I am writing this blog tonight in response to recent events which have taken place. Domonique Newburn (Fontana, California), Islan Nettles (Harlem, New York) and a young trans woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were all murdered in the same week. All were trans women of color.
Tonight I am dedicating this to the memory of my “niece” Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza who was murdered in May of 2012. Her killer is still at large.
I am revealing a lot that I would normally keep private but in order to give context I am disclosing a lot about my past which I am not terribly proud of. But it’s for real and I can only be for real. That’s who I am.
Below is an excerpt from my book about my life:
That day I wore my hair snatched with these small earrings; doing all the little things to make a difference; to make myself feel a little better despite all of the distress that was going on in my life. I wore my high-waist Jordache jeans that fit my skinny legs really tight. So tight I could barely fit anything in the pockets but this day I knew I had to.
It was a time in my life when I was at a crossroad. I was early in my transition and the stigma that I faced was severe. I felt it so deeply. Perhaps I am just very sensitive but during that time I was starting to lose everything that I loved in my life.
It was an April day in the early 90’s. It was a cool day, but not cold. However, my weight told the story. I had been fighting that monkey on my back; in and out of rehab’s and constantly trying to come up with the money for my habit.
I had that drug look no matter how much I tried to cover it up with make-up. I was a junkie; but I was still vain. I was on estrogens and they were taking effect but very, very slowly due to my drug use. I had been off and on the hormones for the past 3 years. Not being able to completely be myself on those high profile tours with Whitney Houston and The Isley Brothers had a distressing affect on me. It was just one more factor that added to the many stressors in my life. I guess that coupled with the fact that I wasn’t allowed to speak to my daughter was driving me mad. But so be it. I was sprung on those $10 bags. I had some good connects downtown in Chelsea and could slip in and out of the city from Jersey faster than hauling my ass all the way to 166th Street & Amsterdam.
It was a day I decided to meet my friend Rosie, who I had met running the streets. She invited me over to hang out before hitting it back to Jersey. I stopped by Julio’s on 17th Street to “cop” and then I was off to Rosie’s. Rosie lived in the projects on 17th Street near 9th Avenue. I was feeling good because I had managed to get a check cashed. My little plan was going off without a hitch. I checked my pockets as I walked down 17th just to make sure all my packages were intact. I was walking west, straight into the fading sun just as dusk was settling in. The spring wind blew through my beautifully long curls that I had snatched up on top of my head. I made the right on 9th and then a left on 18th. As I walked through the courtyard of the projects I could see little kids playing in the fading sunlight, a mother with her stroller and an older couple walking slowly as they headed back upstairs to their apartment that they probably had since the building was first opened.
I opened the door to the building and looked for Apartment 5-C on the silver metal apartment guide. I buzzed it and waited. There was no answer. I turned around and looked to see if I saw Rosie and just check out my surroundings. I waited and then I buzzed again but still no answer. I went outside just to check to see if I was at the right building. I rang one more time and there was still no answer.
“Later for this” I said to myself. “Let me get myself outta here, it’s almost dark.” My mother taught me well about being in strange places and sensing trouble when it was near. I started the walk back to 8th avenue and down to 16th to catch the subway uptown. I quickened my pace just a bit. I made the turn on 9th avenue. As I walked, I asked myself, “Should I cross 9th here or should I….” And just in that moment it felt as if a street lamp hit me in my head. WHAM!!!!! I fell to the ground and from that moment on everything seemed as if it were in slow motion. I remember falling to the hard gray sidewalk. I could see the Black high-top sneakers pounding my face and felt more on my body, all over my body. There were 3 young guys that kept stomping and stomping and stomping by skinny frame of a body. I kept asking them “Why? Why? Why?”
“Fucking Faggot”!!!! I heard one of them say.
“Get yo Ass away from here! We don’t want no faggots around here in our hood.”
I could taste blood as they kept kicking me. I could also hear laughter in the distance and I looked over as a young Hispanic couple sat on a car and to them the whole thing seemed hilarious.
I tried to talk and ask, “What’d I do?”
As fast as it started it ended and I lay there on the ground bleeding and not knowing really what happened to me. It hurt me to move but I didn’t know how much until I tried to get up. Everything was spinning.
I had no idea of how long I was on the ground for.
Just as I tried to get up I heard a voice, “Mami, just stay there! Don’t move we got you.”
I could barely make out the two men talking to me, “It’s okay, come, come with us.”
The two Hispanic men helped me off of the pavement. They held me up with their shoulder under each of my arms and carried me away. My head still spinning, they took me across the street to their apartment on the first floor. As they carried me I kept looking down and saw the trail of blood that followed us. It was everywhere. These two, who I believe were brothers (or maybe even partners) took me into their apartment and straight into the bathroom. They got out their peroxide and cotton and started clean me up.
“Don’t talk because your lip is really bad.”
“Okay” I mumbled
“Mami, don’t talk I can see your gum through your lip. Just nod your head”
“These kids are so cruel these days” the younger looking man said to me as he got out gauze and band-aids.
The older gentleman chimed in, “Yeah…you no want to call the policia they not do nothing for you Mami especially around here.”
“Yeah, unfortunately it’s happened before because some of the traffic from 14th street ends up this way…and you know how you girls can be.”
“Where do you live?” he said in a gentle voice, “We want to get you home”
“Jersey”, I said as I was in a daze, stunned by what just happened.
“New Jersey?” He asked.
I didn’t really understand what he meant until a minute later. I realized that I was just a block or so away from the “meat market”; a stroll that I frequented with my friend Jovanna just a year or so earlier. Many of the girls worked there from 9th to 10th Avenue and between 14th Street to 16th Street.
They brought me a glass of water and told me to keep rinsing my mouth out. As I spit in the toilet I could see clots of blood running from my mouth.
“Are you gonna be okay?” they asked. “We can take you to the hospital if you want but you’ll be there all night.”
“No, no….” As I shook my head
I sat there for a minute to contemplate what it would be like sitting in an emergency room. Did I want to subject myself to more suffering and scrutiny? All of sudden I felt like somehow I was wrong, that this was my fault; that I was an awful person for putting myself in a position to be hurt. If my family found out I was in the hospital or that I had been beaten, I would have just gotten judged for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and dressed in a feminine way.
My arms and torso were black and blue and my face was swollen. I looked like I was in a boxing match. Did these “kids” just want to rob me? I checked my pockets to see if I still had my money and my drugs. Everything was still there. It was then that I knew for sure what had happened. I was beaten for being myself.
It was at a time in New York when what they termed “gay bashing” was very prevalent but not much was being done about it.
I thanked the two men and hugged them.
“Are you sure we can’t take you to the hospital? Saint Vincent’s is right there.” One of them said before I left.
Although I was in pain I declined, thinking that I would walk it off but certainly the fact that after all of that I still wanted to get high played into my decision. They came outside and walked me to 8th avenue and put me in a cab to the Port Authority and I took the bus to Jersey barely able to walk.
During that bus ride home I was alone in my thoughts as I tried to relieve the pain. I sat in the back of the bus by myself and opened up one of my packages to ease the physical and emotional pain. Yes I self medicated (sue me).
When my family asked what happened I just said I was in a fight. No other questions were asked. I guess they probably thought I got beaten due to my drug use.
When I checked into a rehab later that week and they did a physical on me, I was told I had two fractured ribs. The scar underneath my lip is still there. I see it every morning and every night before I go to bed as a reminder of this horrifying night.
The sad part of this is that it made me feel as if I was worthless. My feeling was I had somehow put myself in a position to be brutalized by complete strangers based on who I was and what I looked like. This incident made me fearful for years. (I will admit at times I’m still fearful when I’m in strange neighborhoods or when I’m approached by a group of young men)
Eventually I got a hold on my addiction but it wasn’t until I truly transitioned in my heart and in my physical appearance that I became healthy, not just sober; emotionally healthy.
It is fast becoming the norm for us today to hear about these tragedies. However, it has happened so many times before, we just are living in a super information age. But it’s time for a change. Young transgender women are being brutalized and murdered on a regular basis; especially transgender women of color. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence in 2012, 53% of all LGBTQ homicides were transgender women; 73% of LGBTQ homicides were people of color. When is this going to stop? Why does our presence disturb you?
I don’t have all of the answers but we can start by seeing positive portrayals of trans women in the media. My sisters Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are just the tip of the iceberg among a plethora of smart talented trans women of color that are out there trying to make a difference in society. If we are never seen or heard from, the world will never understand that we need a place in the global conversation on race, class and gender.
Our world is ruled by media. Images flash across our computer screens, phone screens and television screens. These images give us clues subliminally on our perception of the world. Having positive images of trans folk are so important not just as role models for other trans women but for everyone to see that we matter, that we belong, that we are smart and strong, intelligent, artistic and creative.
There is a movement going on; a coalition that is building of young, bright and talented trans women. I have no choice but to stand arm and arm with them and give my energy to prevent the tragedies that are occurring day to day in our community. But it’s not just the murder and violence that’s such a tragedy, it’s what has driven girls like us to the point where we are exposed and vulnerable.
Someone posted an innocent comment on my page in response to the 3 murders of these trans women that occurred this week: “Live and let live, I say…” My response was: Yes, live and let live but what kind of “living” are we doing? Is it a life with dignity? What is the quality of that life? In order to live we need jobs, we need housing, we need culturally competent healthcare and we need the right to walk in a public place without being shamed, stared at, gawked at, provoked or beaten.
So I will end this blog with a question: When will the brutality stop?
How about starting with not just being tolerant and accepting, but proactive and caring of humanity which is all of us?