Say It Loud: Black, Transgender and Proud!

An African-American transwoman shares her thoughts about being Black and transgender

By Monica Roberts

There are a lot of words you can use to describe me. Daughter, aunt, friend, woman, sister, native Texan, Houstonian, African-American, deejay, Christian, transplanted Louisvillian, transplanted Kentuckian, activist, writer, sports fan, columnist, Kentucky Colonel, American.

Another one that would be accurate to use in my case is transgender.

Since much of the media attention that transgender people have garnered since 1953 is heavily slanted toward Caucasian transgender people, many African-Americans aren't familiar with or have preconceived notions about us. So let me take a moment to drop some science on you. There are also female to male transgender people but I'm going to focus on the male to female aspect of it

Transgender people are persons whose gender identity, that deeply held internal sense of being male or female, doesn't correspond with the body they were born with. One thing I want to stress is that gender identity and sexual orientation are two entirely separate and distinct issues. Being transgender doesn't necessarily mean that you are also gay.

Current medical research has determined that one in every 250 births is a transgender person or about 3% of the population. Of the 34,772,381 people in the United States that are or identify as African-American, that translates to about 1 million of them being transgendered. Ongoing worldwide medical research into why it happens has been leaning towards a biological cause for it.

To become the Phenomenal Transwoman you see today, I had to adhere to the Standards of Care protocol devised by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, or HBIGDA. It's the medical association that devoted to research, understanding and treatment of gender identity disorders. I did counseling in the Houston area with a therapist trained in gender identity issues,endured several years of electrolysis to remove facial hair, changed identity documents and started hormone replacement by taking estrogen and several testosterone blockers. I was also required to live in the new gender role for a year before I would be allowed to have the gender reassignment surgery.

So as you can see, the journey to make my body match its gender role is not an easy one or a joke. I've been transitioned for 11 years now and I still to this day deal with issues that crop up from time to time. Unfortunately a lot of the issues that affect me come from my own community. I love my people, our history and culture but we can sometimes be more narrow-minded, contrary and intolerant than many right-wing fundamentalists. It's bad enough when African-American transpeople are disrespected by society at large. But it really hurts when the drama comes from people that share your cultural heritage. But as Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, `All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk.'

So what is it like to be transgendered? The best way I can describe it to those of you who grew up female, imagine that you had all the same feelings, hopes, desires and dreams you always had during childhood but you were housed in your brother's (or some other male relative) body. Then try navigating puberty in that body knowing that something's different about you, but you can't quite put your finger on it. While you're trying to sort that dilemma out, you're being ostracized, picked on and bullied. Then it finally gets revealed to you that you're on the wrong side of the gender fence and you start making the moves to correct that situation.

I'm blessed that I came through the journey as a well-rounded spiritual person proud of who I am, what I have accomplished, what I'm going to accomplish and the person that I have evolved to become. I'm extremely happy and content with my life. I may be six-two without my heels, but that does not give you carte blanche to refer to me as `he'. I'm not and never was a 'he'. I look at and think about life, love and the world around me through a feminine prism. Unfortunately thanks to anti-transgender violence many of my sisters don't get that chance and fall by the wayside. Others are emotionally wounded by the anti-transgender vitriol that comes from people in our community, their families and increasingly the pulpits of our churches.

There are a lot of talented African-American transgender people like myself who are poised and ready to contribute our education and talents to uplift our race. The question I put forth to my fellow African-Americans and others is will you open your minds and hearts, embrace your brothers and sisters and allow us the opportunity to do so?