For the past month or so, I’ve been working on a series for MadameNoire about how cis Black women can be better for our Black trans sisters. If you haven’t noticed their lives are in danger. The life expectancy for a trans woman of color is 35 years old. And so I wanted to know how Black cis women could be better for them. I spoke to Aaron Philip, Laverne Cox and Isis King about what they suggest Black cis women can do in support of our sisters.
Laverne Cox said that Black cis women can speak to Black cis men about their attraction to trans women and that they can do so without shaming them, without making them feel like they are less of a man because they happen to be attracted to a trans woman. She shared a story about a member of the Latin Kings gang who dated a trans woman but later killed her because he didn’t want people to know of their relationship. And he’s far from the only man of color who’s done this. It’s often Black and Brown men who kill trans women. It’s an issue of toxic masculinity.
Typically, when we discuss trans women on the site and share the stories on Facebook, we’re met with all types of ignorance. Our followers will go out of their way to intentionally misgender trans women. If a woman has been killed they rationalize the violent way in which she died by saying that she should have been honest. It gets ugly to say the least. So while it is Black and Brown men who are taking the lives of Black trans women, Black women, in their speech, provide excuses for the behavior. If you study the oppression of any group of people, you realize that before there is systematic action, there is rhetoric. Our words are powerful and far too often, when it comes to the words cis Black women use against trans Black women, they’re powerfully dangerous.
When I shared the first interview with a trans person, there were crickets. I guess our readership wasn’t too familiar with Aaron Philip and so they didn’t care what she had to say. But when I put up the interview with Laverne Cox it was an entirely different story. Laverne has a higher profile. People have watched her on some of their favorite shows. She’s well-spoken, seemingly well-educated. And if she weren’t so vocal about the truth of her being, most people would say that she could “pass.” There are few questions about her womanhood. Still, when I shared her thoughts about how cis Black women can be better by having conversations with Black men, there was controversy.
Women argued that toxic masculinity was an issue for men to address on their own. They said that for everything Black women have to deal with, for all the physical and emotional labor that’s heaped on our backs, we didn’t need to take on this plight as well. Let the men fix their own mess.
I understood the sentiment. Men, by in large, have proven to be a fuckin mess. They created the standards of masculinity by which they hold each other—to the detriment of women, children and ironically even themselves. If they’re the ones killing trans women, they should be telling each other to stop that.
But not only is the reality of that unlikely, while we’re waiting for men to hold each other accountable, it’s costing fellow women their lives. And beyond that, I think it’s time we recognize that one of the byproducts of patriarchy is that it’s permeated into the psyche of women. Women perpetuate it to their detriment of themselves and other women. There is a correlation to cis women calling trans women “it” and a man not seeing his decision to take her life as an issue with his humanity. There is a correlation of cis women saying, “Well, she should have been honest…” and comedian and recording artist Lil Duval getting on a national radio station and telling all of its listeners that if he ever learned that he’d slept with a trans woman that he’d have to kill her.
Yes, Black women have to put up with a lot. No, we are not responsible for the heinous actions our men may take. But we are responsible for the words we speak. They are seeds. For as much power as men wield in society, the words that come from a Black woman's mouth--the words that Black boys hear from birth until death-- do a lot in shaping the ways in which Black men behave in the world. If we're going to speak about trans women, we should make sure the words we use aren't helping to put our sisters in harms way.