On #WhenWeRise, Cleve, and Dustin and the Trans community
So way back when, in those years that are now fuzzy and warm, I went to a thing some of you may have heard of (lol) called Creating Change. As I recall, it was one of my first trips there — first or second one, possibly both and they have run together in my head as such things will.
I was introduced to several people by Bil — people outside what would have been my usual experience at such an event, and exactly the sort of people I wanted to meet, because they let me see the good and the bad and middlin while soaking in knowledge and history and doing what people like me do even when we try not to do so: observing EVERYTHING.
I’ve occasionally told the story of how I met Cleve Jones. It was during this time. He was a really nice guy. Not standoffish at all, very approachable. And, this being me, we talked about things and inevitably it shifted to trans stuff and he said something that tripped a wire and, well, you can imagine.
It wasn’t mean or anything, don’t get me wrong, and to this day it sticks in my head not because of what was said but because here was a guy who not only held his own, but did it with compassion, empathy, knowledge, and the same attitude I have about a lot of things.
The catch was that I had absolutely no freaking clue who he was or what he had done. None.
Flash forward a bit and the film “Milk” is released. Being the broke gal who spend sher money on others that I am — and very much was at that time — I didn’t see it in theaters.
No, I had to wait until it came out on iTunes. And then promptly rented it. As I watched it, I looked up all these people.
And in one of the results there was a photo of a guy I had just read at CC. Named Cleve Jones.
So *that* was when I put two and two together and came up with how freaking embarrassed I was about it. Not regretful — I would have done it anyway, but I might have been a tad bit more deferential.
So that is my Cleve Jones Story. There is almost no chance in hell Cleve remembers me. But, eh.
My experience with Dustin Black went about the same, with a marked difference. I was a bit tipsy at the time, and we talked a bit at a time with a group at the moment, so there were like four conversations going on.
But he paid attention. He asked good questions. He was there to promote and all that, of course, and there was no question his focus at that time was on the Gay and Lesbian side of things.
I mean, he’d just done Milk. Kinda hard for him not to be. But what stood out in his case was that he listened to me about the issues of trans representation. And this was at a point where I was still working through a lot o the stuff I had been thinking about on that period, so in a lot of ways he was as much a soundboard as a person I was talking to try and convince this needed to be done.
He did something then. He promised to show more trans stories going forward. He promised to recognize how our struggles were intertwined, and to work on trying to show how that history worked.
He’s been busy. He’s been overshadowed by others on some occasions — and those that have done so have done a disservice to us, the Trans Community, when they did it (looking at you, Stonewall).
I get the whole deal around having to sell this stuff to rich white guys. I do not envy him that challenge. Really — not even a little. I don’t know how Angelica Ross and Jen Richards, and Alexandra Billings, and Laverne Cox, and Ivory Aquino and the rest of the amazing trans actresses and actors out there have the strength to fight against the constant crap they face, and they don’t even want to play trans characters necessarily. They just want to work.
But he promised he would get better, and he would do more.
So for the last few nights, When We Rise — the Gus and Dustin’s latest project, which covers some of the same ground as Milk, though from a different perspective — has been showing.
Like many of my generation of activist on behalf of Trans people, I have come to look at any gay man making any promises about Trans people through very narrowed eyes, and without much in the way of hope.
I mean, when I do classes on Trans history, there isn’t a lot of gay people featured in it. One is focused on the particular singularity.
But when I do my broader pieces, I bring them all in, because the broader picture cannot be told without understanding the time and the place and the forces around one.
Like When We Rise does.
And he did it. In the first episode, the Compton Cafeteria Riots are mentioned. Twice. That was Queens of all sorts in revolution — and was forgotten until Susan Stryker unearthed it in her effort to record history.
The overall series is based on Cleve Jones’ autobiography. He was here when Harvey Milk was shot, when the Castro was fought for, and he wasn’t part of the “name” or “professional” orgs.
He was grassroots, committed, and willing to do whatever needed to be done. The sort of person that the Trans 100 seeks to recognize each year when it comes to Trans people.
Not always the most popular, not always the nicest, never the the faultless. You cannot do this kind of work without being flawed, in my opinion, because it is our flaws which link us to the hurt we seek to solve.
In the middle of all of this, we are introduced to a young, struggling Trans woman. A gal by the name of Cecelia.
If you ever get the chance to meet her, do it. Along with Andy Marra and Pauline Park, they are some of the most amazing people ever, and I have no hesitation to say that they make me want to be better and do more and they will keep your ass honest. She is played by Ivory Aquino — who isn’t exactly a slouch herself, given her personal story.
This is big, as well — these are women of color whose experience is both like mine and yet not like mine, because where I am Black and Native, their heritage derives from the nations of the Pacific – Korea, the Philippines, China – and they have had similar roads and hardships and in dealing with racism and misogyny and transphobia not just from other cis people, but from other trans people.
Then they get to deal with some of the extra crap unique to women of Asian descent on top of it.
That matters. Especially in a time where immigrant as a word is being demonized yet again.
Especially at a time when the trans people of nations throughout the massive region are struggling to reclaim their own lives.
But I digress. As I am wont.
So there is trans representation. A supporting role, to be sure, but a key one that evolves over time and has an impact on one of the central folks involved.
Perhaps the thing that I most loved was seeing an extremely brief scene that features Elizabeth Birch. At the time, she was the head of the Human Rights Campaign and during this time — a critical period where HRC became and firmly established itself as a major organization — they set forth a policy that HRC was about Gay and Lesbian people.
And not Trans people.
So the briefest portrayal of a terse, tense, tight lipped woman who was every bit the “professional Gay” of the worst sort was bright line awesome and wonderful for me.
In trans circles, we call them TERFs, and she was one of the nastiest ones. The ones with power. She was actively involved in betraying a lobby day that was meant to include trans people.
HRC has changed immensely since then — and Chad is doing as good a job as can be expected. But it wasn’t until Solomonese left, that they began that process, and they let that happen far too late to ever get the trust back of my generation of activists.
Not generation in the sense of age, mind you. Generation as in “this is the point where you became active”. Because my generation watched him metaphorically poke our eye out and skull fuck us.
Ok, that’s maybe too much, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. I mean, I wanted that man’s head on a platter. His continued presence after his betrayal is why I will never donate to HRC, ever.
In fairness, I should also note that the same woman headed the NGLTF until she left for HRC. With similar ideas. She brought in many of her like minded friends, as well — this was not uncommon. The Task FOrce, however, has moved well beyond that point, and done significantly more than HRC and continues to do so — and even many of those old timers there have renounced and denounced much of the thinking that was prevalent then.
They do get money, At least, when I had some they did. When I get some again, they will get some too. After the usual Trans orgs.
In any case, (told ya I digressed), the show When We Rise is pretty awesome. And while a lot of trans folk will be like “what does this mean to me?” I want to note that two thirds to three quarters of us are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. So this is our history, too — I’m bi, and this definitely some of my history.
My uncle was one of the most incredible gay men — and lived in a state where being gay was not exactly a safe thing, and he still built the first two star restaurant in the state.
My son is gay. Dammit. He keeps resisting my trans recruitment tactics. 😉
So, yeah, big stuff.
Last night I hopped on twitter, though, and I sent a message to Dustin.
I agree! Tomorrow #WhenWeRise introduces three more trans characters and more trans stories. But I agree. We will still need more. https://t.co/YDK8XKznow
— Dustin Lance Black (@DLanceBlack) March 3, 2017
So tonight you need to watch the show.
Really. Because ratings are what determines success on a show. period. So watch it. Live. Especially if the way you watch it is rated in some way.
Because it matters. And tonight there will be more trans people shown. We need to have our stories told.
We need our own When We Rise, and it will come.
And it will be awesome.