The language of binary gender roles never sat well with transgender rights activist Vann Michael. With no words to accurately convey his identity, he set out to carve his own path.
Out, Queer, Lesbian of Color! If there was an injustice happening I was there - with my signs, petitions, and a reporter’s hat ready to blow the whistle, organize, and begin making a difference in the lives of women, and in particular women of color. Bonding with my comrades, influencing policy changes, and creating visibility for people of color was a part of my fiber, my history, my identity.
Secretly, when the feverish rallies, high energy planning sessions, and passionate nights were over, I felt like something was missing. I was still empty. I could not quite understand what I was feeling. I hadn’t discovered the words for a person like myself. I felt disconnected at my core, still attempting to lead a productive life. I found myself at a crossroads. I was weary from getting in and out of relationships, struggling to express my inward knowing outwardly. I became curious to understand what the T in LGBT meant. Let’s face it, I had already grasped the meaning of the Q but never really looked at what the term transgender really meant.
Queer is just the tip of the iceberg. I was never sold on the binary rules set forth by society, the ‘a man loves a woman and a woman loves a man’ storyline did not make sense to me. But through my queerness, I was better able to recognize who I am. After careful reflection, and a deep conversation with the Universe, I realized that I am a man. So when I envisioned myself with a male gender identity expression, there was a feeling of satisfaction, a partial filling to the emptiness I had experienced for too long.
Now that I have started to physically transition, something magical and scary has happened all in one breath: I began to see me - I mean, really See Me. The me I denied existence because no one could fathom that someone like me existed.
I am here, but am I still Queer? I know that I am not a lesbian because I am not a woman. Within society’s construct of gender, I am now a straight black man. Yes, that’s it! Walking in my new shoes I attempt to break them in – but again, I find the “straight black man” a bit too narrow and a bit too flat. Who am I? I cannot possibly have made a mistake in living my truth. I stepped back again to take inventory of what my inner self was telling me. My hands were tied into assuming the position of female because of my birth sex and the way society conditions us to understand sex, gender, and orientation. As if a laundry list of attributes can accurately foretell someone’s gender identity: female genitalia, assigned female, check! If only it were that simple.
Now, through an investigative process of self-discovery, I stand as a Transgender Black Man. I am becoming satisfied with my outer self, as it coincides with my inner being. The more aligned I feel, the more confident I become. The veil slowly lifts and I am able to clearly see all of me. I learn that I do not have to ‘role play’ or pretend to be someone I am not. I am able to explore my maleness.
Although I am afraid, I have also come to slowly accept my attraction to men. Now a new question will come: What is the purpose of transitioning just to be with a man? How do you date men who are cisgender, who may not have experiences with men like me? When the world sees me, they see a Black man. What happens when they find out that I love men? How will the HIV rate affect me? Communities of color have long struggled with the LGBTQI community. I have walked into four of those letters, and from what I have experienced - the ‘G’ is the most dreaded!
I am a Black Man by Trans experience. I am Queer and I have come to love other men. My process has been less burdened because Black Transmen, Inc. has provided a safe space for me and other like me to fully come into myself with support through mentorship, advocacy, and education. Learn more about Black Transmen, Inc. at http://blacktransmen.org. You can support Transgender Students access higher education by donating to the Black Transmen, Inc. Scholarship Fund at http://blacktransmen.org.