Trans and Queer BIPOC to the Front!
Black queer people and Black trans people have always been on the front line of justice, from Black Lives Matter, to Stonewall, to the recorded history they deny us. Yet, we are often the last people included in the goals and outcomes of that justice. It has long been proven that intersectionality is what makes a movement, and thus it must be included in our visions for the future.
Often as a trans artist I am asked to offer my face, my body, my voice to an institution without any recognition on their behalf of what it means for my body to be there. Everything I participate in is a negotiation with myself, and with a power dynamic beyond my control. Why is it that nobody has thought of me, before I arrived? It makes my inclusion feel like a chore at best, a burden at worst. I have to think about the costuming, the casting, the advertising, even where I will use the bathroom in advance. Nobody will do that work for me. Only in situations where I have had a mature, queer (usually also trans) leader have any of these things been considered before. As an emerging artist who has railed against what I previously viewed as willing suppression of sexuality from my elders, seeing these quiet, systemic showings of care has eroded my perspective.
For far too long, there has only been one kind of queer or genderqueer story told, which creates a false narrative of homogeneity in the storytelling and a false impression of a monolithic perspective. Thankfully, we are living in a moment where there is steadily growing visibility among queer and genderqueer storytellers — and with each Pulitzer, NAACP, Oscar, Emmy, and Tony Award won by black queer and genderqueer artists, a new shard in the kaleidoscope of our rich, multiplicous experience gets revealed to the world. As we continue to push for necessary and transformative change in our world and in our workplace, it is key that queer and genderqueer artists have agency around their own storytelling — including a necessary conversation around passing and unpacking the ways in which that has granted some artists greater access than others. The longer we stare directly into the monstrous face of White Supremacy, the easier we notice its bastard children, chief among them sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Part of our collective liberation from a white supremacist system is an understanding that we can reject the hetro-pressive binary of how gender and sexuality are portrayed in the theatre. We’ve all heard the stories of queer and genderqueer actors being told that they were ‘too this’ or ‘not that enough’ for a role. Only to have the role go to a straight or cis-gendered actor — even pieces written, directed, or produced by queer artists. And we certainly don’t need to tell you that the telling of these stories are our artistic inheritance from our forebearers — we don’t owe a prescribed performance of our identity to anyone — least of all cis, straight, white producers or directors or audiences. When we walk into a room, we walk in on the shoulders of those who came before, and hopefully, when we leave, we’ve cleared some brush from the path for the generation coming after us.
There is absolutely no space to be critical of those who do not center their artistic or professional identities on or around their queerness, but no matter how we present, we must all be dedicated to opening the doors for those who do wish to center their queerness.There may not have been the freedom to live in a space of pride consistently while building our careers. It has been an ugly and painful suppression, a negotiation that has cost so many so much. Now, countless emerging artists are benefiting from these very queer legacies, crafted in the darkness and built in the light for those coming up behind to see. If you were robbed of living as fully as you would have hoped, show compassion to your resentment, or anxiety about those leading with their queerness. You learned being out was dangerous. However, it is not an excuse to gate keep artists who are trying to build with and beyond you. As we continue to resist oppressive systems, also resist furthering the isolation and othering you fought through to get to your leadership role. Many who are leaders in the field have some element of code switching available to us, BIPOC and queer leaders alike, identity centered or otherwise.
We are entering an era of making space not just for other BIPOC queer artists, but WITH them. Invite young queer makers into your leadership ranks, who are willing to say the thing you could not, even if it is frightening at first. Emerging artists, learn what change has been achieved so you can design your own path forward. Let us make space for us, with each other. We cannot compromise our way into a revolution. Diversity in leadership for BIPOC Queer artists means some of us are able to be on the front lines of advocacy and naming needs, while others are positioned to get things done.
You may not lead with your queerness but there is someone who does. And by including that in your institutional conversation you are making space for those people, who will in turn make space for you. We can’t compromise our way into revolution!!
As Trans artists, as queer artists, our bodies are not a political statement, but we are a political body. No matter how our individual bodies are carried or dressed, we have the potential to enact liberation for each other. As a community, we have the power to protect, and the power to provide for ourselves. Let us once and for all declare that a BIPOC liberation is a liberation of the queer and trans BIPOC community. We ain’t free til we all get free.