Throughout my life, I’ve felt the pressure of having to define my multiple identities for myself and for others. I love words, yet I know that words often fail us. At times, words are unable to fully encompass who we know ourselves to be. Knowing this, I felt immense empathy for B. Scott when I heard him [B. welcomes the following preferred gender pronouns (PGPs): he/him, she/her, they/their] announce after several years in the media spotlight that he is transgender.
B.’s personal announcement arose in the midst of his “gender identity discrimination” lawsuit against BET. According to B.’s open letter to fans, the network hired him as a red carpet style correspondent at the 2013 BET Awards in June, forced him to change into more masculine attire and ultimately replaced him with Adrienne Bailon, a cis Latina woman (cis is a term used to describe those whose assigned sex at birth aligns with their gender identity). He wrote that the day’s events “made me feel less than and that something was wrong with who I am as a person.”
Though BET released a statement citing “miscommunications from both parties” and stating they “regret any unintentional offense to B. Scott and anyone within the LGBT community and we seek to continue embracing all gender expressions,” B. pushed the network for a “true public apology” and “fair remuneration.” The lawsuit has spawned many headlines, but what struck me is the discourse B.’s transgender revelation has sparked.
“As a society we’ve been conditioned to believe that a person has to be ‘exactly’ this or ‘exactly’ that,” B. wrote, before adding, “My spirit truly lies somewhere in between [male and female]. It is that same spirit that has allowed me to become so comfortable in my skin, choose how I express myself, and contributes to how I live my day-to-day life.” B. cited GLAAD’s definition of transgender, an umbrella term that clusters diverse groups of people (transsexuals, like myself, cross-dressers, gender-variant and genderqueer people and many more) whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth due to the appearance of their genitals, as a catalyst for his announcement.
“It is by that definition that I accept and welcome the ‘transgender’ label with open arms,” B. wrote, igniting discourse, debate and discussion among B.’s adoring fans (whom he calls “Love Muffins”), his detractors and general bystanders within and outside of the trans, queer, wider LGBT community and of course within the overlapping people of color, specifically black community, we both belong to.
I found much of the conversation on both sides to be misguided: Many people seemed reluctant and skeptical about B.’s transgender identity; many trans people questioned whether B. was trans enough or whether his embracing of the transgender label was a ploy for a stronger gender identity case; many fans seemed to be confused by the idea that a previously gay-identified feminine person was now identifying as transgender yet wasn’t seeking to become a woman; and many trans women knew B.’s announcement would further muddy the waters for transsexual women who often combat widely popular images of drag queens, cross-dressers and other male-bodied folks who express femininity.
As a multiracial trans woman of color (I self-identify as a trans woman, though specifically I am a transsexual woman, which is part of the transgender umbrella label), I immediately embraced B. because I understand the journey of self-revelation. His announcement resonated with me on many levels: the idea of gender and trans-ness, the idea of race and blackness, the need to announce who you are to the world, and when that definition collides with others’ perceptions of you then you must defend yourself, your identity and your existence.
It is this very personal journey that framed my conversation with B. about his road towards self-revelation, about what brought him to announce that he is a transgender person, about the conflation of gender and sexuality, about embracing labels, pronouncing self and seeking definitions. Ultimately, I wanted to share space, stories and experiences with B. to show the ways in which our experiences as trans people of color intersect, diverge yet neither of our experiences or identities negate the other.
I hope the transcript of our phone conversation provides clarity on the lived experiences of two openly trans people of color, one a transsexual woman, the other a transgender person whose “spirit truly lies somewhere in between.”