The future is trans: As Transgender Awareness Month comes to an end, what are our next steps?
Trans and gender non-conforming artists share their thoughts on how we can educate and advocate year-round
Trans Day of Remembrance was Nov. 20, which had us remember those who we have lost. But we also need to spend the rest of the days of the year learning from and about trans people, history and activism. As artists, we have a role to play in supporting the lives of trans, gender non-conforming (GNC) and non-binary people. So I spoke with five trans, non-binary and GNC artists of colour about their experiences, what they feel is most pressing at this moment and what we can take into the rest of the year. As we move beyond November's Trans Awareness Month, let there be a new period of study and learning about trans* people and trans lives!
Kyisha Williams is a Black, queer, GNC, femme filmmaker.
Barak adé Soleil is a Black, queer and non-binary artist working in performance, dance and disability arts.
Heath V. Salazar (they/them) is a Latinx writer and performance artist.
Megan G is a Black, queer and non-binary artist who works in mediums of sound, shape and time.
Jah Grey is a photographer from Toronto.
Most artists talked about erasure and marginalization:
Kyisha Williams: I'd say that, generally, there's a push for erasure of trans people, of gender non-conforming people, non-binary, genderqueer. As the light comes on a little bit more — as people recognize by seeing [folks] a little bit more as they are [and see] that this is real and that there aren't two boxes that exist — I think that there's another side of that. People who are threatened, people who are upset, people who think that these things are just choices that people make to be difficult...people who aren't accepting get angrier when we start talking about trans rights, when we start acknowledging people and their decisions as valid. That becomes threatening to others. So I think that, really, that's the most pressing issue. And it's an issue that Black people have faced and continue to face. It's an issue that queer folks at large have faced in the past. And I feel like, right now, it's like trans folks who are up on the chopping block.
Barak adé Soleil: To me, the most pressing issue is the perpetual marginalizing of Black trans folk, of non-binary folk, of gender non-conforming folk. Ultimately, this leads to further erasure and invisibilizing of these folks. This is occurring very intentionally in the U.S., where the government is very strategically upholding the binary. And when we uphold the binary, we are actively removing the notions, the lived experiences, the ways of being for folks who are trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, queer and of anyone who is not invested in one kind of experience of being in the world.
Others explored some nuanced considerations facing trans people:
Heath V. Salazar: Based on my experience and learning, the most pressing issue facing racialized trans people at the moment is the need to decriminalize sex work. This absolutely informs my work. Art is a political act. It's therefore my responsibility, as an artist, to actively educate myself to ensure that what I'm putting into the world is consistently of service to my community. As a writer and drag artist, my performances are always highly political as a means to empower my community. When people know they have a right to love themselves, they stand up for themselves. And perhaps more importantly, they stand up for one another. That's how a community not only survives, but blossoms.
I also asked these artists what they would change in the Canadian arts ecology to improve conditions for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming artists:
Heath V. Salazar: We should shift the conversation so that instead of every time we ask, "How do we separate the man from the work?" we ask, instead, "How do we actively bring in BIPOC trans artists to our space and how do we make sure they're safe here?" It would set a new foundation. It would set new priorities. It would forge a very different society. And then, I'd never let it end at a conversation.
Others described a sense of inaccessibility to the scene and to funding streams within the ecology:
Megan G: We should open up the grant-writing process to be less academic and bureaucratic. We should organize some form of advocacy to give artists more agency in knowing both what is available to them and how to access it. We need to stop assuming that everyone is comfortable using computers, has access to their own or can safely use public service spaces like the library.
Finally, I asked these artists about their ideal artistic future — what they imagine as the ideal outcome for trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary artists:
Jah Grey: What I hope for, what I'm building toward, is a world of inclusivity. I'm building toward a community [where people] can hold one another accountable in an appropriate way — a way that doesn't involve shame, guilt or silencing experiences or traumas, but where we can make room for past mistakes and give help to those who need it, when they need it. I'm building a community that values supporting one another more consistently, not just throwing [you] away like you're disposable. I'm building a community of people who learn when to forgive and how to forgive without dismissing experiences. I'm building a community that sees me for me. I'm building a community that can show empathy and patience. I'm creating a world that knows happiness...a world full of love.
Barak adé Soleil: I feel that I'm actively working to shape a vision of a future that is distinctly inclusive with progressive notions of access and accessibility. It is a future that affirms queer, Black, trans, Indigenous, gender non-conforming, gender-fluid, genderqueer, disabled, crip, sick, chronically ill, spoony, mad and folks of colour in the world in really tangible ways. It is a creative future that deconstructs any notions that might marginalize those who have been marginalized. It is one that allows for us to think thoughtfully about how we engage interculturally, such that it affirms each of our unique truths while allowing for the pluralities of experiences and ways of being in the world. Art has a profound impact in that — art that is not elitist, art that engages cultural democracy and art that recognizes that everyone possesses a level of creativity.
Kyisha Williams: I think the ideal future for trans and non-binary artists looks like community and like a celebration of ourselves. It looks like not having to fight to be recognized. It would be a time, really, to just use our magic and our power for good, and for those things to be acknowledged and celebrated within us. I'm building a world full of collective action, community spaces that are shared, and spaces where emotional and feminized work is shared and acknowledged as work. I really feel that art is our language. Our tools to show the world what kind of future we see, what we want to bring into the world and what we want things to look like.
Megan G: I would like to see stability for BIPOC artists, access to the public spaces that other artists take for granted. I would like to see the world slowly change to leave space in the infrastructure for cultural resurgence, and decolonization in the form of physical space devoted to the artistic and cultural practices of Indigenous people...a world where the narrative of BIPOC experiences is given enough space to develop into something new, unhindered by the trauma of racist and transphobic social constructs. Art is a way to connect people through feeling and a way to grow to understand. It is a way to change how the world is seen. I hope to see a future where the world is very different, and much more accessible to people and other living things alike.
Heath V. Salazar: My ideal creative future is not having to create pieces that remind trans people that they have a right to be alive because they'll already know. My ideal creative future is not having to beg to protect our trans youth because they'll be safe. My ideal creative future is not having to flinch at every coward with a gun that adds me on Facebook. My ideal creative future is knowing we've come so far that I can stay silent, because we'll live in a society [where people do] right by one another...a society which has no chance of faltering, because it will refuse to forget its past. My ideal creative future is one that I may not get to see in my lifetime, but one that I will fight for as long as I live.
These artists have ideas about how to make the world a more beautiful place, one that supports the thriving of trans, GNC and non-binary artists. We all could learn from their practices and artistic engagements, and I thank them for dreaming our reality into being.
To the future!