Monica and I weren’t close, but every time I crossed paths with her, I was always surprised by how tight she held me as we hugged. Now I can’t stop thinking of the hug we shared back in January at the Creating Change conference. It’s the last time I saw her before her passing last night.
My mind is running a slideshow of every lucky moment I got to observe her refusal to be modest about her excellence. The way she’d relax into a chair, her arm slung over its back. The way she spoke like she knew exactly what she was talking about — because she did.
Before mainstream publications began reporting about the murders of trans folks, Monica was singlehandedly tracking violence against our community on her blog, TransGriot. The blog started as a column in a Louisville, Kentucky newspaper called The Letter in 2004 and went online on New Year’s Day in 2006, as reported by them. She was a pioneer, a trailblazer. Without her, many of us wouldn’t ever know when a member of our community was stolen. She was working to fill the abhorrent gaps within industry-wide neglect of trans lives in the media. Most publications either chose not to report on the regularity of murders against Black trans women, or they’d misgender and deadname the victim, which disrespected the trans community and delayed news of who had been taken this time. She fought to remember us.
What do you say about someone who gave life to the stories of Black trans folks, with dignity, long before so many others did?
Monica Roberts did it for herself, her community and all Black people. What a gift @TransGriot gave us all.
— Charlene #Defund2AbolishPolice Carruthers (@CharleneCac) October 8, 2020
And while she was the first in many ways, she knew she came from a lineage. The name of her blog refers to the West African griots, who were oral storytellers, historians, and cultural leaders. She memorialized Black trans women before anyone else would.
Trans lives wouldn’t be taken as seriously as they are today without Monica’s tireless work — work she often did without compensation or recognition. It wasn’t until years later that organizations began showering her with awards.
When she accepted GLAAD’s Special Recognition Award in 2016, she told the story of a young Black transfeminine child named Trinity who she had met just a few months prior. Monica wrote an open letter to Trinity telling her that “she, too, could be a leader in our community — and she has a proud legacy of Black trans leaders to emulate like Marsha P. Johnson and countless others.” Trinity responded in an email written by her mother: “Miss Monica showed me my history, now I’m going to make my own.”
Now, so many young Black trans people can look to Monica Roberts as an ancestor. Every trans journalist is indebted to the space Monica has carved out for us. Every trans person owes Monica a great deal for forcing the world to see us in our unmistakable worth.
What I’ll remember most about her is her unshakable faith in her impact. We begin to honor her by never being modest about our own significance. She saw the beauty and value in herself, and it allowed her to see the beauty and value in us. Monica documented much of our history. And now, she’s the one being memorialized by local papers in Houston and national publications. She is the history. She’s a part of us. We will never forget.