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  • Hello.

  • Hey.

  • (Laughter)

  • As you just heard,

  • my name is D-L Stewart,

  • and I'm a faculty member here on campus at Colorado State University.

  • But what's most important for you to understand about me right now

  • is that I identify as both Black

  • and as transgender, or trans.

  • And yes, I'm going to talk to you today about how Black trans lives matter.

  • As I do so,

  • I'm going to share a few scenes from my own life,

  • mixed in with the ways

  • that race and gender have historically and currently intersected

  • to shape the lives of Black trans people.

  • Ready?

  • Audience: Ready.

  • DLS: Scene one.

  • I am at home with myself.

  • My body, a sovereign country.

  • Sovereign meaning

  • it is superlative in quality.

  • Of the most exalted kind.

  • Having generalized curative powers of an unqualified nature,

  • unmitigated,

  • paramount,

  • possessed of supreme power,

  • unlimited in extent, absolute.

  • Enjoying autonomy,

  • independent,

  • royal.

  • My body defies the restrictions

  • of a society consumed by boxes and binaries

  • and "are you a boy or a girl?"

  • Independent of such conventions,

  • my body clings instead to the long ago lore

  • that understood its magic.

  • I contain multitudes.

  • From this supreme power to name myself,

  • define myself and be myself,

  • I stake a claim to myself

  • and organize my resistance.

  • A resistance that boldly proclaims that Black trans lives matter.

  • My body is a sovereign country

  • and my first site of resistance.

  • End scene.

  • To say that Black trans lives matter is a claim to sovereignty.

  • As much as Black Girl Magic, and #transisbrilliant,

  • Black Trans Lives Matter is also a chorus of resistance.

  • Because Black trans lives begin by defining our bodies

  • as sovereign countries

  • from which we first begin to resist the messages

  • that we have no place here.

  • We push whole movements forward on the strength of our vision.

  • We set trends and create new worlds.

  • We are the vanguard.

  • Black trans lives have always mattered.

  • And yet,

  • caught at the time-traveling intersection

  • of Juneteenth emancipation celebration

  • and Stonewall's emancipation declaration,

  • Black trans lives are both seen but yet unseen.

  • Unseen by the antiblackness of queer and trans movements.

  • Unseen by the transphobia and trans-antagonism of Black movements.

  • Our sovereignty and resistance are blocked

  • by layers of systems and structures

  • that have always sought

  • to contain, define and erase Black trans bodies.

  • Scene two.

  • I am with my therapist.

  • The one whose testimony I must rely on

  • to declare me man enough to have my documents changed.

  • The one who is to be believed.

  • Despite my own declarations that I am not this body,

  • that this body is neither hers nor yours to define,

  • I sit with this doctor.

  • And she fills out a form for me.

  • And when concerning what all I've done

  • to affirm my gender,

  • "Has the patient's gender presentation

  • aligned with their gender identity?"

  • She decides that my gender presentation

  • is more neutral, really.

  • While I sit there, mind you,

  • head to toe in clothing from the section of the store

  • where the dress buttons go down the right side,

  • and my pants give away the number of inches around my waist,

  • and my hair is cut like Denzel's "Man on Fire,"

  • but I'm still more neutral.

  • Really?

  • Because she still sees,

  • and you see,

  • a Black woman.

  • And Black women's bodies are always already made genderless.

  • End scene.

  • From mammy and Sapphire,

  • to Mandingo and Sambo,

  • Black bodies and our genders have been caught in the white imagination.

  • And the imagination of whiteness is fanciful,

  • and powerful enough to turn its fancies into realities.

  • Imagined as a thing,

  • we were made to become that thing,

  • and so we have been bred like horses,

  • fed like turtles to alligators,

  • branded like cattle,

  • milked like sows,

  • made into oxen to plow.

  • Gender did not matter,

  • so long as our body parts,

  • our arms and legs and backs,

  • our breasts and genitalia

  • could be turned into profit.

  • The Black body was made not white

  • and therefore not worthy of gender.

  • And under the weight of the gentile tulle

  • and virginal lace that dressed plantation mistresses,

  • Black femininity has always been denied.

  • Instead, she is either beast or porn star.

  • Neither a proper gender, dehumanized.

  • Made a social threat that endangers civility.

  • That puts civilization in danger.

  • The angry Black woman cannot be escaped.

  • Not even by a first lady of these United States.

  • Likewise, ill-suited for chivalry

  • and outmatched as masters and captains of fate,

  • Black manhood lays flaccid

  • in the hands of white man's dominance.

  • Body measurements taken,

  • speed measured,

  • draft pick forecasted.

  • This is the NFL combine.

  • Body measurements taken,

  • teeth and body cavities inspected,

  • number assigned.

  • This is the prison intake room.

  • Body measurements taken,

  • talents and abilities advertised,

  • teeth and body cavities inspected,

  • name and value assigned.

  • This is a slave's bill of sale.

  • Made either stud or farce, he is not for his own pleasure,

  • but rather for profit and jest.

  • Athletes and comics

  • contained.

  • Made not a threat.

  • "My gender is Black," said Hari Ziyad,

  • because Black bodies and our genders have been caught

  • in the white imagination,

  • and we have always been transgressive.

  • Transgressive meaning

  • a violation of accepted and imposed boundaries of social acceptability.

  • Blackness is transgressive.

  • And once set free

  • from social acceptability,

  • blackness challenges the limitations of what gender can be.

  • We have always been fugitives here.

  • Escaping from gender surveillance

  • to claim our sovereignty

  • and right to exist and to live free,

  • to proclaim as beautiful

  • that which was made ugly,

  • to defy convention,

  • Black lives and trans lives and Black trans lives.

  • And yet, in this world, that fact

  • that Black trans lives make a difference,

  • make differences

  • and make a matter of mattering is doused by the fire hoses

  • of past and current denials

  • of our rights to exist and resist.

  • We must fight to be seen

  • as we see through fences

  • into the play yards that we are kept out of.

  • Scene three.

  • I am at school.

  • The bell rings, it's recess.

  • We line up to go outside.

  • Those made boys on one side,

  • those made girls on the other.

  • We file out of the doors.

  • The boys stopping to fill in the closed off street.

  • The girls and I,

  • walking across the street.

  • "Keep your eyes straight ahead," we are told.

  • Because there's a park across the street.

  • But there is a wrought iron fence that encloses that park.

  • This is where the girls and I play.

  • Mostly, I stand at the fence and watch,

  • as my fellows play ball in the street

  • and be loud

  • and be rough

  • and be sweaty,

  • and I am behind the fence.

  • Accused of thinking naughty thoughts.

  • They have no idea.

  • End scene.

  • Sissified and bulldaggered, we are all made up.

  • Just boys in dresses and girls in suits,

  • the Black transgressive body

  • caught in fantasies of boxes and binaries

  • that make our genitalia representative of our gender,

  • and our mannerisms our sexuality.

  • Black trans lives are therefore written off as merely gay effeminate

  • or lesbian butch.

  • And the overlay of femininity on bodies marked as male,

  • and therefore as man,

  • adheres like a "kick me" sign,

  • except the consequences are much more deadly.

  • The majority of trans people murdered in this country are Black trans women.

  • Because when manhood is located between one's legs,

  • and defined in opposition to womanhood,

  • what's between one's legs

  • cannot be seen as having anything in common with womanhood.

  • And this same acidic wash serves to blanch trans masculinity,

  • making it fade into nothingness.

  • Black trans men become illusions of manhood,

  • women merely playing at being men because you can't get a real man.

  • Forever put in our place,

  • we are indelibly marked as "woman."

  • And at best, the looming threat of Black trans manhood

  • is contained, inoculated,

  • made more neutral, really.

  • Scene four.

  • I am with my therapist.

  • I tell her what I think about,

  • as my body begins to slowly morph into another version of itself.

  • What will happen as I move

  • from the social threat of angry Black womanhood

  • to the physical threat of looming Black manhood?

  • When will my neighbors forget to recognize me and my pit bull?

  • They've seen us nearly every day,

  • predawn or after twilight,

  • for what will have been over two years by then?

  • When and how soon

  • after I am no longer misgendered woman

  • will the cops be called to come and contain

  • and erase my presence?

  • How soon before the purse clutching,

  • the sidewalk crossing?

  • What does it mean to become a brute?

  • To turn my body into another kind of threat?

  • She's stunned that I'm already recognizing this.

  • I can't afford not to.

  • End scene.

  • Who can see me and my Black trans kin in the skin we are in?

  • Who dares to love us,

  • who holds us close?

  • To whom do we matter other than to ourselves?

  • We're not looking for saviors.

  • We have each other.

  • As Lilla Watson said,

  • "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

  • But if you have come because you recognize

  • your liberation is bound up in mine,

  • then let us work together."

  • Let us work together to make Black trans lives matter.

  • The lived experience of Black trans people

  • out into the world.

  • And if you believe that your liberation is bound up with mine,

  • then I invite you

  • to make Black Trans Lives Matter your personal ethic

  • by being transformative,

  • loudly and mindfully.

  • You can do that in three ways.

  • Transform your thinking about blackness and gender.

  • Be loud by