Layleen’s Bill (With Revisions)

By Benji Hart with art by Glori Tuitt.

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
chosen hands

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 |

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