Black History Month celebrates and honors Black organizers, leaders, artists, historical figures, community members, and loved ones; and their contributions, legacies, and lasting impacts. Often missing from these narratives is the stories, contributions, and rich histories of Black trans peoples.
This blog post is part of a series on what Black History Month means to us, where GJL staff reflect on some of these lives and stories which hold untold power—shaping and influencing us, our movements, and the world.
Black Trans History is Community Care
by Ganesha Gold Buffalo
Black History Month to me means a month of rest and resistance—and our very existence is resistance. Black trans organizers and leaders that inspire me are the ones that I actually know. I love the idea of acknowledging the work of people who are setting historical precedents—yes to that, and also, how can you say that you feel so connected to someone that isn’t around you, who you haven’t worked with, who’s not in your immediate space? [My advice is to] keep your internal sights focused on those in your immediate community who are advocating for the highest change with by-and-for initiatives. For me personally, that’s not just Black trans people, but the fat, Black, disabled trans women that I’ve had around me—and that’s not many at all, because we’re not allowed in spaces or to move in the same way that other people are. I look to people like my sisters Déjà Baptiste and Yocheved Zenaida-Cohen. Each of them have revealed themselves in times when my path was very uncertain—not just my path in life, but my path to myself. As two dark-skinned Black folks that are in my life, they serve as constant teachers—not just from what they say and their emotional labor—but in who they are, how they show up for the people around them, how they constantly show up to their community and how they work, and how they move in general.
Déjà’s never shown up for anything that wasn’t hers to show up for. She’s always conscious of the space that she’s taking, which isn’t taken from anyone else. Her immense love and care for her community always resonates deeply with me because it shows me that even when love doesn’t make sense, we still work to emanate and maintain it as Black trans people.
Yocheved constantly comes through for me as a very out, disabled, Black trans person because she’s always reminding me to be authentic, and that authenticity is the only way to allow people to care for me. That’s a difficult reminder when I’m seeing all the ways in which people distance themselves from me because of my authenticity, and the ways people fear me or don’t want to be around me because of my authenticity. Being in the company of Yocheved reminds me that everything’s okay, and that if you being authentic means those people aren’t in your life anymore, then that means you have more community to create around you—there’s more work to be done. She inspires me to not give up on the things that mean the most to me, regardless of how impossible it seems to do so.
As Black trans women, we are the caretakers and the mothers of community. Just because we’re at the margins does not mean that we’re not birthing community on a regular basis and serving in the greatest care roles in those communities, keeping them intact. We are the glue that keeps that together. People think that because we’re so separated from the greater society and our blood families that we’re somehow incapable of maintaining, creating, and nurturing a community and a family system around us. Not only is that not true, but the reality is that people fail us. We don’t fail them. This idea that we’re leaving people behind us is keeping individuals from acknowledging that they’re the ones ahead and we’re the ones behind, always the ones having to catch up.
I think there’s a lack of understanding for Black trans community in general. Our oppressors desperately want to know more about us and have a sense of connection to us, but they don’t know how to form that, so it becomes extraction—and it becomes something that is siphoning from us, causing us harm and pain. Black trans and queer people invented every genre, and yet that’s where the cultural needle has always pointed away from—but we are the needle. Corporate entertainment makes money off of us by hiring their own people to watch and replicate what we’re doing and creating, oftentimes taking from Black trans culture.
I feel like I’m always preparing for some type of erasure—and that’s our entire community, all the time. When we enter into situations at work, in community, in celebration, that’s what we’re coming with, especially when we’re in mixed company. That’s the collective trauma that we’re consistently facing. Coming in with that attitude, it’s perceived by others as ‘here’s this person bringing this negative energy again, how am I going to deal with that today?’ So we become something to deal with. Instead of people, we’re treated like ‘things,’ distractions, barriers, and blockages—and people want to move around barriers and blockages, they don’t want to face them directly. What I would love the most for the Black trans community this Black History Month is just to be faced: to be confronted out of compassion, acknowledged as people, and to be asked what we need and how we can be shown up for better. The number one response to confronting us and our issues is for people to throw money at us. Throwing money at us is not confronting our issues; confronting our issues is talking to us about what the issues are, diagnosing what’s actually going on, and then working to end those problems.
I really just want people to be intensely invested in who they are as individuals right now, especially other Black people and Black trans people. We have to hold on to who we are. That’s how we maintain the culture, and how we care for ourselves and one another in the grander scheme of things.
— Ganesha Gold Buffalo (she/her), SafeHouse Advocate, Gender Justice League
On Anti-Blackness & Transphobia
Every issue and experience of transphobia is dramatically exacerbated by the additional intersection of anti-Blackness. Black trans and gender diverse communities experience higher rates of homelessness, poverty, violence, and mental health distress than white trans people and cisgender Black people nationwide—in addition to significantly higher rates of police harassment, violence, arrest, and incarceration, with Black trans women being four times more likely to be incarcerated than trans people generally (2015 U.S. Trans Survey).
Beyond affirming that Black trans and gender diverse lives matter, we call for the abolition of police, prisons, and other structures that uphold racism and colonial systems of power. These systems that we have inherited intergenerationally do not serve us as a community—individually or collectively—and they fail to achieve the missions that they espouse (safety, security, etc.). Police do not create safer communities for Black trans communities, but rather perpetuate state violence.
We acknowledge that the deprioritization of secure and affordable housing, policing and the prison industrial complex, medical racism and healthcare access issues, and increasing gentrification and generational wealth disparities, among other issues, contribute to the systemic violence that Black trans communities face, significantly contributing to the death toll of these communities—before we even begin to discuss interpersonal violence and the climbing murders of Black trans people every year.
For GJL, combatting anti-Black racism involves reducing state harm and violence, increasing sustainable employment, and engaging in policy and systems advocacy to create safer, more affirming, and affordable healthcare systems—while also interrogating and combatting the ways we interact with and uphold anti-Blackness as individuals and community members.
For more on combatting anti-Blackness:
- Anti-Blackness in the Movement (podcast series)
- Call It What It Is: Anti-Blackness by Dr. Kihana Miraya Ross (article)
- Me & White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (book)
- Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance by Moya Bailey (book)
- Recognizing & Dismantling Your Anti-Blackness by Janice Gassam Asare (article)
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (book)
- Authors: adrienne maree brown, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Ibram X. Kendi, Mariame Kaba
Black trans resources to explore:
- Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton (book)
- Black Trans Archive (archive)
- Black Trans Feminist Thought Can Set Us Free by George Yancy & Che Gossett (article)
- Black trans led & serving organizations and initiatives list by Raquel Willis (list)
- Black Trans Media (organization)
- Black Trans Men Inc. (organization)
- Lavender Rights Project (organization)
- Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen (film)
- TransGriot (blog)
- TransLash (organization; podcast; docuseries) & their guide to Black History Month through a Black trans lens
- The Black Trans Prayer Book by J. Mase III & Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi (book)
- The Demands of a Black Trans Feminism (video)
- People & their works to consider: Che Gossett; Kylar Brodus; Sandy James, PhD; Tourmaline