I’ve been blessed and honored to be in community with and mentored by a number of long-time, seasoned, old school community organizers who are not easy to shake. And when they tell me they’re worried, or I see their tears about all of these laws being passed, I pay attention.
And I’ve been knowing that if we truly are going backwards in some ways, we have people who have lived in those environments to learn from.
People like Albert Cashier who lived in the 1860s and Billy Tipton in the 1930s who lived their whole adult lives in their affirmed gender without others knowing they were trans, including sexual partners. Sometimes, it is a great feat to just exist as ourselves.
People like Lucy Hicks Anderson, a Black transwoman who in the 1940s faced a perjury charge because of identifying as a woman. In the court she said “ “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman.” Sometimes we are defiant in the face of the oppressor, boldly stating our truth.
People like Wehwa, Two Spirit, Ihemana, who traveled in the late 1800s a great distance for a long time to represent her Zuni people to the politicians in DC who treated her well for a time and then threw her in jail for witchcraft. Sometimes we make hard sacrifices to represent gender expansiveness and advocate for the rights of trans communities and Black communities, Indigenous communities, Latine and Asian communities, etc.
People like Louise Lawrence, who lived as a woman in the 1940s and managed a woman-only apartment complex. She created a correspondence network for trans women. Sometimes we create underground ways to connect, build community, and share resources.
People like Pauli Murray, Afro-Indigenous person, who in 1940 took a seat in the whites-only section of a bus and was jailed fifteen years before Rosa Parks was arrested. Whose scholarly writing informed the Brown v Board of Education case. Who coined the term Jane Crow to highlight the specific oppression of Black women. Who described their gender as “maybe two got fused into one with parts of each sex” and “one of nature’s experiments; a girl who should have been a boy”. Who sought out testosterone therapy and wrote under a pen name, “peter panic”. Sometimes we find any way we can to express who we are. As Susan Stryker said: There is a special kind of strength and knowledge that comes from developing a “robust sense of all of the different ways that the world can shit on you”.
Like the BIPOC, houseless, trans women, drag queens, sex workers, who hung out and looked after each other at the Gene Compton Cafeteria in the Tenderloin
Who in 1966 were fed up with being harassed and targeted for violence by police, especially in a safe gathering space. several years before Stonewall, when the cops came in the diner and put their hands on a woman, they fought back. They fought all night. This was a relatively unknown uprising before Stonewall which inspired the Pride movement.
Like the Black transwomen who recently, to fight against gentrification in the same neighborhood, organized the Trans Cultural District and will uplift the story of the Compton Cafeteria Riots.
Two Spirit and Trans people have created more organizations, trans dance parties and speed dating events, gardens, and gatherings. Created families. Cultivated friendships. Have fun together, have good sex, have joy as an act of resistance.
The thing is, despite a massive attempt to erase us. It is impossible. It has always been impossible. This is not the first attempt at destroying us and it probably won’t be the last. The attempts before failed and so will this one. We number like dandelions, like acorns, like the stars. They can try and try to uproot us, to block our light, but we are infinite. We have brilliant transcestors looking out for us, protecting us, guiding us. We know how to fight for each other, for ourselves, for our kids. We know how to take care of our people. We may feel pain, we may get down or discouraged, we may face hardship, even suffering and some of us may be more acquainted with suffering than others. We may be afraid, we may be attacked, but we WILL not, WILL not, be defeated. Say it out loud: “We will NOT be defeated!”.
The times are calling on us to be creative. To be scrappy. To be braver than we want to have to be. To take risks. To break rules. Yes, I said break rules and laws, which are made by people. To those who aren’t used to doing that, now is the time to prepare yourself. We need to get back to direct action, to disruption.
“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”
— Audre Lorde, ‘The Cancer Journals,’ 1980.
All of us with any measure of privilege, which is most of us in some way or another, need to consider and be doing some deep spiritual reflection on what degree to which we will be loud, visible, and actively resist these attacks on our gender expansive children and trans communities. We cannot sit back and rely on living in a state with more liberal laws to be enough. While protective laws do save lives, they also don’t protect people equally. A lot of time the protections work most for those with the resources to go to court or time to advocate for themselves. For Black, Indigenous folx, other folx of color, houseless trans folx, trans youth in foster care,incarcerated trans folx, etc laws alone are not bringing liberation. I know many of us are tired. We’ve lost people. We’re grieving. We’re overworked and overwhelmed. AND, it’s time to act up and show OUT!
And please know this…we are getting somewhere. Yes, we know all of the anti trans bills are in part a distraction from other issues. But they’re also a backlash of transphobia in direct response to the gains we’re making. Fifteen years ago I couldn’t really imagine that there would be so many gender affirming health clinics, especially providing pediatric and adolescent care. Ten years ago it was hard for me to find many out trans colleagues in the mental health field, while we still have a ways to go, there are more and more each day. Trans folx are still creating programs, running trans centers and community groups, they’re attorneys arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court. I’m a Gen Xer and I never dreamed as a teen that now there’d be multiple TV shows where I could see positive trans representation. There are a lot of schools who are trying to teach kids about gender identity and expression and comprehensive sexual health. There are a ton of middle and high schools now that have Gender and Sexuality Alliance clubs. There are homeless shelters for LGBTQ+ youth that I didn’t know was a possibility when I was a teen fearing being kicked out of my house because of who I was.
These changes have been years in the making, collective efforts by many, seeds of dreams of people who came a long time before. The growing power in these changes are what those who want to continue the legacy of genocide born out of white supremacy and transphobia fear. For some the fear comes from the longing for the freedom we have to be who we are that they don’t allow themselves. They’re scared and trying to dominate. So how bout we don’t let them! Matter of fact, they think they’re scared of us now? Let’s really give them something to be scared of! It’s time to refuse to go along with our demise. It’s time to find that fierce protector inside of you, that righteous anger because we need it to give us the energy to fight like hell. And when I say fight, I do mean by any means necessary. Cause we’re not letting our folx have their medicines taken away, their surgeries taken away, kids in school not being able to use their pronouns or mention trans ppl at all, people’s kids, MY kid, being taken away cause their parents are trans or cis parents are supporting trans kids. That’s what we WON’T Do!
We are actively building a world where all people can be affirmed in their gender and expression. We are doing that right now. We’re determined. We’re bold. We’re doing it for the next 7 generations.
In the words of Sylvia Rivera: “I’m not missing a minute of this. It’s the revolution!”
New York Times, 1969.