As the first African American trans woman to create a news outlet that not only reports trans women of color issues but also showcases the leaders in the fight for equality of trans people, Monica Roberts, creator of TransGriot, is filling a void in the blogsphere. GLAAD sat down with Monica Roberts to discuss why her work at TransGriot is so important.
Mari Haywood: How were you treated initially when you decided to transition?
Monica Roberts: After starting my transition in 1993, I encountered several forms of discrimination. My most memorable incidents occurred within our own community in the early 90s. While in Houston a friend who also happens to be another black trans woman and I were denied entry to a gay nightclub. Staff at the door were really nasty and rude and stated "we don’t want trannies in here, it's only for gay men." I transitioned while working for an airline. While returning home from work in my airline uniform a passenger made anti-trans comments while walking down the aisle of the airplane to their seat.
MH: As an African American trans woman, what are some life lessons or words of wisdom you would like to pass along to the younger trans community?
MR: I would like them to know that bottom line is that we do have a proud history, contrary to public opinion. We have strong individuals like Marsha P. Johnson and Alexander J. who fought and paved the way for us. Make sure that you get the foundation of a good education, because in order to get a better life you must have an education.
MH: Being an award-winning blogger what are some trends you notice about the media when reporting on trans issues?
MR: When reporting on trans communities I frequently notice that despite the fact that they have the AP guidebook that’s been in place since early 2000s, they still mis-gender and don’t correctly differentiate between a trans woman and a trans man. They fail at trans basics 101. When it’s a trans person of color they are reporting about, the media often assumes we are all sex workers. It's insulting, not correct, and needs to stop.
MH: Having been affiliated with several LGBT organizations, what motivated you to branch out and start TransGriot?
MR: When blogging was starting to become a new online trend in the mid-2000s, I noticed most trans blogs were lacking in regard to the black community. The blogs that existed then were never created by women of color and they were all geared to the white community. After a discussion with a friend about this void in the blog world I started Transgriot on the evening of January 1, 2006.
MH: With Texas being your home and a Republican state, how has its political views affected your day-to-day living?
MR: It’s a misconception that Texas has always been a Republican state. Growing up in the 70s Texas was a Blue and Democratic state. Right Wing Republicanism is a recent phenomenon. Ann Richards was governor in the1990s while I was growing up and began transitioning. Texas is now a conservative state but I would like to see it return to a blue state for the LGBT community and families. It should be noted two of the largest school districts have LGBT and trans-inclusive guidelines. Dallas has trans-protective laws in the city and county, and in the last legislative votes local advocates helped kill an anti-trans bill. Being in a red state we don’t have the drama that comes with most liberal states. Oopponents hate us all equally so there aren’t a lot of wars within the community, which makes coming together to fight for our rights a little easier.
MH: What news sources do you most often pull from for your blog?
MR: With my blog receiving over 6,000 hits on a daily basis my sources always include stories from the mainstream media, various gay and trans media, along with major papers such as the the New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, and the Washington Blade. As a blogger I am always on the lookout for trans issues that are on an African American slant or perspective, specifically the African Diaspora. Stories relating to black trans people doing positive work are always featured on my blog due to their insignificance in the mainstream media.
MH: What recent advancements for trans people have most touched you and affected you?
MR: All advancements touch and affect me because the fight and struggle is hard. What I would like to see is an inclusive society, see it made easier for trans people to change identification and gender markers. See a focus on employment and job issues instead of marriage issues all the time, because without the finances, one cannot have this dream wedding or live comfortably with their partner.
MH: Do you feel there is any one thing that needs to take place or happen to end hate crimes against trans people?
MR: There is a series of events and policies that need to be created to help reduce violence against trans people. Right now we need better enforcement of hate crime laws that are on the books, trans people having employment and better job opportunities, along with continued education of people inside and outside our community about our lives. A lot of transphobia is stirred by fear and misinformation; I have always believed we shouldn’t feed into anti-trans violence.
MH: Most trans people say they felt they were "Born in the wrong body" what was your motivation or feeling about transitioning?
MR: When I decided to transition it was very difficult to get information. I had the perception when I was 5 or 6 that something was different about me. I always saw British stories of Caroline Cossey and stories of Renee Richards, but never anything about people that looked like me. Because I didn’t see people like me, I wondered where they were and realized they were there but well hidden. If I had open out and proud peers I would have transitioned earlier than 1994. Today we have role models like Janet Mock, Kylar Broadus, and me, and many others to look to that are trans people of color to emulate. I didn't have that when growing up. We are a part of a legacy; we just didn't pop up in the late 20th century, we have been here all along.
MH: Having received the highest honor in the trans community, the meritorious service award, do you feel your mark has been made? If not, what are some future plans you have to stay involved in the advancement for trans people?
MR: My mark is being made as long as I'm standing six feet above ground. I don't feel we are done until we have trans kids that are able to come out and this not generate fear or a sense of panic in their parents and families. We have equal rights for all of us. That the trans kids can grow up and have the same chances for seeking a job and attending schools as all other children. I'm striving to make it easier for the next generation of trans kids to live their lives with less drama and oppression.
"I have no regrets and feel my life began the moment I decided to transition. I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for my life prior to 1994. Let's face it, I’ve been to the White House, met interesting people, given speeches, talked to politicians and college students about our issues. I've lived an interesting life since 1994 and I am happy. I am happy in my own skin!"
For more information on Monica Roberts visit her award winning blog TransGriot.Blogspot.com.