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.
Community Care, Resisting Disposability, & Other Black Trans Feminisms
by Kai Aprill-Tomlin
During Black History Month I reflect on the Black trans leaders, organizers, artists, performers, and writers who have helped shaped my relationships with myself, community, organizing, and the world. Some of the most influential-to-me are Crystal LaBeija, Imara Jones, Andrea Jenkins, Laverne Cox, and of course Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. So many local Black trans artists and performers have also inspired me as an artist: Lüchi, Diamond Lil, Hot Pink Shade, Tinashea Monet, Issa Man, The Royal House of Noir and others in the local ballroom scene, and poets like Jzl Jmz, J. Mase III, and Ebo Barton. I’ve also been heavily influenced by Black feminists like bell hooks, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, and Kimberlé Crenshaw—and especially Black trans feminist thought, which is what I want to focus on.
To me, Black trans feminism is rooted in care, trust, nurturance, respect, and devotion to the rich lives and futures of Black trans people, especially women and femmes. This position has beauty and gifts to offer the world, and I believe is also key to in order to achieve our collective liberation. Ultimately, my freedom, even as a white trans man, is interdependent with Black trans women and femmes’. The people who oppose Black trans lives and freedoms are the same people who oppose mine. However, I cannot separate myself from legacies of anti-Blackness and (trans)misogyny, either. Constantly acknowledging, interrogating, and combatting the ways I’ve been indoctrinated into and am complicit in anti-Blackness and transmisogynoir is important to me because the world doesn’t see Black trans people, especially women and femmes, as people—and this has deadly consequences.
Tenets of Black trans feminism like community care and resisting disposability have shaped the ways in which I try to be in relationship to others and myself, the ways in which I organize and learn, and the ways I try to operate in the world (sometimes with varying success). Black trans women and femmes, especially—past and present—are powerful, knowledgeable, and have a long-established history of community care that I think the rest of us can learn a lot from. As a larger society (especially in white, non-trans, and non-queer communities) we don’t do community care very well—I think this has a lot to do with access to resources. For communities with less resources, community care is how we’ve always got our needs met and survived. I think a lot of people only caught onto the idea of community care since the (ongoing) COVID pandemic. My hope is that we can continue to practice caring for each other and learn to let go of the narratives that block us from each other in this way.
I think resisting disposability—also a tenant of Black trans feminism—is also key to this. By this, I mean that we stay in relationship through conflict (when it is safe to do so) while still holding each other accountable, rather than cutting people off from community and other resources necessary for survival, which only replicates the carceral systems that we are organizing against. Part of this, too, is that we must turn to the systems which have created structures of violence and the possibility for harm to occur, and work to transform them. Black trans feminism has taught me that we have to cultivate a deep, committed connection to our communities rooted in profound care for one another, and center this in the ways we navigate our relationships, our organizing work, and our lives.
— Kai Aprill-Tomlin (he/him), Communications & Membership Development Manager, 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