The African diaspora in the digital age has communicated in ways not previously foreseen. Black cosplayers, black nerds, black writers, black readers, black naturalistas — these online communities of black people have found support and recognition from no longer being the only one they know of. Black political organising over the previous centuries birthed anti-lynching, civil rights, anti-apartheid, black feminist and black lives matter movements, however Black queer and trans folks have always struggled to be recognised within these movements. The incompatibility of gender transgression with black bourgeois respectability, which upheld the church and the nuclear family as the galvanising units for collective black advancement, meant that we were either banished or compelled to hide in plain sight.
The stories of Mary Jones, Frances Thompson, Lucy Hicks Anderson have been archived by the criminal justice system and excavated by those activists who fight against it. More recently, the stories of Tracey Africa, Miss Major and Martha P. Johnson have gained media attention thanks to the efforts of those who seek to ensure their stories are not intentionally sidelined and submerged. The specific connected battles of racism, misogyny and transphobia that black trans women face lead us to be so occupied with survival, that we have no time to ensure our marginality shan’t result in our erasure. Into this status quo strides Zaya Wade.
The news of a young black trans girl being loved out loud and absolutely by her family — with the intention of elevating her in life and centering her agency, in hopes of establishing her as a future leader — spread like wildfire on my timeline and had my inboxes popping. My instinct told me to reach out to the black trans women whose voices have been amplified into my life over the past few years and find out if they were as elated as I was.
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Everyone allow her to re-introduce herself her name is Zaya Wade! Last night was Zaya’s first red carpet and we couldn’t have been prouder of how she handled the questions that were asked of her. She has emerged as one of the young faces and voices for the LGBTQ+ community. #truthawards
Micheala Danjé // Co-Founder of Cases Rebelles // Paris
“What I feel when I see the love that Zaya Wade receives from her family is physical.
It’s like I’m wrapped in softness. My emotion arises from the strong and public reaffirmation of a world of possibilities where we can be loved, accompanied and carried by our own people. I have been and still am supported by my black family: the one to which I am biologically related and the one I have chosen. This love, this desire to be there for one another, manifests itself against the story of what we have suffered, and what we are still undergoing. Where it exists, this love is powerful, political and revolutionary. Because it means that we can love ourselves to the full extent of who we are. I pray that all my little trans sisters receive this love, this support and that more broadly in the black community we can make sure all of our children grow in love and kindness. This love, this love from within, from ourselves, to ourselves, is up to us. It is invaluable and it is infinitely precious to us as we go out to face the world.”
Just like Zaya, I knew myself to be a girl at the age of three. Nearly everybody told me otherwise. By the age of five, I had given into their protests. They had convinced me that I was too ugly to transition. In my assessment of their world, my blackness ruled me out of being considered beautiful, and to further exacerbate the curse, I was dark skinned. My nose was distinctly African and thus classed as too flat, bulbous and unfeminine. My hair refused to flow in spite of nightly prayers and daytime imaginings.
When I found out about other trans people, I knew myself to be one of them, but they were so distant. The narratives around trans lives in the 1990s was so definitively in the realm of the scandalous fairy tale. I could not begin to fathom how I could live as a woman one day. Transitioning felt as rare and unattainable as a lottery win. Using the Bible as back up, my behaviour was policed in the belief that the essence of me, was worthy of extinction. Any evidence of delicacy, sensitivity and swish of sass was beaten deeper into my shapely fat and muscle, but could not be stopped from coating my bones.
Violence can send truth into hiding, but it cannot stop it from one day rising. Even in the face of genocide, we always win.
Ashley Breathe // Co-Founder of T Time with the GURLZ // N.Y.C
“As a trans woman of color, I wish my parents would have had the patience and education to understand me. Not only to provide, but to protect me — not reject me. At 12-years-old not only did I know who I was, everyone around me told me who or what I was not!
I am happy Zaya has family that sees her for who she is, and allows her to express how she identifies. I was told very young “blue is for boys and pink is for fags!” I longed for every chance to visit girl cousins and to touch a Barbie. I was told to play with cars, G.I Joes… anything but Barbie. We have to allow children to be who they are, mistakes and all, and believe them when they tell you who they are. I always had to suppress my feminine side, which led to years of isolation, loneliness and depression! So be you, be bold, make mistakes, learn and grow! Live for you! People should appreciate knowing you. Being trans is beyond beautiful, we are valid and worthy! And those who don’t understand can detransition out of our lives!”
A year ago, Don Cheadle stood on the Saturday Night Live stage and called for us to PROTECT TRANS KIDS! Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union imbibed that message wholesale. Their daughter Zaya Wade was reintroduced and lifted up into the world. Black trans people the world over were blessed with a panacea our bodies have long deserved. The bit that got me crying in the video clip? When Zaya says:
“…When you reach that point of like, yourself… Like when you can look in the mirror and say ‘Hi’ to yourself. Like.. ‘Nice to meet you.”
She has summed up, at the age of twelve, what it has taken me so many more decades to realise. Although I always knew it, I can look in the mirror and be proud that I manifest the divine feminine through my actions, politics, being and body. I can send up a prayer of thanks that she will not ever face the violence, assaults and excommunication from family and community, that I, along with so many of my black trans sisters, continue to face.
Chloé Filani // Poet // London
“We see with our famous white counterparts — NikkieTurtorials and Jazz Jennings for example — that these young white trans women are supported by their parents through their transition, and at young ages. We see how they flourish. Jazz getting into Harvard and Nikki being one of the top YouTube beauty girls with 13.2 million subscribers. Having seen this disparity but now seeing Zaya being loved out loud and supported by her black family? Her future also looks bright, brighter than it is for most black trans women. I’m truly happy for her happiness and for the black trans girls of the future.”
There are people who are angry and pushing back on the expression of this free black child who will flourish into a gloriously nourishing womanhood. No doubt, they will stay mad. I worry not for the bleating of the ineffectual and the powerless; those who see the grace, intellect and eloquence of Zaya and instead retreat into the cave with the only “pseudo-scientific” factoids they’ve ever known to give them fleeting warmth. What’s so nefarious about the self-love they are witnessing that it causes them to upload poorly lit videos of constipated rage from their clammy locations? They long for the enforced brutality that coated their yesteryear. Bullies long for their victims. Colonialists long for stolen lands. Transphobes long for the days when all that was asked of them was to commence pointing, laughing and shaking their heads before the progression to bunched fists, whipping belts and bleeding wounds that could not cauterise.
In their sour sweaty bedrooms they conjure up fantasies where they can offer up our genitals as sacrifices to the metaphorical chopping block, way before any decisions have been informed by years of meditation, reading and consultations. Musing on what may occur six or seven years down the line, the paranoiac conspiracy theorists are strategizing. They promise their unthinking minions that there are appointments made and scalpels glinting in electric light ready for use tomorrow. We can expect a cacophony of hotep dog whistles and ill-tuned faux spirituals seeking to rile up the frighteningly mannered black conservative mindset with some message of “won’t someone please think of the penises?”
I will continue to marvel and smirk at those who try to convince the masses that black families cannot survive if they love their queer and trans kids unconditionally even though we endured actual slavery. Some days, when I am caught up in the mundanity of daily human being, I can easily forget that my existence is positioned somewhere between the radical and the miraculous.
Shar Jossell // Journalist & Broadcaster // Los Angeles
“I feel so fortunate to witness a prominent Black family within American pop culture unapologetically love and support their child. So many folks didn’t receive that type of understanding —it truly makes me optimistic for the future. The Wades have broadened the conversation and hopefully ushered in a point of discussion that’ll make parents of trans youth do their due diligence, should their child ever feel comfortable enough to come out to them.”
This year I will turn thirty five years old — the average life expectancy for black trans women in the United States. A combination of middle class privilege, cultural capital and attained cisgender passability ensures I will no doubt meet a much grander old age than so many of my black femme transestors. I’ve prayed for many more years on an earth turning greener with cleaner air, fresher water and less poverty before I go up to laugh and kiki with Mother Marsha and them. Until recently, I imagined I would spend my autumn years raising the homeless trans teen girls of wherever I call home. Zaya Wade has recalibrated my envisioning.
Perhaps the black trans youth of tomorrow will be unbroken; much less traumatised and much more resourced, in a way I have not yet contemplated. Others have chastised me for overly romanticising a precolonial African past when black trans girls only knew peace and inclusion. Nevertheless, I indulge myself. I believe there was a time when I belonged. Before the slave ships arrived I cannot see my ancestors ejecting me from my home and community for my natural expression of self. Through the love that Dwayne Wade, Gabrielle Union and the Wade siblings are exemplifying, black trans girls can see themselves coming on home just like Shug Avery on a sunny song filled day.
As writer, activist and showrunner Janet Mock recently stated at Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood, Zaya Wade will be loved, honoured and protected because “She Is Worthy”. The black trans women of Pose, who were reached out to by Gabrielle and Dwayne, continue the revolutionary advocacy that she show has started. A revolutionary network of black trans women is now spiritually connected through technology and I am certain it will be the focal nexus of a transhumanist study in the near future.
The black trans girls who sustain me live lives that mermaids envy. Toiling against currents, we reach for our futures in destinations throughout the diaspora, which may keep us physically separate even though technology has brought us so much closer together. The poet and novelist Ocean Vuong has given my mind and soul the space to wonder if there might be such a thing as The Black Trans Atlantic. For the ocean between us all is so full of life begging for us to unite and indulge in our gorgeousness, here and now, for life is too brief to not do so.
Diamond Stylz // Co-Founder of Marsha’s Plate Podcast // Houston
“There is a breakthrough that happens vicariously when I hear a family member affirm their trans child. The words that they say transcends time and relation in its power to speak to the inner child within me that longs for healing from the shame and trauma directly — or indirectly — imposed on us for transitioning.”
This moment is important because I never thought I would live to see it. On a spring night some years ago, I told my truth. “I am a woman.” I breathed into myself.
I had been waiting to exhale since childhood, but it was as an adult that I felt I could now tell my inner child, she could count on me.