Letter to Black Cisgender “Allies” Like Me

“While driving home I flipped through several black radio stations. Listening to them discuss transpeople was so disheartening – the blatant disregard in using the correct pronouns, making jokes about their physical appearance and, of course, inserting religious commentary. I listened to the D.L. Hughley show for a little and he kept calling Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) ‘He’ even after one of the ladies corrected him and said, ‘She.’ [D.L. Hughley’s reasoning for continuing to use the wrong pronouns was that], ‘He needs to get more work done because he doesn’t look like a woman.’ I was just so disgusted. Not shocked, but disgusted.”

A good friend sent this message in a text to me late last night. Prior to this message, I hadn’t said anything to anyone about Caitlyn. I was actually writing a piece about blacks and police brutality when I was forced to stop and think about the significance of mainstream black radio stations and media outlets producing and circulating ignorance and hatred about Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender community. I couldn’t help but agree with my friend. The spiteful rhetoric by black media outlets was not shocking, but instead disgusting; however, the fact that it wasn’t shocking is as great an issue as the fact that it was disgusting. My dear friend’s message articulates not only a fundamental issue within the black community when speaking about sexuality and LGBTQ+ rights, it also speaks to my and many other black persons’ selfish silence when dealing with any form of oppression that is not, in particular, ours. Or not, in particular, effectual to black cisgender males.

When black mainstream media outlets (especially those hosted by gender-conforming, heterosexual, black cisgender males) speak negatively and ignorantly about sexuality and LGBTQ+ rights, they foster and perpetuate an Othering of not only the entire transgender community, but even more specifically the black transgender community. To be an Other, like all blacks in America are, to an Other, like the transgender community is in America (even mainstream Black America), must not only be challenging but disheartening and oppressive. I imagine, for I can only imagine since I am a cisgender heterosexual male, this is a disheartening challenge because the oppressed cannot even find love with the oppressed. The lack of acceptance that blacks have carried in America is a similar lack of acceptance that the transgender community has found from blacks. The extension mainstream black America has created from this issue is an extension that perpetuates intersectional oppression. It’s an extension that denounces the importance of transgender persons’ freedom and liberation from a similar bondage that many black persons are suffering from, i.e. capitalism and patriarchy. It’s an extension that deflects true inclusivity (black nationalist inclusivity or national-inclusivity) in favor of inclusivity from the privileged gender-conforming few.

But I go further by saying that the disheartening obstacles and the oppressive rhetoric that exist within the black community against transgender rights does not simply end where the negativity and ignorance of black conversations on sexuality and LGBTQ+ rights begin; it also continues in the silence of black cisgender allies. Black activists are prone to speaking about the ways white people can be allies in the struggle for black rights. Vocal leading black activists who are mainly cisgender heterosexual males, are frequently silent about the rights of transgender persons of any and every color – even if they wish to identify as an “ally.” Is it not fair to say that Caitlyn Jenner is standing in a position of Otherness in reference to D.L. Hughley’s blackness? Is it not fair to say that D.L. Hughley stands in a position of power in which he can critique the system that brutalizes his blackness, and still oppress a transgender person of color and a white transgender woman? That is why I say, as an ally, we mustn’t do to the transgender community what we warn white allies of doing to the black community. We must not sit quietly while our black cisgender brothers and sisters spew rhetorical hatred without denouncing it. We must not sit quietly while our black cisgender brothers and sisters vocalize through mainstream megaphones verse upon verse of their ignorant understanding of the transgender community and the problems that community faces. We must not sit quietly while transgender persons (especially transpersons of color) are brutalized, murdered, raped, and scrutinized. We must provide the cisgender community with an understanding of the transgender community and we must provide the counter-narrative that says, “I am a Black Cisgender Ally and I Support You!”

I write this to the people like me who internally identify as allies, but externally articulate these opinions only in rooms of people who agree. I write this to the people like me who internally identify as allies, but fight the internal struggle of speaking on any issue relating to the LGBTQ+ rights movement for fear of pushback from white cisgender society and black cisgender society. I write this to people like me who internally identify as allies, but externally have only fought the revolutionary fight for cisgender persons. I write this for people like me who internally identify as allies, but still struggle to go further in their understanding of what it means to be one, who still struggle knowing what role they play in the transgender community’s struggle for justice. I write this to the people like me who internally identify as allies to say: Stop your silence and speak! Just say something to someone somewhere right now. Just talk, educate, spread awareness and help your cisgender, gender-conforming family and friends understand your transgender, non-gender conforming family and friends. For if an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere, then the transgender community’s struggle for liberation is inherently connected to mine, and it is time we make it known.

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