The first time I ever met Ceyenne Doroshow we were at a birthday party. After being introduced by a mutual friend and noticing that I was keeping to myself she invited me to sit with her friends and children. In the span of five minutes she had called me beautiful and special more times than I had told myself that year. She spoke about the inherent power of black trans women, impressing upon me my ability to be anything I could dream of. I was geeked, and changed forever.
Ceyenne is one of twelve Black trans femmes, eleven of which are currently alive, depicted across two large-scale murals. Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, Tourmaline, Nala Simone Toussaint, Courtney Washington, Gia Love, Cayenne Doroshow, Joela Rivera, Qween Jean, Joshua Allen, Raquel Willis, and Aaron Phillip. Rendered in the style of historic black muralists Aaron Douglas, Kerry James Marshall and Ernie Barnes, they stand in fields of geometric hypercolor, surrounded by their faceless yet embodied kin. These are artists, activists, leaders, lovers, parents and caretakers. There is joy here. I have dreamed of this 100 times, prayed for it twice as many.
“The Black, Trans &” project was born from longing. There was an absence. My people had been smudged out in favor of a false narrative. There were dual realities: In the first I existed. Scores of women existed before me and I was but the current incarnation of a long and enduring legacy. In the other I stood invisible, peripheral if I was lucky. Labeled strictly as trendy and taboo. I was never allowed to be whole. I set out to create something that would not only serve as honest representation for my community. The project is also a thank you to people who have constantly been inspirations to me by being beacons of radical love.
I have watched each of the people depicted in these works pour into others in the same way. Give families and homes to children without. Give purpose to those searching and always fill in the pieces. These images were created with tenderness and admiration. I am ensuring these individuals enter into a long chronology of black portraiture. I have spent my life admiring the work of black painters who have come before me. But even in the most exalted retrospectives, the black trans body was missing. Where had we gone? Who had stolen us? And when we did appear we were drawn from minds incapable of imagination. In our own history we lived distorted. I was made to not recognize my own face. Somehow the narrative of what it means to be a Black trans femme had been subsumed into life expectancy statistics, disadvantage, and loss. I was tired of speaking of my sisters in the past tense.
As my grandmother would say, “Speak the truth and shame the devil.”
Black trans femmes have always been here. A constant source of inspiration, point of reference and beings of endless capacity. This work is for every black trans or queer child who is waiting patiently in periphery for someone to tell them they are worthy and loved. We are love. There is no corner of existence denied to us. We always have been everything and more. Never again will we allow that truth to be hidden. Through this project, I am taking power back into the hands of Black trans femmes, so we can answer the question: What else is true?
I am not the singular author of this story. “Black, Trans & Alive (Qween’s Song & Return Home)” are my visual contributions. But “Black, Trans & Heard” is an audio archive that allowed me to sit down with my community so we could collectively unveil what was true for us, truths that were intentionally buried by a dominant society built on lies. We are a collective. We are not a monolith. Each of the black trans folks interviewed for this had their own dreams and ideas for what the community and next generation needed to know.
“And I think the thing that we have– that we need to remember for ourselves is that our glamour is our armor. You know, and our glamour is our embodiment. Like when I wake up and I put on my earrings, I remember that I’m that bitch.” — Beloved Minah
“something that’s really striking me and staying with me right now is the way that Black Trans folks, especially Black Trans Femmes have always glamourized resistance. And not in a way that trivializes it or makes it less important or less dangerous, or less significant, but in a way that makes it exciting and enticing and beautiful.” — Jordyn Jay
“I think we’re so often told, or made to believe that being Black and being queer, being Black and being Trans, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, is a divergence, not just from blackness but from our lineage. And I want to tell you that it’s the exact opposite. It’s a returning and it’s a regrounding. “ — Benji Hart
“I love us. I love us so fucking much. I love us to the moon and back. I’m in awe of us. And the ways in which we move, the ways in which we love: radically, unapologetically. And the ways in which we teach other people to love. The way in which we have taught this world to love. To really love themselves, and through that love others. Forreal forreal, in the honest way. “ — Glori Tuitt
“Just remember to love yourself first because the love that you want to receive is a reflection of how much you love yourself and how you treat yourself. So if you want love– if you want to receive love you have to be love.” — Ivy Raheem