:
There were words that did this.
There were hands
that did this.
4. Isobel O’Hare
O'Hare is an outspoken intersectional feminist, writer, and editor who is currently speaking out against sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, O'Hare, who identifies as nonbinary, has been creating powerful erasure poems of the apologies from predators like Louis C.K. and others. You can check out O'Hare's work here (as well as Dream Pop Press, a press O'Hare co-founded):
I’ll keep sharing erasures here when I have time, but if you want to keep up with them, they’re all up on my instagram where my username is isobelohare. #metoo #kevinspacey #louisck #harveyweinstein #jesselacey #richarddreyfuss pic.twitter.com/PSlkkHfnAo— Isobel O'Hare (@isobelohare) November 14, 2017
5. Lynne DeSilva-Johnson
DeSilva-Johnson is a nonbinary publisher, artist, musician, performer, teacher and writer, who works tirelessly to publish writing by the LGBTQIA and marginalized community at The Operating System (a press DeSilva-Johnson founded). DeSilva-Johnson also teaches writing in the NYC community, and writes about connection and identity. From "Just Like Itself," a poem at Mom Egg:
I set my hair.
set it just so: big round candypink curlers along the sides
like a layer cake made of hostess confections
or maybe not. maybe just like itself:
dark brown and secretly stick straight serious
now forced to smile in cascading curls
like the hair of my grandmothers
who would have never dreamed of any less
on such an important occasion
6. Gabrielle Bellot
Bellot is a voracious and whip-smart writer who focuses on the LGBTQIA community and social activism, often writing about navigating the world as a multiracial transgender woman of color. She's written about Trump's travel ban, a queer vampire novella, and transhumanism. From her essay, "Transhumanism: More Nightmare Than Dream?," at Lit Hub:
Yet transhumanism is increasingly influential in the world we live in. Modern medicine, after all, is concerned with prolonging and improving human life, and even mundane technologies, like cell phones, can grant us radical extensions of our natural abilities; like gods of old, we can communicate across continents in a blink, can navigate cities we’ve never been to with instantly conjured-up maps. In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud defined the human as “a kind of prosthetic god”; for Emerson, “a man is a god in ruins.” Transhumanists surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, frequent Silicon Valley—and a fascinating new book by Mark O’Connell, To Be a Machine, attempts to examine, define, and perhaps redefine transhumanism for the masses. O’Connell’s book is by turns intriguing and unsettling, insightful and comedic, populated by transhumanists—both famous and working in the shadows—who are often as outsize as their ideas...
Defining science—and, with it, defining what humans are—has a long set of histories. Science should be science, regardless of where or by whom it’s done, yet historically there have often been groups that tried to politicize science by arguing that only certain groups could do it. Hitler notoriously dismissed the “Jewish” physics of Einstein; the Soviet Union embraced the bad science of Trofim Lysenko, which rejected Mendelian genetic theory, partly because it appeared to conform to Marxist tenets; in the French Third Republic, an extraordinary group of men, The Society of Mutual Autopsy, dissected each other after members died to prove politicized ideas about how brain shape and size connected with one’s character and value, as well as to “prove” souls did not exist. There is a long racist history of assuming that science arose purely from the work of white Western men, when, in fact, the roots of science are scattered across the globe, across gender and culture and color.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Sexting the Dead (Unknown Press, 2018). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.