Dear Black Women and Trans* Activists in the Struggle,
I don’t know how to begin this letter. There are so many things I want to say to all the Black women in my life. There are so many things I want to say to uplift, spread and support marginalized voices within this new movement. There is so much I want to say about the myths and sad truths of Black masculinity.
I want to acknowledge that historically the struggle for Black liberation has been dominated by male egos and interests. I want to acknowledge not only the struggles that Black Women, Black Queer folk and Black Trans* people have in the larger American society but also the pain that cis-gendered straight Black men have caused those communities.
I want to acknowledge my own need to be better on and do more for gender equality, Queer liberation and Trans* liberation. Today however, I will confine myself to attempting (and inevitably failing) to express my gratitude to the multiply oppressed Black people who are instigating and leading these wave of protests and movement moments.
I want say thank you to all the mothers, brothers, lovers, writers, teachers, artist, organizers, activists and sisters of the struggle who have been the lighting rod of the movement thus far.
The sacrifices and support of my mother, aunts and sisters are the only reason I am alive and well today. I constantly see the collaborative, inclusive and empathetic leadership model that my sisters taught me employed in movement spaces.
I see truly ego-less organizing shut down highways as easily and gracefully as they shut the Black Male Messiah respectability politics of previous movements.
Time and time again I see young Black Queer women open up our internal dialogue on Blackness to not merely include trans* and differently abled Black people of all ages but in fact for our shared identity to be strengthened by our diversity. It is no coincidence that the #blacklivesmatter moniker was coined and spread by three young Black queer women [Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi]
The intersectional analysis of multiple oppressions that is so consistently and acutely articulated by Queer Black Women, along with a growing fight for Trans* Liberation has given Black men like me the keys to begin to unshackle Black Masculinity.
It has freed me to feel. It has freed me to express my emotions and embrace my own vulnerability. It has allowed me to move beyond harmful and one-dimensional tropes of “the strong Black man” without losing an ounce of real, non-oppressive, strength.
It has allowed me to begin to construct a healthy, sustainable Black masculinity centered on community, self-love and empathy.
In short, it has freed me to love and thus fully experience my own inherent humanity.
In many ways, the growing fight for Trans* liberation is paving the way for Black Liberation by giving all of us thousands of stunning examples of a Blackness divorced not only from White Supremacy but also heteronormative patriarchy.
It is given us glimpse of the promise land: a Blackness free of oppression. But I recognize not only my self-interest and but also moral obligation to fight for trans* liberation. I know that fighting for justice means rooting out injustice wherever it might be. Even if, perhaps especially if, it is inherent in my own views of gender.
So I am not sure I have the words to describe my gratitude, my overwhelming desire to thank you, collectively and individually, for your work in the struggle; for opening my eyes and refusing to let them shut. All I can say is:
I see you.
I saw you all stand with me when America decided that I was not human. I saw you stand and be counted among those who will not rest until we get freedom. I saw you carry the banner of my liberation despite all the times I have neglected to carry it for you. I saw you, fist raised, hands up, heart-bared, shouting that you can’t breathe.
I know that we live in world that tells you be invisible.
We live in world that tries to force you into cis-gendered boxes labeled sapphire, jezebel and mammy.
We live in a world that tells you to stay down, to stay in your place until you are needed to explain my pain to the world.
We live in world that cannot stand to truly look at you in all you beauty, all your diversity, all your complexity, all your strength all your humanity and yes, all your pain.
Yet I saw you protest with me. I saw you lead our community to shut down highways, shut down airports, shut down streets, and malls and business as usual across America.
I saw you march.
I saw you refuse to play the limited, stilted and one-dimensional role society laid out for you from birth. I saw you stand when the world told you to sit and I wanted to say that your leadership in this struggle -just like your leadership in the classroom, in the arts and in our communities- gives me hope, gives me solace, and gives me the strength to carry on.
I heard you.
I heard you demand the killing of Black Women and Black Trans* people not be swept under the rug. I heard you demand that Black Liberation not come, once again, on your backs. I heard your voice cry out in the night. I heard you articulate the collective pain of our people with the same breathe that I heard you sing of the joys of the Black family.
I heard the power of your crying be outweighed by the joy of your laughter in the pews, on street corners, in living rooms and kitchen counters in between protests. I heard you refuse to be defined merely by one emotion or another.
I heard you refuse to play merely one role.
I know that the world tells you to be silent unless you are going to sing.
I know the world doesn’t want to hear from you until they need you to be the canary bird of our illiberal democracy.
I know you are told that from day one that you have nothing to offer so you should just be quiet.
I know we live in a world that cannot bear to hear your truth unless it serves our narrow interests.
Yet I heard you speak it anyways. I heard you tear down the narratives that have chained us for so long with your truth. I heard you re-define realness and authenticity. I heard you re-define Blackness as beautiful and available to all of us:
Even the nerds.
Even the sensitive brothers.
Even those of us who grew up alone in a white world; in re-defining Blackness to include us all you re-ignited a movement for Black liberation.
I am not able to even able to comprehend the complexity of the lives, identities and narratives of the Black women and Trans* people in the trenches. I cannot count the ways that you move this movement forward both loud and quiet, both brilliantly visible and unseen.
The debt I owe you, the debt the world owes you, can never be repaid.
All I can say is thank you.
Thank you for everything you have done, continue to do and will do in the future.
Thank you for leadership, for your support, for your patience and, at times, your forgiveness.
Thank you for continually holding me accountable.
Thank you for forcing me to recognize just how powerful, how diverse, how truly and undeniable beautiful you are.
Thank you for sharing your beauty with the world.
I promise to stand with you as you have stood with me. I promise to continue to deconstruct my own masculinity. I promise to not merely tolerate but celebrate you, your love, your gender and your expression of it in all of glorious permutations.
I promise to never allow anyone to say womanism or feminism or trans*liberation is a distraction from the struggle. I promise to never lose sight that this is all part of the collective liberation of our shared humanity. I promise to never ask for you to wait.
I promise to ensure in that this struggle continue until all #BlackLivesMatter, yours as well as mine.
I also promise you I am not alone. I promise you that millions of other Black men also see you and hear you and stand with you in this struggle.
I promise to work tirelessly to with the rest of us who don’t.
Love and Solidarity–