“Every Breath a Black Trans Woman Takes Is an Act of Revolution”

Laverne Cox’s newfound fame earned by her role on Orange Is The New Black has given her an active political voice. The transgender actress made a speech recently detailing what it means to be a black trans woman in the United States. In this speech she focuses on the intersect of two systems of oppression prevalent in our society. The oppression of two groups, the black community and the trans community, affect Laverne and others like her doubly. It is no secret that these two groups are devalued in societal systems, but it is still questioned why it is the combination of these two labels placed upon a person that makes them the target of an intense form of systemic discrimination that has lead to them being the most targeted victims of violence in the LGBTQ community.

The black community has been the target of violence and oppression ranging in forms from blatantly overt to almost unidentifiable. In terms of citizenship in our society, it is easy to say that in the past the black community has been excluded. In response, I feel the black community created their own citizenship to remain strong against tides of adversity. I feel like for black males, this citizenship also came embedded with hegemonic masculinities that told them that any feminine behaviour was not acceptable. Homophobia also crept its way into this new citizenship. This need to be strong for their race obliterated another citizenship inherent to all of us. Plummer’s concept of intimate citizenship describes a “bundle of rights concerning people’s choices about what they do with their bodies, emotions, relationships, gender identities and desires” (Surya and Munro 348). The intersect of black citizenship and intimate citizenship is fraught with conflict. For a black trans person this then in turn threatens their trans citizenship as any behaviour other than that of extreme masculinity will be rejected and ridiculed.

We are told that a flaw in feminist theory is the “simplistic equation of masculinity with oppression”. (Surya and Munro 355) I think we can further extend this to the flawed simplification in our equation of whiteness with oppression. Systemic anti-blackness that has oppressed the black community has formed a hierarchy within the race itself. These power structures have created many divides, placing those that are fairer skinned above those that are darker, men over women and cisgender women above those that are transgender. It is unfortunate that some within the race itself have accepted these power structures as truth and perpetuate such systems of oppression themselves. Comparable to the exclusion of the “hijra” in Southeast Asia, these social ladders leave many black trans people at the bottom of the social hierarchy within society as a whole as well as with the hierarchy within their own race. They are unjustly excluded and victimized by a group to which they expect membership. I don’t wish to label the black community as oppressors, but instead as victims trying to hold onto power in a system that was not of their making.

To continue moving away from the equation of whiteness with oppression we can look to the hypersexualization and other racial subtexts in the sexualisation of the black female body. This false perception of black women as beings with insatiable sexual appetites was created during colonization and remains perpetuated today. Julia Serano describes to us a categorization of trans women as either ‘deceivers’ or ‘pathetic’ (Serano, pars 4-11). The hypersexualization of the body of a black trans woman either as a ‘deceiver’ or ‘pathetic’ proves to be extremely damaging. The black trans women whose sex at birth is not blatantly apparent to men, or rather the ‘deceivers’ illicit anger in men who feel an unjustified sense of trickery. Serano tells us “deceivers are… used as pawns to provoke male homophobia” (par 8). I feel it is the age-old story of hegemonic masculinity that tells a male he should reject his attraction to trans females. Rather than sort through his own emotions these men lash out with anger and hatred. For a black trans woman, this anger and hatred is made amplified by the hypersexualization of her body. For what Serano has dubbed the ‘pathetic’, someone’s whose birth at sex is obvious, their body will never conform to the expectations (laced with racial subtexts) that have been placed upon it. Constantly being made to feel as if they are not a ‘real woman’ these black trans woman are the target of constant ridicule and discrimination as well.

We cannot separate the oppressions of being black and being trans for an individual that is both. In a society fuelled by power systems it is rare to see those give up what power they have to move the oppressed to loftier positions. Those that speak out against anti-blackness cannot choose to not support the trans community by simply ignoring those members that belong to both groups. As Leverne Cox reminded us of Cornell West’s words during her speech, justice is what love looks like in public and currently there is a lack of love for black trans women amongst both the black and trans community. (Cox)

-srhs

Word Count: 846

Works Cited

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox on Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Colour.” Everyday Feminism. Youtube. 2 December 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

Monro, Surya & Warren, Lorna. “Transgendering Citizenship.” Sexualitites. 7.3 (2004) : 345-362. Web. 7 Mar. 2015

Serano, Julia. “Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depict the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels.” Julia Serano. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. < http://www.juliaserano.com/outside.html#skirtchasers&gt;

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6 thoughts on ““Every Breath a Black Trans Woman Takes Is an Act of Revolution”

  1. Loved your paper! You really touched upon a lot of important issues within the black community as well as within the LGBTQ community. I really liked your take on citizenship. It’s interesting when you think about the idea that black trans women or really any trans women of colour has to work so hard for their citizenship in so many different realms. Fitting in with the black community, with men, with women and then within the LBGTQ community it becomes extremely difficult. I think my favourite point from your paper is when you said, ” I don’t wish to label the black community as oppressors, but instead as victims trying to hold onto power in a system that was not of their making.” I thought that was a very powerful statement. You have to really look at how colonialism and slavery has affect the views and opinions of black people within today’s society. In the end you quoted cox when she said said their is a lack of love trans women, so I liked to know what you think can be done to heal the wounds of the past and to create a connection and understanding within the black community in terms of respecting and protecting black trans women?

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  2. Great paper! I definitely agree that the violence against trans women of colour is a moment when transphobia intersects with racism. I think that it includes misogyny as well. I think that trans women are less accepted because it doesn’t make sense, from the perspective of the misogynists, that someone would want to “go down” the social hierarchy by becoming a trans woman. Because women are less valued than men, abandoning their masculinity is somehow an act against males, which undermines their power. In terms of the discrimination within the LGBTQ community and the black community, it is a great example of how influential the power of social construction is. The ideas of social hierarchy is so deeply embedded in everyone that they fail to see it as a flaw in the social system but rather perceive it as reality and the way of life(the way it is “suppose” to be). Also, I liked how you see the oppressors as victims of the system. Why do you think people tend to hurt others when they are hurt themselves? What would be an ideal way to deal with the pain people feel from a systemic discrimination?

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  3. To answer the first question posed to me by hjh37, I feel people hurt others when they themselves are hurt as a way to maintain power. By placing someone in a position that is lower than your own I believe you then feel a semblance of righteousness. To answer the question posed to me by motherwillow, I honestly don’t believe past wounds can heal until anti-blackness and the racist systems holding them open are broken down in society. This also answers the second question posed to me by hjh37. More lessons of self-love need to be taught to black youth allowing the life-long process of self-acceptance to resonate from an early age. An example of this can be the new blackout Friday movement that has started on social media where black people are encouraged to post/reblog/like selfies to celebrate the beauty of their race. Once these hatreds are unlearned I believe we can move closer to holistically accepting anyone considered as “other” as hierarchies within the race can be dismantled.
    -srhs

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  4. I’m so glad you chose this article I absolutely Lover Love Love Laverne Cox and the great work she is doing as an actress as well as her work being a trans-activist. I loved the analysis you provide here! There were a lot of things that Laverne tackles in her speech which i feel that you’ve broken down perfectly! For sure the embedded racism and oppression towards others is a mega flaw that we as the new Generation need to fix and stop perpetuating. I’m a big sucker for identifying problems and bringing awareness so do you feel that lectures like these need to be apart of the school curriculum? A mandatory class in university?

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  5. Great paper! I really liked how you addressed citizenship and the points you made in its connections to homophobia, and transphobia. As you said I think black males are embedded with hegemonic masculinities, because they way they are raised is to show that feminine behaviour was not acceptable, and how this introduces homophobia into citizenship. I think this is why trans women of colour are less accepted because in some communities women are valued less then the men so it is seen as a way of oppressing their masculinity. However I believe that trans women work really hard to be recognized as citizens and to earn their rightful place in society. You did a great job as well as looking at the power struggles in the back community itself and how they have placed themselves in many different divides by valuing cisgendered, and trans folks on a lower social status. Why do you think it is that people who have been oppressed themselves, oppress other groups of people in society? Also why do you people push other people to the point of harm, and dehumanization? What do you think will help deal with the hegemonic masculinities in the black community to help prevent this homophobia and transphobia against black trans women?

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  6. To answer allaboutthettreble, I do believe these kinds of lectures should be mandatory. In fact I think some sort of sensitivity training should be mandatory to first years coming into university. The information that was supposed to be relayed to us during frosh week is lacking with the additional problem of dons also possibly taking a lax attitude towards these issues. I know I have experienced the product of ignoarance first hand in residence.

    To answer thatguy1214 as I responded earlier, I do feel that oppressed become oppressors in order to maintain a semblance of power and have as high a standing as possible in our social hierarchies. As for why this is taken to the point where others are dehumanized I couldn’t tell you why exactly except for fear of the other and a lack of fear of repercussions of their behaviour. They know society as a whole will not denounce their behaviour as it is systemic oppression that created these situations in the first place. I think society as a whole must stop demonizing black males before healing through self love can happen. Once these boys/men accept themselves and cease to feel to be a constant target of every system around them than perhaps their acceptance will move to other groups as well.

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