By Kay Ulanday Barrett | Fusion
After Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, which aired on April 24, “he became the most visible transgender person in the country, if not the world,” Time magazine reported. In response to the media’s focus on Jenner’s announcement, Kay Ulanday Barrett – a poet, performer, and educator navigating life as a disabled pin@y-amerikan transgernder queer in the U.S. – offers insights into the experiences of trans people of color.
The problem regarding Bruce Jenner’s situation is the media circus that it all culminates into. It’s all a freakshow for cisgender and non-transgender people.
The painful reality is that our gender identity is under speculation, suspicion, doubt, and policing. But the current curiosity surrounding Jenner’s interview in the non-trans community creates a magical fantasy based on a very wealthy, able-bodied, American, and white experience that isn’t the case for many of us who struggle for survival and justice as transgender people of color.
The emphasis on Jenner’s announcement focuses on a limited portrayal of transgender lives; there isn’t one exceptional experience, but a plethora of pathways to be trans. I wanted to celebrate these different paths by interviewing two trans women of color who are artists and activists.
I had a conversation with Katrina Goodlett, one of the founders of the Trans Women of Color Collective, a group working to uplift the stories of trans people of color.
I also spoke to Alexa Vasquez from Santa Ana, Calif., who currently works with Transgeneros en accion Santa Ana, a trans Latina group working for the empowerment of the transgender Latina women of Orange County, many of whom are undocumented.
Kay Ulanday Barrett: How do you feel the about the current exposure of Bruce Jenner’s interview? Does this relate to your life and work as a trans person of color?
Katrina Goodlett: Trans women of color are historically objectified by mainstream media with this basic narrative around genitalia and surgery. I believe this “exposure” could be better served towards issues that affect marginalized communities; poor, disabled, incarcerated, undocumented trans people of color. We know eight trans women were brutally murdered within the first 60 days of 2015 with no media outrage or outcry, no Diane Sawyer interviews.
Alexa Vasquez: Unfortunately, this media circus makes money off of us. The way Jenner is choosing to “come out” and make a circus announcement is so dishonest to our community. Many will tune in to watch and begin to believe they understand, accept, and value our community based on Jenner’s experience. It is unfair to a movement started by women of color. Women of color have used their voices to empower and uplift a revolution based on real issues, not a mockery.
What is up with the obsession with cis or trans celebrities instead of everyday trans people like yourself?
KG: The media wants to maintain the status quo of capitalism and white supremacy. Bruce’s story is based on privilege. Despite Bruce’s internal truth seeking, [Jenner] will have access to health care, housing, jobs etc. Many trans people of color I know don’t even have access to safe and affordable health care or housing. Mainstream media wants to prop up this narrative of “transition” when for many trans folk that is not the goal!
AV: Celebrities take the audience’s agency over their lives. It’s decided what the audience wants to see, when it wants to see it, and to what extreme the issue is presented. The obsession never gets to the real issues that evolve around personal transformation and growth from the audience.
How can we shift the limited focus on stories such as Jenner’s, and instead focus on real issues that transgender people of color face today?
KG: We shift the focus by documenting and telling our own stories. We can’t wait for mainstream media to catch up. After the basic interview Katie Couric did in January 2014 with Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera I decided to stop complaining and create my own show.
I created The Kitty Bella Podcast out of a need to amplify the most marginalized voices and with a focus on issues outside the basic narrative. Too many of us are dying in the streets for us to beg and ask for nuanced discussions.
AV: We can start by investing in our own lives. Opening our eyes and ears to the stories that live around us, not by creating celebrities. By looking at the culture that surrounds us, we make sure that the resources are flowing in our community. We must remember what affects one affects us all.
What positive changes are there to look forward to for trans people of color?
KG: Liberation for all queer people of color. Like my sister TWOCC national director Lourdes Ashley Hunter says, “Equality has never been the goal.” I’m in solidarity with her words. Just look at all the millions of dollars that went pouring into marriage equality, an issue many queer trans people of color have little interest in. That is so basic. How do we talk about marriage if trans women can’t walk down the street safely? If I can’t survive, I will never get to a place where I can even meet or find a potential partner to marry!
AV: As a trans woman of color I don’t think we are seeking anything other than a fair chance to survive and live our lives. We want a future with the fair opportunity to live healthy, prosperous lives with homes, and families that love us to fill every room. We want jobs where we are respected for who we are. We want to walk on streets and not harassed by the police due to our appearance.
How can people support trans people of color?
KG:People can support by empowering the leadership and lived experiences of queer trans people of color (QTPOC.) Yes we are facing high levels of violence, yes we are constantly being erased out of mainstream media and organizations, but the reality is many QTPOC are leading their own narratives, we been doing it. Ruby Corado, founder of Casa De Ruby [in Washington D.C.] recently launched an LGBT transitional home [for trans youth]. Pour into the work
of the Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC). Invest in black media makers like Black Star Media. Finally, book QTPOC artists and speakers. Queer and trans people of color already know what we need, we already have the skills, we ask for sustained intentional investment and resources.
AV: One of the biggest ways we can support trans folk’s work is by building our relationships to trans folks. Offer your homes, make us feel safe in workspaces, and bring these issues up when we are not around. Sometimes the worst part of coming into a room as a trans woman and having to dissect myself in front of everyone as if I’m what’s being served for dinner. As a trans undocumented woman of color, navigating education has been one of the biggest struggles of my life. I grew up knowing that as an undocumented student I had to pride myself over my education accomplishments to fulfill the “American dream.” Today, as a transwoman of color my solution has changed. Having lost my best friend Zoraida last year, I am learning to appreciate the different voices that really have shaped my views on life. I can’t rely on a system of education that works against me and who I am in order to be fulfilled.
To support the lives and work of transgender community in the U.S., you can find comprehensive list of resources by the Trans Justice Funding Project.
Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, performer, and educator, navigating life as a disabled pin@y-amerikan transgender queer in the U.S. with struggle, resistance, and laughter. Follow Kay online at @Kulandaybarrett.