Redefining Realness for Black History Month
February 6, 2014 by Guest contributor
The following guest post, part of HRC's Black History Month series, comes from advocate Cherno Biko:
This is my first Black History Month living visibly as a trans woman of color. I’m so blessed to be coming into my adulthood in a time like this. Never before have there been so many “possibility models” for folks like me.
These days most of my time is spent in what Janet Mock recently called “the safe bubble of social justice.” I’ve surrounded myself with a community of trans* people of color, artists and activists committed to fighting injustice at every turn. Kye Allums’ project I Am Enough reminds me on the first of every month to embrace all of my identities. Folks like KOKUMO and Dr. Kortney Ziegler have inspired me to speak my truth to power, no matter how unpopular it may seem. There are people like Reina Gossett and Monica Roberts who’ve been championing our histories and telling the stories of Miss Major and Marsha P. Johnson – two legendary trans women who helped ignite the Stonewall riots.
I witnessed Laverne’s Cox keynote address at the National Conference for LGBT Equality: Creating Change where she so eloquently observed that “calling a trans woman a man is an act of violence.” Laverne – one of the breakout stars of Netflix’s "Orange Is The New Black" – has been on a non-stop media tour which gained even more attention after she appeared on Katie Couric’s morning talk show. Laverne’s ability to shift Katie’s attention away from the bodies trans women of color and onto our shared experiences of violence and discrimination inspired me in ways I can’t even begin to describe.
Janet Mock is another “possibility model” of mine. Tuesday was the happiest day of my life with the release of Janet’s new book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity and So Much More. As a low income trans* youth, I rarely see my story reflected in larger society. So seeing myself in the pages of Janet’s book was life changing. Janet’s ability to shine – even in the darkest of hours – is a beacon of possibility and hope for #girlslikeus. Recently I sent Janet a private message, in which I told her, “When I think about the people who didn't get to tell their stories, or whose stories have been cut short, my heart breaks. But then I'm made whole by thinking about all of the people – myself included – who your book and this movement will liberate.”
Although I was unable to join Janet at her launch party in New York, I along with so many folks like us eagerly awaited her first mainstream media appearance on Piers Morgan Live. Unfortunately, her appearance involved the same sensationalization and objectification of black trans bodies we’re often used to seeing. In reflection, I’m so thankful for cisgender advocates in the media like Marc Lamont Hill and Melissa Harris-Perry who routinely get it right.
Feeling empowered by Janet’s request to tweet our honest thoughts on the interview, I posted a live reaction to my YouTube channel and tweeted at Piers Morgan in response to his invasive questioning about Janet’s body. His response made clear his lack of understanding, and his followers have since sent me violent threats, racial slurs and have intentionally misgendered me. However, nothing surprised me more than Piers’ reaction to my tweet, in which he called Janet “churlish” and called her trans* supporters “dimwitted and idiotic.”
It’s time to get real. Being an ally to transgender people means giving us privacy and respecting our bodies. We are not dimwitted nor are we idiotic in our quest to live openly and honestly. Let’s continue this discussion on our terms, on our turf and stake claim to our own identities and lives. We will be heard and we are not alone. Happy Black History Month, indeed!
In a landmark, one-person show last summer titled “LIFE: Lessons Learned from Living Authentically,” Cherno Biko publicly came out as intersex/transgender. It was also Cherno’s 22nd birthday. Since then, Cherno has been redefining realness and helping create a safer world for everyone to live authentically. Cherno, who prefers using they/their rather than gendered pronouns, lives in Ohio. Follow Cherno here.
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