every monday night, we convene at the mazzoni center in the philadelphia gayborhood. the new bois club, billed on the resource center’s website as “a drop-in support and resource group for anyone along the transmasculine spectrum, this group provides a safe and supportive environment for FTMs, trans men and bois, and individuals assigned female at birth who are exploring masculinity.”
i wish there were more people of color in my transmasculine support group. i am the only black person who ever seems to go, besides the cisgender black woman who is our facilitator.
once, a black person named Ty came in with who i assumed to be their mother. their mother accidentally deadnamed Ty during introduction’s (“hey everyone, I’m [redacted]’s mom! thanks for letting me come to your group.”), and Ty’s black face blushed blue for a moment.
this is going to be a piece about the overwheming whiteness of my trans community, the isolation i have been feeling here in philly (and also here in everywhere) as a black trans man, and also about me wondering what happened to Ty.
i feel like i am always performing my blackness in group. it is mostly by coincidence that i am usually there in my BLM hoodie, usually accompanied by black skinny jeans and high top vans. when i have something to contribute to group, it usually has something to do with the ways my; last week, i talked about the way i loved jordan peele’s horror movie get out, and how much the anxiety i felt in the theater still lingers, how that anxiety blends into my gender dysphoria to create something that festers when i look into the mirror. my group mates, as they usually do when i mention something about my race/ blackness/ antiblackness, either smiled awkwardly or watched my lips move with some mixture of pity and skepticism. our facilitator smiled at me. i felt anxious thinking about a black woman managing the feelings of a group of mostly white masculine people, and stopped talking.
last week i went to a house show on baltimore avenue that featured my friend mal blum. mal and their band play an infectious blend of queer pop punk, emo, garage, and folk music. i met mal, who is genderqueer and trans, at autostraddle camp almost 4 years ago. i was so excited to see them play in my neighborhood – the house show was a 15-minute walk from my apartment. in retrospect, i really wish the space hadn’t been quite so white. in a crowd of dozens of people milling around on stoops and steps and basement floors, queers with piercings and crop tops and shaved heads screaming along to mal’s singles, i spotted maybe ten black people. ten black people among dozens of light and white faces.
philadelphia is almost half black (44.3% by last census). west philadelphia, where i live with my white boyfriend and our two cats, its more than three-quarters black (76.2% to be more exact). almost everyone i see around my neighborhood. so why is everyone at group, and why was almost everyone at that house show, so white?
when i think about Ty, i return to an essay i always return to (it’s becoming a crutch of sorts, if only because i could not walk without it), junot díaz’s MFA vs POC. this particular passage reminds me of Ty’s locs and flushed face.
Twenty years since the workshop and what I’m left with now is not bitterness or anger but an abiding sense of loss. Lost time, lost opportunities, lost people. When I think on it now what’s most clear to me is how easily ours could have been a dope workshop. What might have been if we’d had one sympathetic faculty in our fiction program. If we Calibans hadn’t all retreated into our separate bolt holes. If we’d actually been there for each other. What might have been if the other writers of color in the workshop—the ones who were like I don’t want to write about race—had at least been open to discussing why that might be the case. I wonder what work might have been produced had we writers of colors been able to talk across our connections and divides, if we’d all felt safe and accounted for in the workshop, if we’d all been each other’s witnesses. What might have been.
i wish i had more black transmasculine friends.