An Unsilenced Trans Woman

Read Jan. 16th, 2016 at Rosie Brown Lily Black in STL, MO

 

To whom it may concern,

The lives of twenty one trans women, most of these deaths being trans women of color, have been taken due to anti-trans violence. Like Keshia Jenkins, a trans woman of color who was getting out of the car and not only was she attacked and brutally beat, but was also shot by the hands of six men. Or Zella Ziona, a 20 year old trans woman who was shot in the head by her “friend” after he felt embarrassed of their friendship going public. I as a trans woman have an understanding that there are no places for us to feel safe, validated, and heard. Our voices continue to be silenced because society tells us we don’t belong here. Due to us going against the gender binary system and living authentically as ourselves, society has made it their  job to erase us. Causing us to have a hard time accessing appropriate health care, getting jobs, and protections against violence. In schools were gawked and laughed at, told we can’t dress in ways that affirm our identities, aren’t allowed to use the bathroom of our choosing and are othered when asking for solutions to these problems. School in my experience never was a comfortable place for me to learn. I reminiscent about experiences like, sitting at the lunch table talking with my friends and feeling a fry smack my cheek then a grape followed. I remember reporting this and being told nothing could be done. I remember the humiliation I felt after a group of girls followed me in the hall yelling “That’s a man!” repeatedly while I walked down the hall. And having to choose my safety over my education because it was the only solution I had to rid me of the pain school caused. On the streets were called men, publicly humiliated, and are seen as freaks while people point and take pictures. In the media were scandals, hot topics, and are seen as the butt of the joke. Remembering the infamous shows Maury and Jerry Springer, displaying us as men trying to trick people into thinking were women. We’re taught not only that we don’t deserve love but not to love ourselves. People constantly throw in our faces what a woman is, causing us to internalize that and posing a reminder that “we aren’t women.” We can’t build together as a community because of the idea of realness, meaning a trans woman has the privilege to pass through society and be read as cis. This causes jealousy among girls who may not “pass” and girls who do, don’t associate with girls who don’t carry this privilege because they think people will notice that there trans too. We’re taught that it’s wrong to be trans, that it’s something that needs to be fixed, and that we should be ashamed of this identity. This causes many trans women to aspire to pass and become stealth so they can silence themselves about being trans; thinking their silence will protect them and erase the oppression as trans women.  The life expectancy of a trans woman of color is 35 and a girl is killed every 32 hours.  We need people to rise up and help fight for our protections economically, federally, and physically. We need trans women to open up about their identities and not to live in fear of telling and living in their truth. Our stories and trans ness are all we have to say “I’m here, and am not going anywhere.” They hold an unseen power that can push back against the system allowing us to connect with people, especially other trans women. We need people to listen to our stories as well as our needs and wants. I believe listening goes beyond hearing, listening means you as an ally build an understand of what were feeling. We need people to take action, take to the streets, hold sit ins, and cause uproar like the #blacklivesmatter movement; which has turned a cold shoulder to the killings of trans women. In which are often committed by the same cis black men the movement has solely been fighting for. I would personally ask that people challenge their own internalized transmisogyny as well as their ignorance. Like Erykah Badu said “education is infinite” and I believe ignorance is no one’s friend. We trans women only want to live authentically as ourselves without judgement, ridicule, or violent attacks. I want to rip off the tag on our identities labeled second class citizens and This letter includes how you can help to do so.

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     Sincerely,

     An unsilenced trans woman

 

Whats Queer about Ferguson?

10514576_10204520521958920_1219642329291884385_n As a trans person of color who also happens to be a Jew, I believe this tragedy in Ferguson has reignited a revolution and therefore we need to turn off our televisions, stop believing the hype and get to work.

MO GSA Staffer: Why are you doing the work you are doing in Ferguson?

I feel compelled to be in the streets with my community. As a member of several minority groups, I realize that this is more than just about one incidence. This is about our collective responsibility to fight for the rights of all people. As my rabbi so eloquently says frequently at shabbat services, until all of us are free, none of us are truly free.

MO GSA Staffer: What brings you this place?

I have never been one to stand on the sidelines, but this time, it is super personal and too close for comfort. I must work as hard as I talk about justice and peace. I do it because I know hearts and minds change one person at a time and I feel like part of my gift is to promote and organize unity between many different people, religions, genders, orientations, and economic positions. I believe that maybe this will be the time we get it right. I feel justice and visibility of the criminalization of young people of color is important because we are losing our children everyday to what has been rightly termed the new Jim crow. If they are able to make it through the education system without being caught in the school to prison pipeline, they are regarded as suspicious and gunned down or strangled to death by those who are paid to protect us. While I know this is nothing new, we have got to continue to put a spotlight on the injustice of making out young people out to be criminals.

MO GSA Staffer: How are you taking action?

I have been in Ferguson protesting feeding the other protesters and cleaning up trash around the protest. I have tried to learn as much about the case as possible and have attended a strategic planning meeting to figure out next steps. Today I went out to the protest with my drum and some other musician friends and tried to add some music to the energy. Music can be a powerful tool for healing.

MO GSA Staffer: How can others out there take action?

They can turn off the TV and join the movement in protest and community service. Use your talents and gifts to enrich the lives of others. Pay attention to history and how it is repeating itself in painful ways. Figure out what your part in the revolution is. It might be volunteering to mentor young people. Might look like cleaning up your neighborhood. It might look like sharing a meal or conversation with someone that doesn’t look like dress like, act like you. I’m hoping that things really do change. I hope that we a actually take the time and the effort to heal this and so many other rifts between black and white, gay and straight, gay and trans, young and old. We have a lot of work to do.

Dr. KB Frazier

Board Member of Missouri GSA Network and Central Reform Congregation

My Queer Camp Experience

My name is Elizabeth Southard and I am very much not an “outside person.” So when I came across the opportunity to attend the Missouri GSA Network’s Queer and Ally Youth Leadership Action Camp (lovingly dubbed “queer camp” by its attendees the second day), I filled it out without over-thinking it. When I found out it was an actual camp, with 10169426_643635479058178_3549297158100416461_ntents, I actually found myself excited. A trip to the great outdoors, nature, all of that hot mess.

Getting there proved to be an adventure in and of itself. I was one of four people from the Kansas City area and also the driver, with the other three and all of our things packed into my tiny car. We immediately hit it off and the drive wasn’t all that awful, until we ended up in St. Louis. We had the address for the church that owned the land and had driven to that, about an hour and a half too far. A new GPS location and an hour of silent brooding later (I’m a bit of a speeder), we were in the proper place.

When we got to the campground, we were greeted by a mass of slightly-nervous looking teenagers and a few adults, under the pavilion that sat on the highest part of the hill. We were a bit nervous, as well, but everyone loosened up over a meal and some introductions. We then went through the schematics of the camp afterward, then were set free to set up our tents, since everyone else had already done so. Once it was dark, we started a campfire and went through more introductions, then had some amazing s’mores. After that, I went and tucked in, as I was pretty exhausted.

The sounds of laughter kept wa1521988_10202725566795162_8569860409836451712_nking me up, but it was certainly nice to hear. I woke up once again at 2 AM, then at 5 AM, at which point I realized sleeping with my head downhill was pretty uncomfortable. A port-a-potty break and some repositioning and I slept much more comfortably, until 8 AM. Once I woke up, I changed, only to find three ticks on me and more in my blankets. After a moment of panic, then irritation, I went to find someone to help.

With my ticks removed, I gave up and moved my things, except for my heavier blanket, into the cabin, resigning quickly to Mother Nature. I let her have the blanket and found a place on the couch, under the window. A breakfast of pancakes and fruit later, I applied a gratuitous amount of bug spray as we started our first lesson.

Tuesday was all about why we lead. We started the day off with a quiet exercise, where a question was read off and we moved about a space, one end being that we agreed with the statement, the other end being that we disagreed. It included questions like if we heard gunshots regularly where we lived and if we were a first generation immigrant. I found it extremely rewarding in that, while I knew there was bound to be a diverse group of people at the camp, I didn’t know it would be as diverse as it ended up being.

After that, we did a game called “K-12 Game of Life,” where we were split into groups and given the name of a student. They were of varying backgrounds and we had to roll a set of dice to determine their outcomes through a series of events, all while learning how disabilities and other factors play into the school push out- the tendency for certain students to be unable to graduate, for whatever reason. After a slip-n-slide break, we all went our separate ways to chat, visit, what have you.

Dinner was amazing pasta and we had a break before art therapy. We built lots to stay calm, listing objects that hit on each sense and helped ground us. We then did an exercise where we imagined several things in a desert and drew them onto a notecard. Once given what each symbol meant, we were given a moment of introspection on what that “snapshot” of our lives at that very moment. It was rewarding to see how my own mind viewed my situation.

After that, we retreated into the very, very hot cabin to chat, which included several topics over sexism, racism, what have you. The intelligent, calm discussion was so refreshing and I wish I had more time if only to talk with such amazing people even longer. There was another campfire, but a few other people and myself stayed in the cabin, as it was just too hot. A nice shower and we were tucked in for bed, this time with considerably less bugs.

I was awoken at 6 AM by thunder and, while the cool air from the open window over me felt amazing, it was far less amazing for the people out in the tents, one of which collapsed. After a rescue mission, we ended up with quite a few more sleepy bodies in the cabin. I eventually fell back asleep and woke up two hours later. It was cool and breakfast was more pancakes, which was amazing.

Wednesday was about how we would achieve our leadership goals. We learned about building collective power, which is basically “power in numbers.” Lunch was sandwiches, but had to be moved into the patio due to more rain, which felt even better. After that, with all us settled into the patio, we learned about logic models, which list the ways, reasons, and other components of bringing about change.

After another break and the rain letting up, we came together next to the cabin to learn about the School Climate Survey and provide input on it, as well as find ways to get involved. A dinner of hamburgers or bean burgers and we had our final campfire once it was dark.  We said our favorite part of camp and threw a stick (or in my case, a found 2×4) into the fire. It was so moving to hear all the different reasons and was just generally a heartfelt few minutes.

After eating some s’mores, some of is went back to the cabin. I showered and stayed up chatting before going to bed. Breakfast was cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk in the cool morning air before we learned about power mapping, where you list people by how “with” an issue they are and how much power they have. We also set our goals for the summer and evaluated the camp.

Once we were all packed up and on the road, the trip back was quite a bit quieter, everyone tired, itchy, and sad to be leaving. We made it home in one piece and without any ridiculous roundabouts.

Overall, it was easily one of the best weeks of my life. I made lots of amazing friends and tried new foods. I had an adventure that I’ll never forget and I hope to return next year, to not only familiar faces, but to many new ones, as well.

 

Becoming “It”, Instead of Her (Oppression Against Trans Women)

Written and Presented in and for a sophomore speech class in St. Louis, MO public school

Trans* women often face a constant battle against oppression and social stereotypes held against us everyday. Society has made it so that we as trans women are often made fun of, harassed, beat, and in most cases killed.  This risk is a lot higher for trans women of color. Statistics show that ninety-eight percent of violence regarding transgender people, were against trans women.  Even more, one in eight trans women of color is murdered a year.  So, why is it that so much chaos is being thrown toward us for trying to be ourselves. It goes back to the social norms of what a man and a woman are perceived to be.  Men are often seen as very masculine figures who are attracted to women. Women are perceived as feminine and delicate and are supposed to be attracted men. When we are born, we’re given an assigned sex based on what’s between our legs. This sex comes along with gender binary roles, that we are supposed follow. When anyone does not identify with this sex, society tries everything in it’s power to tell us we’re wrong. Although sex and gender are commonly mixed up, they are not the same thing. My gender does not match my assigned sex. I am a woman who was born male. Since I am one who doesn’t fit in the category of what a man should be; society says it’s okay for me to be oppressed. I am now seen as “it” or “that”, and my personal gender pronouns preferences are completely looked over.

My right’s as a woman are often questioned and in most cases taken away. But, “Ain’t I a 1480607_587866834601063_1014644675_nwoman.” Although I was not born biologically female or am a cisgender woman. I still perceive and live my life as a woman. I will not walk around and let people see me as a fake woman; as if such thing exists. We are women and deserve to be treated as such. There is no reason why we should be living in fear. Our lives as trans women are in danger because of the image society has created about us. The men who find us attractive are stripped of their masculinity and categorized as gay making them have to prove themselves, and show that they are masculine. This usually ends up with another trans woman reported dead. Men are attracted to women and those women include transgender women. The men dating us should not be seen as weak, or not masculine. He is not gay, he’s a heterosexual man with an open mind to our femininity and beauty.

The search for a job is a constant struggle; and even more for trans women of color. The stress of finding a job is what causes many trans women to become escorts and sex traffickers. In this state trans women are at an even higher risk of dying by the harmful effects of drugs, STD’s/STI’s, and homicide. This goes to show how oppression is working hard against us, and has even put a hold on us using the appropriate restroom. We should be able to use the correct bathroom, that matches who we are. Even though gender neutral bathrooms come in handy, they are telling us that we’re not woman enough to use the proper facility. It’s silly to make a comment that there are men in the women’s restroom when we are present; and even more that the women’s restroom is for women only. And, “Ain’t I A Woman”.

My heart is saddens every November 20th of each year as we witness the list of trans men and women who have been killed in the prior year. It’s a shame that we as people have gotten to a point where we feel so disgusted by someone else; that we actually end their life. Even as a young trans woman, the threat of me being sent to an early grave has begun. I can’t walk by myself without doubling backing to make sure I have a weapon on me. I have met the eyes of men who’ve threatened to beat or murder me. I’ve experienced my civil rights’ being seized away from me, along with ever present sexual harassment that happens to women. Within the school environment I face bullying and harassment from my peers and school push out from the school system. Yet, I still refuse to let society shred me of my rights to live as I am, and force me to follow their set gender roles. “Ain’t I A Women.”

It is my right as a human being to pursue whatever makes me feel happy and, I’ve made it my duty to live visibly and authentically as a Trans* Young Women of Color. By doing so I’m taking a stand against society and showing them that I will not be silenced.  Though the Lesbian and Gay movement has begun to walk; the trans movement is still crawling. Society has set up obstacles for trans women to be banished on earth. These obstacles include denying us jobs, housing, and setting up violence for us to be discriminated against. These obstacles are set to make it harder for us to live and enjoy life. But, I have had enough, and society will learn that I along with my trans* brothers and sisters are not going anywhere. We will not stand around and let our voices be smuggled by the discrimination held against us. We will rise as one, and fight for our right to live free. We will not be alienated and seen as second class citizens.  Our voices will be heard, and we will soon be greeted with the hands of justice.

Ka’Milla “KeKe” McMiller

St.Louis, MO

Age 16

Missouri GSA Network Board Member

School Push-out Needs to Go

My experience with School Push-out started my freshman year of high school. I always knew1262754_573255706044764_819946820_o the challenges I was going to face were going to be that I cross-dress and I am gay. So the bullying kicked off the first week of school.

At first it was just regular taunting and teasing from kids that I usually got from people on the streets.  About 2 weeks after that and people started to notice my personality and found out that I wasn’t a girl the bullying escalated. I regularly got teased, things thrown at me, and unfair punishment.

When I went to the principal and gave names they wouldn’t do anything, so I stop trying because of the fear of retaliation and I figured nothing would be done. I felt who would want to be a witness of the gay kid.  I’ve been told by my assistant principal that I shouldn’t be dressing like a girl or wearing wigs and extensions. The head principal told me if I wasn’t dressing like a drag queen, maybe I wouldn’t get bullied so much. She told me it was also against the school dress code because it was “Distracting” to other students.

A couple of boys got together and told my assistant principal that I was looking at their crotches, saying I was flirting with them and making them uncomfortable. I was confronted by my assistant principal, in which I pleaded my case and told her that these boy’s were all from my math class and none of what they said was true. But, we all were giving warnings and told if anything continues we’d be giving disciplinary actions. Well as I knew they continued to bully me I told my assistant principal she just gave them another warning, she believed the boy’s. But, when they said I was making them feel uncomfortable again I was giving I-S-S (In School Suspension). Another boy from the same class said I made him feel uncomfortable because I was singing a song with the ‘D’ word in it. He told my assistant Principal and I was giving a sexual harassment report. The school suspended me from all districts technology for two weeks because I was looking up drag queens.

The bullying continued and it became so bad that I couldn’t identify who was doing it anymore. I began to grow very suicidal and started to self – harm again. I was hospitalized for 2 weeks. My mom had enough and called the school board because the school wouldn’t anything they told her they’d get it to stop but didn’t do anything. When I came back the bullying started immediately and soon after it was as worse as the first time. I continued to cut and my depression grew more and more. Especially with the frustration I got from being home.

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I informed my school social worker, and she told me to think about going to Alt school. I would be out the school environment and would be able to concentrate with bringing up my grades. I was at the point to where I could either start fighting, get an education at Alt school, or drop out. I chose to go to Alt school, it’s not prefect, and it’s only for half a day but at least I wouldn’t have to face the bullies all day long. I started to become happier with less bullying and my grades started to come up and I passed all my classes.

Last semester, I also started up my schools first GSA because I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through alone. I got active in the Missouri GSA Network and at the Rally we held on 9/29/13 as part of the National Week of Action to Push Back Against School Push Out we decided to start a committee of Missouri GSA Members and other in our network to continue doing work around Push Out and other important issues and we are calling it  MOGSAs4Justice. If you are interested in joining this committee let us know here.

Toodles,

Keke

 

Reflections from National Gathering

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August 1st-4th, 2013 two representatives and one staff person from the Missouri GSA Network attending the National Gathering for the Associations of GSA Networks. This years gathering took place in Denver, CO hosted by the Colorado GSA Network. Check out the pictures taken by our neighbors from Iowa Pride Network for the weekend. Here are some of the reflections from the students and staff who went on this trip.

SterlingSterling-   I’ve been to many youth gatherings that revolve around leadership and social action, but the national Association of GSA Network’s gathering was by far the best. My favorite part was the closed caucuses. I went to the trans* caucus and met many amazing people who I can relate to and feel comfortable with, because they share my identity. It was really powerful to hear others stories and have a safe space to share my own stories.

The workshop I learned the most from was the one on School to Prison Pipeline. There was a game that simulated a variety of children going through the k-12 public school system and their challenges regarding the their intersecting identities and its effect on their journey in the school to prison pipeline.  By the end of the workshop I could recognize my own challenges within the pipeline. I could also see the push out happening in my school district,  even to my friends. Because of this specific workshop,  the impact of it will help me make change within my own district.

GSAs Give ’em Hope

by: Seth L.

Looking back on my involvement with my school’s GSA, I can say we’ve accomplished a lot.

We spoke on numerous occasions before our own school board on behalf of 45334_10200420901277956_1392288475_nincluding sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in our schools non-discrimination code and change happened as a result. We hosted a counter protest against the Westboro Baptist Church in which hundreds of locals and out-of-towners came to show their love and support. We even had the pleasure of hosting the Missouri GSA Network’s GSA day of workshops and connection building between GSA’s throughout the region.

As a graduating senior, I can see how far we’ve come, how much the atmosphere in my own school has changed. At the same time, I can see how far we have to go. Anti-gay bullying and homophobia is not just a thing of the past. And in most places in Missouri, life is difficult for LGBT high school teens. Truth is, we still live in a culture of silence and stigma, and too often is the case where a teen struggling with his or her own identity feels the need to hide who they are for fear of being physically or verbally harassed or outcasted from family and friends.

Despite this dilemma, I have seen firsthand the change that can happen in a high school environment.

I have seen student attitudes change about their LGBT peers as they become educated and less ignorant about the world around them. I have seen so many other teens like myself come out in their later years of high school and I have seen the weight lifted off their shoulders. In my opinion, coming out can be freeing, but it also gives us the responsibility to acknowledge our visibility while also seeking to educate others and promote acceptance in our communities.

Times are changing and yet we still face a variety of roadblocks in our way. Let us aspire to do what Harvey Milk did in his community and be the change we so desperately wish for.

Homonorming Missouri Proms

Hello GSA Network!

My name is Jack, I’m 17 years old, and I live in Chesterfield, Missouri. This spring, my boyfriend and I made a splash at John Burroughs’ prom and Parkway North’s prom as one of the only same-sex couples. However, we got the attention of far more people than those who attended the proms.

Since our relationship is “Facebook official,” we felt comfortable posting numerous photos of our night out. The response was overwhelmingly positive. We often joke that pictures of us as a couple get more “likes” than all of our individual photos put together. Some of the likers were our close friends and family, whom we would have expected to look through our pictures. But the range and number of people who have supported our relationship via Facebook has been the biggest surprise. People I would have never expected to support same-sex couples, people I haven’t seen in years, and even people I don’t know personally liked or commented on our photos.

577456_510678148979499_2120944566_nThe thing that encourages me about this support is that most of it isn’t about us as a couple. It is about the fact that people see that a same-sex couple in Missouri can be out and open, attend two high school proms, and receive literally nothing but positivity from others. At the Burroughs dance, we were the only gay couple, and at North we were one of three or four other same-sex couples. At both, we were greeted by administrators and peers no differently than anyone else. It actually felt so natural that being some of the only openly gay people there hardly crossed my mind (which I was grateful for). The tuxedo renting process went the same way, with all of the employees making friendly conversation and even telling us we were a cute couple.

I hope that LGBT youth in St. Louis, Missouri, and everywhere know that as daunting as it may seem, it is possible to bring your date of choice to a heteronormative prom. In fact, from our experience, it can be fun and rewarding. Above all, it felt normal. We were an average couple at two high school proms. The amount of support and acceptance we were met with was extremely encouraging to me that today’s young people, the next generations, and even most adults, are ready for a more diverse prom experience.

As a “Teen”

As a teen, I have been told many times that I’m simply “too young” for many things. As a teen, I am telling the world, the only thing that age will stop me from doing is voting.

I have many experiences that other people typically don’t at my age, like climbing a mountain, being on the board of a statewide organization, and making life-altering decisions regarding my health by myself.
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With all this in mind, I’m saying that no one should have to list accomplishments like those to be taken seriously as a teen. When people treat you as lesser than them because of your age, it is called ageism. Unfortunately, this is something I face often, not in any of the various organizations I’m involved in, but in my school.

I am my school’s GSA president. As president, I communicate with administration often and it doesn’t always go as I plan. I’ve encountered everything from “that presentation was fantastic” to a principle calling months of my hard work “cute.”

It’s not a good feeling to know someone views you as lesser, but it can, like it does with me, make you want to work harder so you can show them how fabulous you are and that they shouldn’t underestimate you. So if you ever face ageism, feel welcome to accept it as a challenge to prove them wrong.

Sterling W

Our Words in the Statehouse

Written by Tadhg D.                                                                                                         Metro High School GSA Member

Last week, on March 13th, I was a part of the first ever Queer and Ally Student Day at the Capital in Missouri.

My trip to Jefferson City was incredibly enlightening. It allowed me to talk to my May 5, 2012 2-45-39 PMRepresentatives in person for the first time ever and for me to see their views and opinions on upcoming propositions.  Though many of the legislators were not with us on the policies we came to discuss, they still took their time to talk to us and inform us on the strategies to being effective in the statehouse.

It turns out that you can’t just show up to their offices and start interviewing them;  Representative Otto was kind enough to inform me and my lobbying partner that “we were very unprepared”.  After an embarrassing but necessary lecture we learned that we needed to know a number of facts before we talk with our political representatives face to face. We can be prepared next time.

Our trip to Jefferson City was a necessary experience that allowed me to hone my lobbying skills and grow as an activist.  It also helped to create new connections for me with both legislators and other Missouri GSA members such as myself, and for that I am grateful.

Until next time law makers.

-T