A Dream Come True

At first, we came up with the idea to do something that connected the trans people that came before us and the free trans people we imagined existing in the future. It became important to us both to honor the path we were on, one that had been paved with so much of our history. Both of our processes took new shape as we began.

As the writing process began, the project as a whole became harder to do — not because of the subject, but because of the societal differences happening so violently. It was so hard to imagine a world where we’ve won, given all the death we’ve come to know for his year. But Kemi’s guidance led Vita to the idea of exploring our present in relation to how far we’ve come.

So Vita’s piece became less about how we’ve “won,” but more about how we’re winning, and honoring what it took to make it here.

As Kah’s visual piece developed, it became more about the adventure and freedom and creativity that is already a part of being trans.

Our work has the feeling of “outside the box” dreaming that’s manifested itself in our present day, not forsaking the past as forgotten, but honoring it as tribute to the magick we’ve created.

An Offering

Our calling to the divine, otherworldly, and the liminal spaces we live in informed how we embarked on our respective journeys for this project. How do we give a face, a name, a word to the multitudes that enhance our majestic power and beauty as trans Black, indigenous, and people of color around the world?

We understood that in their unbordered livingness, our ancestors, animal guides, spirits, god(s) or source all carry various geographies, meaning, and knowledge, gracefully loving us in our totality through whispers, light pushes, and witnessing.

This set a sparkling spiral of creative energy to flow between and through us. Our final works demonstrate our efforts to bridge the ancient, present, and future across time and space to reflect what we think is needed to support our collective imagining of another, more just and tender world.

Our intention was to capture that liminal radiance and weave it into an eternal mosaic of intersectional trans, queer, Black, and indigenous resilience. We forcefully maintain that divine love is our birthright. We know that there is so much violence that pulls us from feeling fully loved and held, and so as an artist and a writer we felt compelled to create a clear cosmic pathway that links us to our greatest strength and source of our resistance: unyielding faith in our grandeur, in our beauty, in our joy.

We offer a poem and an art piece to help provide a sanctuary, a place to sit, to recognize that we are loved by our ancestors, held by divinity, and forevermore eternal. In commemoration of the 2019 Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience, we honor how that love sustains us in the here and now, especially as the human kin we encounter slowly catch up and respond to our everyday call for what it would mean to fully love us, too.

We hope that these bridges help us meet the long line of ancestors, the stars, the present living, and future generations in one place full of enduring love, lasting protection, and otherwise community.

Girls

Every day, trans femmes are told that we are unnatural. That we don’t belong in this world. Governments and people target us to tear down our bodies and spirits, to remove us from this world.

What we know is that trans femmes are nature itself. We have always been here, whether we’ve called ourselves trans or not. We’ve gone by many names and have played sacred roles in our communities across the world and throughout time. We are everyday heroes because we are still here. We are stewarding the movements that transform our world. Our resilience, imagination, love, and compassion is that of the natural world. We are in the trees, the wind, the stars.

STRATIGRAPHY.

In our initial attempts at conceptualizing trans liberation and resilience, my collaborative partner Malachi Lily (they/them) and I were stymied by the fundamental truth that the birth of trans folks (and particularly Black trans folks) defies historicization or canonization because of global colonialism and white supremacy. As a result, I, having been educated as a Classical archaeologist (an admittedly colonial subject area), suggested we approach the origination of Black transcestry as a cultural phenomenon traceable across time and space through material and symbolic remains. This lens allowed for both the poetic and visual construction of an archaized nonlinear trans mythology underpinned by Black collective memory and placemaking.

The poem’s title and formatting speak directly to this intention, as the former is a geological term used to describe the study of rock layers (strata) and layering (stratification) while the latter is modeled after the soil profile maps my team sketched while excavating the temple complex of Apollo Ietros on St. Kirik Island in Sozopol, Bulgaria.

It was of supreme importance to me that the Black word be permitted to address its body in “STRATIGRAPHY.” This is why I turned to African American Vernacular English (AAVE) as a metaphorical bridge between the Black trans body and its communal experience. Too often, transness is hard lined by Black folks as rhetoric exclusive to and in the service of the white elite. This poem’s juxtaposition of objective storytelling and familiar call-and-response seeks to clarify that, to paraphrase Dominique Christina, Black words make Black worlds in the form of self-actualizing Black trans folks.

Black transness is the marriage of two embodied identities, both of which possess their own lexical subversions of the dominant culture. African American Vernacular English, then, is a tool of resilience when employed by a Black trans person; the gender neutrality of the “nigga” pronoun is, to me, evidence of the potential for Black trans liberation through the recontextualization of speech artifacts. As such, “STRATIGRAPHY.” is meant to highlight the ritual uses of the Black word (“in the beginning, there was the word. and that word was black.”) and affirm the power of that ritual to bring about a new liberated existence for Black trans bodies (“new dances for all the dust.”).

Layleen’s Bill (With Revisions)

As artists — one of us a painter, the other a poet — our visions for trans liberation were united by our desire to center Blackness, and the challenge to imagine tangibly what a world post-incarceration might look, feel, taste like.

While Benji entered the project struck by and hoping to pay homage to the life of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Xtravaganza — an Afro-Latina trans woman who died inside Rikers Island prison in June of 2019 — Glori was particularly interested in honoring Black, trans elders. She hoped to imagine aging-while-trans not as an anomaly but a right, and to capture the tension between Black trans intimacy and public defiance.

With these areas of interest in mind, we began our first collaborative discussion looking for shared imagery around which we could build our respective pieces. What we landed on was doing hair, a site the captured the themes of Black intimacy, joy, and labor outside of capitalism, and which Glori envisioned as representing multiple generations of Black, trans, femme, and gender nonconforming bodies.

Even as Benji’s poem went through intense edits — ultimately landing as a revised version of the various bits of legislation ostensibly passed in Layleen’s name by the New York City Council—the image of Black trans elders having their hair braided/retwisted by chosen community members remained a central image of Black trans life beyond both interpersonal violence and prisons.

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