I can’t imagine what it would feel like to exist as a transgender or gender-nonconforming person in our transphobic society, that obsesses over correlating with gender — everything from fashion and interests to emotions. To understand the transgender/queer experience more (and learn how I can help to be more of an ally!), I reached out to badass black, trans femme Brielle Nicole for an interview.
She’s a millennial living in New York City, and she was kind enough to talk with me about how she stays strong in a world that politicizes her very existence.
The average life expectancy for a transgender person according to this NPR article is only 30-32 years. The suicide attempt rate in the trans community is astronomical, and the violence against them is widespread.
“We get born into a world where we bear the brunt of existing at the intersections of race, gender and sexual identity in a racist, heteronormative society that doesn’t value black or trans or queer bodies,” she begins. “Every day is a different situation where it feels like your body is inherently political, or better yet, a blank slate for people to project their thoughts, feelings and insecurities on to. It can be exhausting sometimes.”
Embracing who you are when who you are bucks so many social conventions requires bravery and courage.
“What keeps you brave?” I ask.
“Honestly? I feel like I don’t have a choice,” Brielle tells me. “It was either this or death for me. I had to learn from a very young age that I have to honor and affirm myself. I never allow other people’s inability to see me for who I am define how I see myself.”
“We get born into a world where we bear the brunt of existing at the intersections of race, gender and sexual identity in a racist, heteronormative society that doesn’t value black or trans or queer bodies,”
Gender-nonconforming and transgender people desperately need healthy support systems to keep them safe and loved in a world that’s constantly trying to harm, invalidate, and politicize them. I ask Brielle how she cultivated a support system after she came out as trans at 17. She tells me that people in her life weren’t always supportive, but she was able to make valuable and meaningful connections with others online.
“Social media is the great equalizer,” she tells me.
“I feel like, especially this year, Instagram and Tumblr have connected me to so many amazing people who I consider to be peers, friends, some even like family.”
This makes me feel hopeful for the trans and genderqueer community. It’s so easy now to connect with other people who belong to marginalized groups, and to reach out to them for support. My heart breaks for trans people who didn’t grow up with social media and its inherent opportunities for developing a solid support system. I hope that social media continues to evolve in ways that make it even easier to bring marginalized people together for connection and support.
“Besides making connections to others on social media who face similar struggles, what advice do you have for other genderqueer/trans babes who may be struggling?” I ask. Brielle replies thoughtfully, “Do you, but always be safe. Love yourself, and be tender and good to yourself. Make sure to prioritize your mental health and emotional well being over everything.”
I ask Brielle what she feels we can do to support trans/queer people…
Many of whom are cast out by their families and end up living on the streets.
“Employ us. Get us connections to people who can put us in better places. Donate to our causes! Donate to our paypals and cash.me accounts, drop some funds into our GoFundMe and YouCaring fundraising efforts. If you can’t donate, share our donation posts. A lot of us are struggling just to eat and live!”
Changing the way we as a society perceive gender is another way to help. “Combat transphobia, combat transmisogyny, combat transmisogynoir. Question it when you see it and call it out. Destroy it,” Brielle says.
She also advises us to be open to checking our privilege when necessary.
“If you get called out for saying or doing something considered offensive, apologize. Own your shit. Be accountable for the energy you bring into someone’s space!”
Transphobia is a huge problem worldwide, and it won’t be solved by keeping quiet about it. Be supportive of trans and gender-nonconforming babes, socially and monetarily, if possible. Call bullshit on any and all transphobia you see, and let the queer babes in your life know that they’re important and valuable. Their very lives may depend on it, and a little extra compassion can go a long way!