Black, LGBT, American: Laverne Cox, threat or threatened

The Advocate
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July 15, 2013

In Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler's compelling documentary Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen, he reminds us that even though the men documented in his film are trans, that doesn't erase the systemic racism they experience because they are black men. One of the documentary's subjects, Ethan, talks about how after transition, he had to get used to being perceived as a threat in the public space, because black men are often treated as dangerous in our culture. This made me think about how before my transition to black womanhood, I worked overtime to not appear threatening to people around me or in the public space. I was aware that because I was probably being perceived as a black man, it also meant I was probably also being perceived as a threat.

A year before I started medical transition, I had been presenting in a very feminine way 24-7 but hadn't yet changed my name or started hormones. I wasn't passing for female at all, but I also wasn't passing as the construct of black masculinity that the white supremacy has told us to be threatened by.

That year I went to visit my brother in San Francisco, had an emotional breakdown and shaved my head. I was just exhausted — I think the stress of being harassed and threatened on a daily basis for years on the streets of New York City because of my gender nonconformity, and acting like it didn't bother me, had worn me down. I went from living full-time in an androgynous but very feminine space to attempting to live part-time wearing more traditionally male drag. But that didn't last long; a year later, I had my first hormone shot and started medical transition. It was a relief to finally stop being in denial about the fact that I am a girl.