In the wake of gallingly ignorant critiques of trans celebrity1 and some comments I made on twitter about #GirlsLikeUs News about the juxtaposition of news I see while curating articles for that news feed… It feels like, to me, a great moment to write about why Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are so important. But also the other twoc featured on the Candy cover: Geena Rocero, Juliana Huxtable, Gisele Alecia, Carmen Xtravaganza, Carmen Carrera, Isis King, Leyna Ramous, Dina Marie, Nina Poon, Peche Di, Yasmine Petty. But especially Ms. Cox and Ms. Mock, since they are (arguably) the most ‘mainstream celebrities’ of the group.2
Before I dig in, I just want to direct people to two important posts written to counter the claims in that ignorant ‘critique.’ L’lerret Jazelle Ailith has a long, thoughtful post that breaks down all the reasons why that Advocate OP-ED is shit and Monica Roberts (which admittedly quotes the previous posts) also has her usual inciteful commentary on the OP-ED.
So, I curate #GirlsLikeUs News. Which means that I read a LOT of trans related news. And I see the headlines of a lot of articles too (that I don’t read because I don’t have time to read every single news story that comes my way). My remarks earlier today were spurned by the juxtaposition on reading about Ty Underwood’s murder and on a trans woman getting a six figure book deal. Can you tell which one of these women is Black and which is white?
From this alone, you should be able to get a clear understanding why having two relatively famous Black trans women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock matters so much. And it isn’t just about representation, although this is far from a trivial matter. But, referring to the earlier note about their visibility (which is related to issues of representation and why they — and other twoc — were singled out for bringing about a glamourous, but superficial, trans revolution), part of their visibility in the media is due to the _hyper_visibility of Black women. Visibility which is envied and decried by people like Elle Boatman. But it is a visibility that comes with the same burden that afflicts all Black women: the expectation that these two Black trans women be the mules of every single trans issue.
An example? In the #nbrightsnow tag, you see (white) nonbinary trans people wondering if either Janet Mock or Laverne Cox have ever spoken up/for nonbinary trans people. Which is… Obviously a problem. Both in terms of the assumptions made about their genders — beyond the misapplication of the non/binary dichotomy to people of colour, we don’t actually know whether or not either woman identifies as non/binary. As a person who, for reasons of expediency and convenience, often presents a public binary gender, people need to stop assuming that because both women are in the public eye, that we know everything about them. We don’t. Stop making assumptions. But it is also a problem for how… it presents a deep unwillingness, at least for Janet Mock, for a lot of people to actually engage her history (as she tells it to us). Almost no one really engages her story and personhood from an Indigenous lens, despite her being Native Hawaiian. I’ve had actual conversations with her (on twitter) about indigenous genders and nonbinary stuff. Nonetheless, both women are expected — because of their hyper/visibility — to cater to the demands of white nonbinary people.
Anyway, that is off topic (and something that really irks me).
The point is, is that without these two women, pretty much all positive news about Black trans women essentially disappears. This is why (at least for the purposes of this post) they are so important. They serve as constant, visceral reminders that Black trans women are living, breathing human beings that we ought to care about while they live. They give voice to a group of people whose bodies are consummed after they die and used, in anti-violence stats, as a way for white trans people to push their agendas. But it becomes more difficult to do this when we have these constant reminders that they exist and that they are human. They matter because neither of them de-emphasizes their Blackness when discussing trans stuff.
But also? In terms of media. These two women are doing so much to fundamentally and radically change how mainstream media interacts with trans women. Remember what happened between Janet Mock and Piers Morgan or between Lavern Cox, Carmen Carrera, and Katie Couric? They are literally changing the terms for how the mainstream engages trans women. I can see the difference from when I started #GirlsLikeUs News a few years ago and now.