“As we carry ourselves over the hurdles, [we must also] reach out a hand to help another trans sister over them as well.” –Trisha Lee Holloway, honoree of the 2013 Trans 100
The inaugural Trans 100 selection was released last week (read Autostraddle’s coverage of it here), the result of a collaborative effort headed by Antonia D’orsay (This is H.O.W., Arizona TransAlliance, Dyssonace) and Jen Richards (We Happy Trans, WTF Trans* Dating, Trans* Love Stories, Sugar and Spice). From the get-go, the goal of the project was to recognize a diversity of trans* Americans who are currently doing work to better the lives of other trans* people. This is not at all a list of the “Top 100 Trans* People” (whatever that would mean), but rather “a curated set of examples [of activists]” according to D’orsay, who refers to the Trans 100 as a “selection.”
As Richards explained to me, and highlighted in an audio interview with JRV MAJESTY, a Trans 100 focused on recognizing “how much great [activism] work is happening” serves multiple, important purposes. It is a valuable resource for other trans* people who need advocates or are looking to become more active (like yours truly), “a positive way of drawing attention to…our needs [as a community]”, and a key component in helping to diversify the broader, cultural narrative of trans*ness in America by telling the media, “These are the people doing the work; these are the people you should be talking to.”
And although the Trans 100 was published online on April 9th, official launch events took place in Chicago and Phoenix to announce the selection on March 31st , coinciding with the 4th annual Transgender Day of Visibility, a fitting choice to celebrate the righteous work of trans* activists. (While this article will focus on the Chicago launch, a parallel event also took place in Phoenix, which, given the recent passage of SB-1045 by the Arizona House Appropriations Committee, “expanded into a rally and acquired a different tone [than originally intended],” according to D’orsay.)
Having recently moved to Chicago, I was lucky enough to attend the launch event there, and honestly spent over three hours with my jaw on the floor, my heartstrings in constant song, and the baby activist inside me growing more inspired by the minute.
Actually, the awesome trans*ness of my night started before I even got to the venue, when I randomly met Kate Sosin, a Trans 100 honoree and a writer for the Windy City Times, while waiting on the platform for the Red Line. I had a great time chatting with Kate as we rode the near-empty Sunday evening train to the Mayne Stage Theater. Despite my being new to the Chicago trans* community, the handful of people I’ve met here so far have all been like Kate: incredibly awesome and welcoming. And even though I only knew a few folks in the sold out crowd that night, I felt like I was among family as soon as I walked through the door.Considering how shy and awkward I can be around new people, even when I feel welcomed, it’s fantastic that the handful of people I’ve met here have been so great at introducing me to other people and helping me get acquainted to the awesomeness of the Chicago trans* community.
Indeed, as soon as I ran into Christina Kahrl, a Trans 100 honoree working on a number of issues near to my heart (like the inclusion of trans* students in athletics) in the lobby, she started introducing me to some of the movers and shakers in the Chicago trans* community. For example, thanks to Christina, I met and had a great conversation with the lovely and talented Miss Angelica Ross (a model and entrepreneur, and one of the presenters that evening), during which we chatted about some of her recent projects and she told me how impressed she was that I was playing roller derby. :: swoons ::However, this networking is about way more than just meeting other cool trans* people. It’s about developing important connections and building community. According to Richards, these connections were central to the development of the Trans 100 project. “It’s vital that we… increase our own professional networking and support each other’s businesses,” she said, “[to] make visibility and connection to the community an economic asset rather than a liability.”
Indeed, Richards drew on her professional and community connections and took a “for us, by us” attitude in staffing the Chicago event with a trans* designer, photographer, videographer, production manager, and stage manager. Awesomely, those individuals were all compensated for their work, thanks to monies raised via donations and sponsorships, and though services donated by the keynote speakers (Janet Mock and Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler, who were both awesome and inspiring, to say the least) and a cadre of trans* volunteers.
To me, the Trans 100 launch event reflects that the trans* community in Chicago is built from the ground up on strong interpersonal relationships and collaborations that cut across barriers that might otherwise divide people (race, class, ability, gender identity, etc.). And by bringing together a diverse crowd of trans* people and allies to celebrate activism, the event helped further that networking by facilitating interactions and discussions among people whom had never before met, yet share experiences or identities or simply the desire to make the world a better place for trans* people.
As Van Binfa, a Trans 100 honoree, cartoonist, and a facilitator of Soy Quien Soy (a Chicago-based trans* empowerment collective) put it, “I was so happy to meet folks with similar experiences and [with] intersecting identities. We are now all connected…thanks to the Trans 100 evening.”Not long into her opening address at the Chicago event, host and performer KOKUMO poignantly stated that the Trans 100 signals “the beginning of a new era.” One where we are no longer getting together only to commemorate the victims of physical, emotional, sexual, and institutional violence, but where we now also come together to celebrate and promote those among us who are actively working to end those violences. So many trans* people have turned the energy and knowledge generated by their own personal advocacy into community activism and helping others, and it’s about time that their efforts are acknowledged.
“Trans* people are living history right now,” said presenter and honoree Andre Perez (founder of the Trans Oral History Project). And the Trans 100 project represents a broad initiative by trans* people to make sure it is the best history possible.One of my favorite aspects of the Chicago launch event was the presenters, who in addition to naming a subset of honorees, offered their own takes on the current state of trans*ness and highlighted some of the righteous work they are doing in the local trans* community. As someone who’s trying to figure out how best to channel her activist energies in a new city, I was in complete awe at how much awesome and varied work is being done in Chicago with the goals of bettering the lives of trans* individuals and building a vibrant trans* community.
I moved to Chicago in no small part because I had learned, through conversations with friends and some personal experience, that the city was (relatively) trans* friendly and had a lot of trans*-specific stuff going on. It was a place where I hoped that I could feel (relatively) safe and meet people like me. Clearly this kind of an environment doesn’t come into being on its own, but instead is built on the hard work of awesome people advocating for themselves and for others, and many of the folks leading that push were presenting the Trans 100.
Take for example, Channyn Lynne Parker (also an honoree), who as the Care Coordinator for Chicago House’s TransLife Project, is working to provide “a seamless continuum of care by offering potential housing, job trainings, and connecting HIV impacted individuals into medical care”, so that trans* women of color are not “forced into stereotypical roles” but rather are empowered to “take whatever place we please.”
While the launch event brought together a diverse group of Chicago activists and allies (and a few people who could make the trip), the full Trans 100 selection highlights the diversity of work being done in the trans* community across America, and the diversity of people doing it. Everyone named is an awesomely different trans* individual whose activism is manifest in a uniquely fantastic way. The honorees represent community organizers, authors, musicians, bloggers, academics, video game designers, historians, health care workers, lawyers, etc., reflecting the reality that trans*ness truly does cut across society.
As different as the honorees are, not one of them is working in a vacuum. Rather, each is engaged in the trans* community and many are sharing resources and experiences across populations. As a result, while the Trans 100 is a selection of awesome individual activists it is also a reflection of the awesomeness of the broader trans* community and all those who are working to make the world better for trans* people.
Janet Mock touched on this in her moving closing address, telling the Chicago audience that “I am here tonight because of the 99 other names on the inaugural Trans 100 list and the unrecognized thousands who are not on this list whose quiet acts are changing lives.”
In an interview after the event, photographer Andy Karol (an honoree whose photos are featured in this article) echoed Janet’s sentiment, telling me that “no person got here on their own. Each name [on the Trans 100] is a representation of more than a handful of people within the trans* community.” For me, this inaugural Trans 100 really opened my eyes to the awesomeness of my community, certainly in my new home, but across the country, as well.However diverse the honorees and their work are, similarities certainly run through the Trans 100, with a number of people working on a common issue (say, homelessness reduction), but in different locations or with different populations. A future layer to the Trans 100, known as breakouts, will highlight some of these commonalities in the work being done in the trans* community. Each breakout will feature activists working on a particular topic, ranging from stigma reduction to prison reform to entrepreneurship, and the folks included will not be limited to the 100 honorees, but will also highlight individuals whom were nominated or whom the curators were only more recently made aware of. Up to 25 breakouts will be published over the course of the year starting in May. (The original plan was to start publishing the breakouts with the full selection, but the debate, rally, and hearings over SB-1045 in Arizona took time and energy from the list, and delaying curation of the breakouts.)
In talking to those involved with and honored in the Trans 100 following the launch events and publication of the selection, it is clear that no one involved is resting on their laurels. Many honorees I spoke to are already working to broaden and increase the impacts of their work. For example, Trisha Lee Holloway, a case manager at Howard Brown Health Center (where I and many other trans*folks go to receive health care) and a force behind the Trans Life Center is now working on exporting the model to other cities.
“It is going to open a whole new world for young trans women who have been kicked out of their homes,” Trisha told me in an interview after the event. “We [can and need] to get these services in other cities.”
Christina Kahrl echoed that sentiment, telling me, “There’s no victory lap here. Being named is not merely an honor, [but] a reminder of responsibility and a call to duty [so that we may] achieve a better future for every trans* person to come.”
And neither are the project directors taking a breath. In addition to working towards the release of the breakouts and fighting for the rights of trans* people in their own communities, both Richards and D’orsay are already planning for the Trans 100 in 2014. Having pulled together the inaugural run of this amazing and inspiring project in just a few short months, I can’t even fathom how awesome future Trans 100s will be.What I do know, however, is that the work being done by the inaugural Trans 100 is simply awesome and purely inspirational.
And if there’s one thing I took away from the Trans 100, it is that I need to turn that inspiration into action. Indeed, Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler challenged me, and the rest of the audience to this very task in his keystone address, saying, “It is my hope that everyone in this room will use the names on this list as inspiration to continue doing the necessary work. Let them propel you to be the advocates and activists our community needs.”
Challenge accepted, Dr. Ziegler. Let’s get to work.
As a final note, if any readers are interested in getting involved with or lending their support to the awesome projects of the Trans 100, I encourage them to check out the official publication, which links to the websites of the honorees and directors, or Autostraddle’s 51 Women Of the Trans 100, which discusses the trans women on the list in depth, with quotes!
About the author: Joseph L. Simonis (“Joe”) likes stuff. And things. Except when things get in the way. Then she just likes stuff. She’s not exactly the biggest fan of labels and identities, but she works at a zoo, plays roller derby, and makes sound collages, amongst other, less interesting, activities. She can be found in cyberspace at her website trannysauruswrex.com/ or Twitter @josephlsimonis