Why Black Transgender Role Models Are Important

A TransGriot post I wrote in April 2009.

Wyatt T. Walker wrote in a December 1967 Negro Digest article, “Rob a people of their sense of history and you take away hope.”

So when I stated that I wish I’d had pioneering transgender role models to look up to of African descent growing up like white transwomen have with Christine Jorgensen, April Ashley, and Phyllis Frye, I was speaking not only from a personal frame of reference, but from a historical one as well.

Yes, those people and many others have wonderful qualities that anyone can admire and emulate. But they also have in common the fact they are white.

That hasn’t changed even though there are three African-American transgender people who have Trinity Awards on their mantels. That hasn’t changed even though there are countless examples of transgender people of color stepping up, being intimately involved in shaping the history of this community and blazing trails such as the Alexander John Goodrums and Roberta Angela Dees of the world.

I’m lamenting the history that either hasn’t or is just beginning to be told.

The point is that a young Euro-American transkid always has people representing them that affirm, reflect and share their cultural heritage. They log into computers for information on transgender issues, and the websites and the history they tell about the community disproportionately reflects them.

Go to the library or search for books on transgender issues, and there’s a plethora of books, be they fiction or non-fiction, written from their point of view. They even see themselves reflected in the few movies and TV shows that have been done with transgender characters in them.

Now if you’re a person of color, it’s a different world.

Black transwomen have been whitewashed out of the transgender community narrative despite playing major roles in crafting it. We’re rarely interviewed by the MSM, have books written by us, about us, or for us, asked to speak at colleges on transgender issues, or reflected in the predominately white middle-upper middle class leadership ranks of the community.

Don’t even get me started talking about the images of African descended transwomen.

So when people consider me a role model or tell me they’re honored to talk to me, I realize the seriousness of it. It’s something I wish I’d had growing up, and it’s the same lament shared by current day transwomen now in their twenties and thirties.

It’s important in any marginalized community, especially as a transperson of color to have role models that share your ethnic heritage. They give you a concrete example of the fact that you aren’t alone for starters. Their existence lets you know they are proud to be who they are, a roadmap to living your own proud life and the strength to persevere against adversity.

It also lets you know that you have a valued history that we have an obligation to defend and build up to greater heights. It also gives you the sense that you are another runner in the relay race of life and it’s your turn to pick up the baton and carry it forward.

That has what’s been denied us through intentional and unintentional whitewashing of transgender history, our community being disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and taking the brunt of the hate violence directed at transgender people.

It has also served as Wyatt Walker’s quote states, taken away our hope.

It’s a negative pattern that needs to be reversed, and it starts with us. We have to claim and fiercely defend our history, trumpet our accomplishments, and document what’s happening for current and future generations to read as well.

I want future generations of cisgender people inside and outside my African descended community to know not only what Alexander John Goodrum, Roberta Angela Dee, Dionne Stallworth, Kylar Broadus, Dawn Wilson, Dr. Marisa Richmond, Lorrainne Sade Baskerville, some transgender blogger who’s the 2006 IFGE Trinity Award winner and many others accomplished in their time here on Earth to build this community, it’s important for future generations of transkids to know this as well.


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8 Responses to Why Black Transgender Role Models Are Important

  1. Monica Roberts says:

    The handsome trans brother in the post is the late Alexander John Goodrum.

  2. Kenia Brittney Armstrong says:

    I am a 59 yr old transwomen accepting my role in life as a role model for african american transwomen. I’ve never been married. The Marvin Gaye tragedy prevented me from marrying, nor children. I’m in 5 support groups and rarely seen many of us, if any at all. After watching Obama’s trip to Africa, I realized that most of my life has been to conform, adjust, keep secret etc. I also realized the importance of family. My sibs and I have matured together and now after telling them recently, the love we have for each other. has grown They love me regardless because we have always been there for each other. I attend a Christmas Night party for homeless trans kids from all over in Manhattan and the communication with the kids is so healthy for all of us. I realized that this is my role in life especially because we as african american transwomen especially need to know that you have to truly love yourself. Before you decide to marry, have children, religous beliefs, make sure you know yourself. There are more black CD’s in the closet afraid of what would happen. I was selected Honorary Mom on Mother’s Day by my dear friend who’s a black CD. She lost her mom to cancer and I have given her such positive comments she decided to do this. I travel as much as I can to show that the african american trans community is there. As soon as I find 2 churchs in Manhattan that are transfriendly, I will seek others like myself to let others know that black trans role models are there for you.

    Sincerely, Kenia Brittney Armstrong

  3. Monica Roberts says:

    Kenia,
    Thanks. It’s pone of the things I wish I’d had at the beginning of this journey, and I’m glad that you are in a position to where you can be a mentor for someone.

  4. Aryah Elle says:

    I myself have felt the effects of the lack of Black and/or African and Caribbean trans in the LGBT community. It saddens me to feel and observe the psychological quarantine that we are constantly being put in: first a minority, then of taboo sexual attractions, and lastly within that same said community. There are, however, ones to look up to as featured in this article. It is a lack of positive exposure that places our face in the world. Also barring us is the distrust that we have for each other, fed and grown by the reflections of society. Yet none of this should strip our hope, we can and will be stronger, as evident in the fight for equality and recognition that has occured during the past milennia. I leave this article with a lightness of heart and a belief in better things to come.

  5. Dominique says:

    I think there is a disportionate amount of white transpeople because we’re the ones who stepped up and were willing to be out and open. I only had one transperson of color willing to be out when I was transitioning.

    As for Lynn Conway’s “Successful Transwomen and Transmen” websites, if I’m not mistaken, those folks are on there voluntarily. There are many of color, but representation by blacks and latinos are limited. Again, I would love to see more step. My experience is limited in the black community, but I have been part of the latino community since childhood. I believe more are stealth because of social stigmas in those communities.

    One African American trans sister is my idol. She has more class in her pinky finger than I do in my whole body. I am honoured to be her friend and to have learned from her. If you find yourself at a Mac counter in Beverly Hills, tell her Dominique says “Hi” and “I love you”.

  6. ginasf says:

    @Kenia,
    Sounds like some lucky transwoman is going to have an incredible mentor! Next to having a supportive family, I can’t imagine anything which would more positively impact someone’s transition.

  7. Monica Roberts says:

    Dominique,
    Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were out in the early 70’s along with Miss Major.

    Since the mid to late 90’s I’ve been out along with Dawn Wilson, Marisa Richmond, Cydne Kimbrough, Earline Budd, Dionne Stallworth, Valerie Spencer, Louis Mitchell, Kylar Broadus the late Marcelle Cook-Daniels, the late Alexander John Goodrum, the late Roberta Angela Dee and Lorrainne Sade Baskerville.

    While cultural differences and stealth played a role in the blackout then, what’s the excuse now in an Internet information age?

    I know there are trans POC’s doing amazing work out there who have made considerable contributions to building the transgender community.

    The sad part is that they STILL don’t get the recognition they deserve, and that’s a detriment to the ENTIRE trans community..

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