By now we all know we’re a tipping point. Public interest in trans issues continues to escalate. The sudden mainstream celebrity of Laverne Cox and her consistent and seemingly effortless capacity for reframing conversations, the increasing acknowledgment and embrace of Janet Mock’s brilliance by wider and wider audiences, the first signs of trans people committing to economic empowerment of their community, the failure of the right to effectively target trans people in the wake of their failure to prevent marriage equality, and the trans community’s own refusal to let others get away with lies and misinformation, together evince a irrevocable shift in direction.
Of course we have much, much further to go, and much more work to do. Violence against trans women of color also escalated. The continued imprisonment of CeCe McDonald and the brutal murder of Islan Nettles became tragic rallying points, symbols rooted in a reality that is anything but symbolic for many women, like my roommate Angelia Ross who could only say “That could have been been me.” And while black women like Janet and Laverne, or Latinas like Bamby Salcedo, earn their place in the spotlight, the predominantly white leadership of major organizations and local groups remain unwilling to take a look at their own complicity in the culture of exclusion and violence.
But I continue to hope. I have to. And this is why it’s important to also acknowledge every positive step.
There were several good lists detailing some of the major 2013 trans moments, particularly Monica Roberts’ at TransGriot. However, there were a few more that were personally important to me that did not make any lists. These are seven moments that I found my mind returning to again and again, presented in order of the importance they’ve held for me.
1) Janet Mock appears on Melissa Harris Perry to talk about Scandal
On March 24th Janet Mock appeared on Melissa Harris Perry to talk about trans issues. It was the first time a trans person of color had appeared on the show, and Janet nailed it. She was in Chicago to deliver the keynote address at the launch of the Trans 100 the following Sunday. And then the very next weekend she returned to nerdland, this time to discuss the show Scandal, along with three other black women.
I was struck by this sequence and my mind constructed a present, past, future framing. Janet addressed current issues the first weekend, acknowledged all that came before her the following one, and then showed us the hoped for end of all our work on the final weekend when she was asked back to the show for something entirely unrelated to trans issues.
It was a moment that went largely unacknowledged by the trans community, which in itself is worth reflecting on. For me though, it was a powerful reminder of what we’re fighting for. On that day Janet was black, trans, and a woman, and no one of those three identities in any way diminished the others. This is what the future should look like.
2) Dr. Kortney Ryan Zielger launches Trans H4CK
I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler and watched in awe as he launched Trans H4CK, a “hackathon and speaker series that radically shifts the ways trans* people live by creating technology that economically empowers, improves access to social services, promotes gender safety and community sustainability, while bringing visibility to trans* led startups.”
Rather than simply critiquing the exclusion of trans people from tech or entrepreneurial spaces, Kortney created his own. The success of the event, and its subsequent franchising, is both a credit to Kortney’s unique intelligence, ambition, and spirit, and proof of a massively underutilized pool of trans talent. I’m beyond excited to see what comes out of future Trans H4CKs.
3) The opening of the TransLife Center
In July 2013, Chicago House launched the TransLife Project, which provides “a trans-specific employment support program, fixed and scattered site housing for transgender persons, and linkage to culturally-competent healthcare and social services.”
Stan Sloan and Chicago House worked with the trans community and developed a program that recognized and served all of their needs. They hired several trans people and put them in visible leadership positions, including Angelica Ross at TransWorks and Owen Daniel-McCarter at TransLegal.
I hope that the TransLife Project becomes a model, morally and practically, for how to work with and empower the most vulnerable members of our community.
4) The new TransAdvocate
Since it wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s not a critique to say that I hadn’t paid much attention to The TransAdvocate before 2013. But with Cristan Williams as the new Managing Editor, my attention was riveted, again and again. Never more so though, as when she utterly and thoroughly demolished a fake bathroom scare in a series of posts that reminded us that investigative journalism is still a real thing, and that when so much else fails, at least we do have truth.
Cristan had been doing great work all year, and getting great content from her team of contributors, but after this series she only seemed picked up further steam, taking on issues after issues. I know exactly where I’m going for facts and informed opinion when future stories break.
5) Matt Nathanson’s ‘The Girl in the Kinks Shirt’ video
A cute, straight, bearded singer/songwriter releases a music video that nonchalantly depicts a happy, loving relationship with a trans woman. Sure, there’s a reveal, but it’s incidental. This video is, in a single word, sweet. So, so, so sweet. I’ve watched it a dozen times. Sometimes it makes me cry, but mostly it just makes me smile. It always gives me hope.
6) SNL’s ‘She’s Got a Dick’ sketch
Yes, I’m serious. I loved this sketch. There was a fair amount of debate after it aired, about whether it was making fun of trans women or just using a trans woman to parody the cliche structure of romantic comedies. Mostly though, people just didn’t know what to think, often waiting for a trans person to make their opinion known first, which was also thoroughly entertaining to watch.
So here’s why I love it:
- It was a pitch perfect parody of romantic comedies. It’s not inconceivable that the intention was simply “Hey, let’s come up with an “obstacle” that hasn’t been used yet…what if she had a dick?” The helpful best friend, the Mom, the Eugene Levy dad, it’s all spot on.
- It has Justin Timberlake, and he’s thoroughly earnest throughout. There’s never a moment when you feel like he’s winking at the audience. He plays it straight, and that makes it work.
- The woman is never misgendered or in any way seen as anything other than a woman. This is ultimately the only point that matters.
- She makes no apologies for who she is, owns her value, and has the support of family and friends. If romantic comedies are fantasies for women, this is the first that depicted the ones unique to pre-op trans women who date men.
- Kenan Thompson’s confusion, curiosity, and final “Can I see it?” were a more accurate reflection of most men’s responses than the fears and freak outs typical of lazy sitcom writing.
- IT HAS JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE IN LOVE WITH A TRANS WOMAN
Last I checked, the official video was no longer available, But a lesser quality video is here:
7) The diversity of the Trans 100 list and launch event
This is last only because it’s somewhat self-serving, but more than the existence of a list of 100 visible trans activists, it was the diversity of the list that meant the most to me.
The list was split nearly even between men and women, with a few that were neither or both, and nearly half were people of color. At the launch event, the host and two featured speakers were black, the performers were white, and Latinos, Asian Americans, genderqueer folks, sex workers, showgirls, and the old and the young, were all represented on stage in some way.
During the live broadcast, someone on Twitter said that they had never seen their actual community represented at an LGBT event before. Comments like that outweighed all the critiques for me, and made the effort worthwhile.
And of course, credit for this goes to Antonia D’Orsay, herself a trans woman of color who first came up with the idea of the Trans 100, and all the other amazing people of color who let me work and laugh beside them and have irrevocably changed my perspective on … everything.
So those are my most memorable moments. What were yours?