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.
for Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Xtravaganza
The New York City Council will pass a package of legislation,
expanding services for transgender, gender-nonconforming,
non-binary, and intersex inmates will turn out its pockets,
never sign another ransom note
All officers with trans inmates in their custody will undergo
a competency training will have their badge numbers
etched off with diamond-tipped acrylics, aquamarine
New beds will be added to the transgender housing unit
beds of wildflowers will erupt from lots that were not
vacant, just holding their breath
Counselors will be made available to all trans inmates we
are each our sister’s counsel
The Board of Correction will convene a task force will
be tasked with something useful, like beekeeping, or collecting
Sex workers will have their cases diverted to Human Sex
Trafficking Intervention Court will spray paint the words
“we are the intervention” on the courthouse rubble
The Rikers Island compound will be replaced by a series of
smaller, borough-based facilities will slip into the rising
Atlantic, the ribs of our dead prepared to cage it
Trans elders will be held in solitary confinement for their
own safety will have their charcoal locs retwisted in
This legislation will take effect in the summer of 2020
we have never asked permission to sing
About the Poet:
Benji Hart is an author, artist, and educator from Amherst, MA, living in Chicago. The writer behind the blog Radical Faggot, their commentary has been published at Teen Vogue, Them, The Advocate, and others. Their solo performance piece Dancer As Insurgent, which explores voguing as a practice of Black queer resistance, was featured at CA2M (Madrid), and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (Chicago). Their current project, World After This One, examining the myriad ways Black art forms rely on the materials of the present to construct liberated futures, premiered at BRIC (New York), and is still in progress. They have held residencies with the Rauschenberg Foundation, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the Amsterdam University of the Arts, and are the recipient of the 3Arts Award in the Teaching Arts.
@radfagg | benjihart.com