Transchat and People of Color – Part 2
by Jen • • 0 Comments
Part II: Lessons Learned
In Part I, I talked about the failure of the Transchat on the experiences and priorities of trans people of color.
It’s just as important to note, however, some of what was learned and even what went right.
First, despite the inadequately prepared space and the ignorance that was vocalized, many PoC did participate in the Transchat. I’m both amazed by and grateful for this. If I had stumbled into a conversation about trans people that was organized and dominated by cis people and heard someone say something like ‘bathroom access and safety isn’t really an issue”, I can’t say for sure that I would stay.
Big thanks to Biyuti for sticking around and later sharing both an honest and accurate critique, as well as some suggestions for how to engage PoC. Equally big thanks to Alyssa Kwan who participated and shared a host of really great resources. I’m personally grateful to Noah, my We Happy Trans partner, who, though coming right from the hospital with his fiancé, jumped right into the fray, calmly weathered a lot of personal attacks, and talked me down on the phone afterwards. Thanks to Monica Moldanado for appropriately calling me out on not inviting people personally, to Janet Mock and Laverne Cox for trying to get others to participate (and for their #girlslikeus community, which has done a far better job of inclusivity that #transchat), and to all the others who participated, including Eryca Cane, Reina Gosset, Tona Brown, and Erica (with due apologies to anyone I’m missing).
Second, Transchat needs to change. When Transchat first began, it was just a few friends on Twitter looking for a convenient way to talk to each other. To the best of my recollection, there were maybe five or six of us involved in the initial conversation with Avory Faucette. None of us could predicted how quickly it would grow. Transchat was intentionally organic, without moderation or preparation, but with changes in scale come changes in expectations and responsibilities. Avory and I have since created new guidelines for Transchat and will seek out moderators for particular topics and ask that they prepare. We’ll also move to a monthly schedule to allow more time to engage the community ahead of time.
Third, I want to recognize that although the white people who said race wasn’t an issue or was divisive to talk about were understandably the focus of attention in, and memory of, that conversation, they were nonetheless a minority. Most did show up to listen and learn, were equally horrified at some of what was said, and are genuinely eager to become better educated advocates.
Fourth, it’s better to try, fail and learn than not try at all. I actually was concerned ahead of time that people of color might not participate in the Transchat and wanted to invite some of the more visible trans PoC on Twitter. I had messages written to Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Monica Roberts, but I didn’t send them. I got scared. I was worried that it was inappropriate for me, as a white person, to reach out to people I didn’t personally know just because they were colored. But as Monica Moldano told me later, she was more offended that she wasn’t asked. More astutely, in response to my concern that I would say the wrong thing, she told me “of course you’re going to say the wrong thing, but that’s okay”.
Think of it this way: if cis people were organizing a conversation on trans issues, would you prefer to be asked to participate, even if clumsily, or just stumble into the conversation by accident? Framed like that, I feel like a total idiot for not reaching out. It seems really obvious in retrospect, and my anxieties foreground just how loaded an issue race is in our culture. And in the end, my worry over sounding dumb or inappropriate is a pretty damn weak reason not to engage awesome people. Vanity and ego needs to take a backseat, particularly in a conversation about race. Trans women PoC are dying, and racism is a huge part of the reason why. If we don’t take about that, we’re part of the problem. I’ll gladly risk some awkwardness and discomfort.
Fifth, as important as it is to address race, in order to see people as more than just their race, you need to know them as whole people. The same is true for all the intersections of our identity. While my whiteness, my male socialization, my American-ness, etc., can’t be removed from who I am, I am also much more than any of these aspects.
If I only engage trans PoC in a conversation about PoC, then that aspect is foregrounded. To understand people and their experiences, in their totality and in context, they must be engaged frequently and where they’re at. This is no different than cis people understanding my transness as part of a whole life, which is only possible if I’m engaged outside of conversations only about trans issues.
An astonishingly simple solution to a seemingly intractable problem is to follow people different than you on Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
An easy example: during the Transchat I met @fakerapper. We talked about race and about his concerns about employment for black transmen. If that had been my only contact, that’s all I would have known. But with the single click of a button, you know, that little blue one that says ‘Follow’, I entered into a kind of relationship, one that wouldn’t really have been possible just a few years ago. I learned that @fakerapper is Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler, an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and the first person in history to hold the PhD of African American Studies from Northwestern University. I also learned that he tries to eat cereal while driving. We exchanged bad puns. It’s not much, but it’s something. He’s now more to me than black, or trans, but when he talks about either of those aspects of his identity, I hear him in a different way.
We all have that opportunity. No, scratch that: we all have that responsibility. Look through your social media feeds. How much of it is people just like yourself? If it doesn’t include trans men, women and nonbinary, if it doesn’t include people of varying nationality, political bent, sexuality, etc., seek out those voices. Listen, engage. If for no other reason than it makes life much more interesting.