Happy World Poetry Day! Officially declared a holiday in 1999, the intent of this yearly celebration is to promote poetry and bring people together through the art. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who founded World Poetry Day, wrote of its importance:
Poetry is a song of freedom, enabling us to affirm our identity through creation. …Through its words and its rhythm, poetry gives shape to our dreams of peace, justice and dignity, and gives us the strength and desire to mobilize to make them real.
It is in this spirit that we bring you some of our favorite transgender spoken-word poets.
1. Ethan Smith, “A Letter to the Girl I Used to Be”
Berklee College of Music student Ethan Smith has been studying spoken word at the school since 2012. In early March, he competed in the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) with the Berklee Slam Team. He reached the semi-finals with his team and was recognized as one of the three best poets in the competition. Ethan’s poem “A Letter to the Girl I Used to Be” was featured in the Best of the Rest showcase. You can follow Ethan on Facebook here.
2. Kit Yan, “3rd Gender”
Based in Brooklyn, Kit Yan is a queer, transgender, and Asian American poet hailing from Hawaii. His work has been performed across the world, and published in two poetry anthologies, and commissioned by the Census Bureau and national queer visibility campaigns such as OUTmedia and Campus Pride‘s joint “Be Queer Buy Queer” and “Queer It Up” campaigns. To learn more about Kit, visit www.kityanpoet.com.
Miles Walser is an accomplished poet, having won Best Male Poet at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) in 2010 and Best Poem by a Male Poet at the Wade-Lewis Poetry Slam Invitational in 2012. His book of poetry, What the Night Demands, was released in 2013. Learn more about Miles at www.mileswalser.com.
5. Christine Howey, “My Passing, 1988”
A poet and award-winning theater critic, Christine Howey recently debuted “Exact Change,” a show she both wrote and starred in. In 2011, she published a book of poetry entitled If You Find Yourself Submerged in a Pond Under Ice and has since competed in the 2013 National Poetry Slam.
In honor of Pi Day, the proud geeks of MTPC are excited to bring you a man of science for today’s transgender figure in history.
Image from http://www.tgforum.com/
Alan L. Hart was born in Kansas during October 1890. Losing his father to typhoid by the age of two, Hart relocated with his mother to Oregon to be closer to family. Identifying as a boy from a very early age, Hart endured relentless teasing in school and dedicated himself to his schoolwork to escape the torment. Graduating at the top of his class in 1908, he went to Albany College (now Lewis and Clark University) before transferring to Stanford University. Close proximity to San Francisco gave Hart the freedom to more freely explore his gender identity and attraction to women. Once again graduating at the top of his class in 1917, Hart was celebrated as one of the first “women” to receive such honors.
After marrying Inez Stark in 1918 and beginning to practicing medicine, Hart became the first documented recipient of gender reassignment surgery, which at this point in history was a hysterectomy. Proceeding to live full-time as a man, Hart tried to shift his focus back to his medical practice. However, his transgender identity seemed to present a variety of complications in the professional world, where he had to relocate relatively frequently to avoid harassment. He and Inez divorced in 1923, reportedly influenced by this instability.
Remarrying in 1925, Hart and his new wife, Edna Ruddick, traveled to Pennsylvania where he received his master’s degree in radiology. Then they went on to Washington, where Hart was appointed to Director of Radiology at Tacoma General Hospital and ultimately became an expert in tuberculosis. At the time, tuberculosis was widespread and generally considered a death sentence. Hart’s work on the detection of tuberculosis, tubercular radiology, and research on the usefulness of x-rays were of enormous importance to the eventual decline of the disease.
While Hart dedicated his life to medicine, he also followed his passion for writing, publishing four books and many short stories during his lifetime. Themes and narratives in his novels often reflected those of Hart’s own personal experiences.
Considering the historical context in which Alan L. Hart lived, his successes cannot be understated. Reports indicate that his family accepted him as a transgender man and in the mid-1940s, he was one of the early recipients of hormone replacement therapy. Around the same time that he began hormone treatment, he agreed to be Idaho’s Tuberculosis Control Officer and worked to change the stigma around the disease through his years traveling through the state to research and treat the sick. A true academic, Hart also received a master’s in public health from Yale University in 1948 and became the Director of Hospitalization and Rehabilitations at the Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission. Prior to his death from heart failure in 1962, Hart had revolutionized the medical technology and procedures surrounding the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of tuberculosis.
Referring to the protagonist of his 1963 novel, The Undaunted, who mirrored a great deal of Hart’s own story, he said, “He had been driven from place to place, from job to job, for fifteen years because of something he could not alter any more than he could change the color of his eyes.”
Greetings from Aaron, the Public Policy Intern here at MTPC. In February, I highlighted the impact of 5 black trans women in the United States. The post has since received almost 6,000 “likes” on Facebook and has people talking about the contributions of black trans women in the trans movement. Given the popularity of this topic and the importance of sharing trans histories, I am excited to bring you more stories about a diverse group of trans activists, pioneers, and figures in the next few months. In honor of Women’s History Month, today’s post will focus on the legacy of resistance that follows the powerful life of Sylvia Rivera.
Born in New York City in 1951, Sylvia Rivera had a rocky start to life. Her mother’s early death and father’s frequent absence left Rivera bouncing from one place to another, enduring abuse for her effeminate presentation. In the early 1960’s, she began engaging in sex work alongside other trans women and drag queens. Leaving home for good, Rivera immersed herself in the transgender and drag queen community she discovered while hustling, finding solace in spaces like the Stonewall Inn. When police raided the Inn on June 18th, 1969, Rivera actively fought back. She was famously quoted as saying, “I’m not missing a minute of this — it’s the revolution!”
Rivera’s activism did not end with the Stonewall Riots. Recognizing the need for inclusion in a white, middle-class, gay-male-dominated movement, she became a voice for those without representation. As a Latina trans woman, Rivera fought for people of color and trans folks to be recognized and pressed for New York City’s gay rights bill to include protections for drag queens and trans people. While that campaign was unsuccessful, she went on to found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) with Marsha P. Johnson in 1970. The organization provided shelter, clothes, and support for young homeless trans women and drag queens.
While cancer took her life in 2002, Rivera spent her lifetime working toward an inclusive LGBT movement and support for the most vulnerable folks in her community. She refused to accept that anyone should be left by the wayside. Her goal was intersectionality through resistance and representation, which remain important parts of today’s fight for equality.
Before her death, she said, “Before I die, I will see our community given the respect we deserve. I’ll be damned if I’m going to my grave without having the respect this community deserves. I want to go to wherever I go with that in my soul and peacefully say I’ve finally overcome.”
Watch Rivera’s speech at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally below or here. (Trigger warning: violence, sexual assault, transphobia)
Learn about the organization formed in her legacy, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project by visiting SRLP.org.
In recent news coverage, the narratives of trans people of color have been filtered through the perspective of cisgender members of the media. It’s important to increase the opportunities for trans people to tell their own stories about their own experiences, free from distortion by news anchors and other journalists, who often sensationalize the stories.
As Janet Mock reminds us, it’s important for the trans community to tell its own, authentic stories. In publicizing her new book, Redefining Realness, Mock has focused on the process of telling your own story. On her website, she talks about how she opened herself up while writing the book and that although it has made her feel vulnerable and scared at times, finding others who had experienced the same things has given her power. She writes, “What Redefining Realness has done for me is allow me to stake my claim and take up the space in this world that I deserve. We all deserve this space. A space of our own where we can tell our stories and declare our truths.”
As Laverne Cox said at the Creating Change conference 2014: “This feels so amazing, all this love that you’re giving me tonight. I have to say that as black, transgender woman from a working class background raised by a single mother — that’s me — getting all this love tonight. This feels like the change I need to see more of in this country.”
For more powerful voices of trans people of color, check out these links:
Cece McDonald has blogged about the intersection of race and gender identity, the telling of trans stories by cis gender people, and the criminalization of people of color. And on Democracy Now, CeCe McDonald discussed using her experience of being in prison (for using deadly force while defending herself from a group of people who attacked her) to educate people about violence against trans women and speak against the prison-industrial complex (segment starts at 12:22; interview starts at 18:00).
Though this interview is from last year, transgender activist and recording artist KOKUMỌ has an incredible voice through her music and her activism as a trans woman that is worth listening to.
Authenticity and representation were central themes of Janet Mock’s speech at Simmons College last Thursday, entitled “Our Voices in the Movement: A Legacy at Intersections.” As part of a publicity tour following the release of her New York Times-bestselling memoir, Redefining Realness, which details her experiences growing up as a young trans girl, Mock spoke to a packed audience about the importance of visibility for transgender women of color, aka #girlslikeus.
The author and activist paid tribute the contributions of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and “living legend” CeCe McDonald, and spoke about the strength that authors like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Maya Angelou gave her while growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii. Without media representation, these activists and writers were able to help Mock form her identity and confidence as a young trans woman of color.
Mock also spoke to the power that she and other trans women of color have and what it means to claim an authentic existence. She explained, “trans women are women and trans people are exactly who they say they are.” However, not everyone reacts respectfully trans women who claim their identities, Mock explained, referencing CNN news anchor Piers Morgan’s response to being called out on Twitter after distorting Mock’s story during an interview.
She went on to discuss the hardships that transgender people, particularly trans women of color, encounter. Quoting bell hooks, Mock said, “Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power—not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.”
That is where Redefining Realness comes in. As a writer, Mock sees popular culture as a useful platform to spread awareness about trans issues. She delivers her story with honesty and wit, hoping that others will learn from it and connect to her experiences. Speaking your own truth, Mock said, is one of the most important things trans people can do.
In a brief Q&A session following the speech, Mock thoughtfully responded to a question about how cisgender allies can respectfully write stories featuring trans characters. She explained that cis writers can help by using their writing skills to help trans people tell their stories directly. Her advice to the trans people who might be scared to share those stories: “Never underestimate the power of your voice.”
Check back on our blog Friday for a reading list of trans people telling their own stories.
Like so many parts of American history, popular culture depicts transgender history as one in which white leaders paved the way for everyone. But, as our community has to keep reminding people, it was trans women of color who led the Stonewall riot and set off the gay rights movement in this country.
The work of countless black trans warriors have made significant impacts on equal rights and visibility throughout history. These pioneers forged ahead despite intersecting challenges and oppressions. Here are just five of the many black trans women whose influence has helped shape the transgender community as it is today:
Lucy Hicks Anderson was a pioneer in the fight for marriage equality. She spent nearly sixty years living as a woman, doing domestic work, and working as a madam. During the last decade of her life, she made history by fighting for the legal right to be herself with the man she loved.
After marrying her second husband, soldier Reuben Anderson, in Oxnard, California, in 1944, local authorities discovered that she was assigned male at birth. The couple was charged with perjury for marrying despite their both being legally male, resulting in ten years of probation. Standing up to the charges against her, Anderson said, “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.” Years later, Anderson and her husband were charged again, this time with fraud after she received federal money reserved for military spouses. Both went to prison and were banned from Oxnard upon their release.
Lucy Hicks Anderson spent the remainder of her life in Los Angeles until her death in 1954, at age 68, leaving behind a legacy of authenticity and determination in the face of unjust laws.
Carlett A. Brown discovered that she was intersex during physical exams she received while serving in the Navy during the 1950’s. After her discharge, she worked as a female impersonator and shake dancer to earn money for gender affirmation surgery.
Finding that the surgery she needed was not yet legal in the United States, Brown found a surgeon in Denmark, where the first SRS was performed in 1952. She soon learned that these operations were only available to Danish citizens, prompting Brown to renounce her US citizenship and apply for citizenship in Denmark, which would also allow her to change her legal gender and marry her boyfriend, Sgt. Eugene Martin, who was stationed in Germany.
Before she could leave the US, though, Brown was arrested for cross-dressing, followed by an order to pay back tax money she owed the government. While it is unclear if she ever became what was being dubbed “the First Negro Sex Change,” she remains known for her perseverance, having been quoted as saying, “I feel that female impersonators are being denied their right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when they are arrested for wearing female clothes …”
Sir Lady Java worked as a performer and female impersonator based in Los Angeles, California, during the 1960s. The city’s Rule No. 9 made it illegal to “impersonate by means of costume or dress a person of the opposite sex” and was used frequently by authorities to break up such shows to arrest gay and trans people for a number of laws used against them.
As Sir Lady Java became increasingly popular, packing local bars and clubs to see her performances, authorities began targeting her directly. Recognizing this violation on her civil rights and the impact this had on other local trans people, she fought back. Joining forces with the ACLU, Sir Lady Java took Rule No. 9 to court and brought the LGBT community together through public rallies and protests.
While she was not able to get the ordinance struck down because it was determined she didn’t have legal standing to file the lawsuit, Sir Lady Java nonetheless paved the way for Rule No. 9 to be stuck down two years later.
Marsha “Pay No Mind” Johnson was an activist, performer, model, sex worker, and mother figure to many young trans women in New York during her lifetime. A figurehead of the transgender community in Greenwich Village, Johnson was one of the first Stonewall instigators and was deeply influenced by her experiences being homeless and hustling for survival.
Along with fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera, she founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1970. STAR provided shelter, clothes, and support for young homeless trans women and drag queens. Johnson and Rivera worked tirelessly to ensure that those she cared for did not have to engage in sex work or find other high-risk activities for income.
In July 1992, Marsha P. Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River at age 48. While her death was ruled a suicide, those who knew her and within the community maintain that she was murdered (she had frequently dealt with severe harassment). The case was reopened in 2012.
Miss Major is commonly referred to as a guiding elder of the transgender community and one of the most significant pioneers of today’s trans rights movement. She has been a voice for trans women for more than 4 decades.
A participant in the original Stonewall Riots, she worked to organize fellow sex workers in the 1970s and continued on to become a leader in prison abolition and trans rights. Currently, Miss Major is the Executive Director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), an organization working “against imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and societal pressures” for transgender women of color and their families.
You can learn more about Miss Major through the documentary, MAJOR!.