A Seat at the Table is a feature on The Lady Lynx where, instead of sharing my experience of the world through my cis-white female lens, this blogger chooses to amplify the voices that actually experience the hate, discrimination, tokenism, and systematic oppression that we as a society need to figure out a way to dismantle.
As allies, those of us with (differing degrees of) privilege have a responsibility to have those hard conversations, however, if what we are talking about isn’t our personal experience or something we’ve explicitly gone through and talk over the people who did go through it? We’re adding to the problem, however unintentionally. Instead of being the loudest voice in the room, we need to give the people we’re standing with the spotlight to speak on their own experiences.
That being said, with the recent Transgender military ban and Trump rescinding protections the Obama administration put in place for the protection of Transgender youth, as well as a spike in the already disproportionate amount of hate crime towards Transgender people (especially Transgender people of color), I wanted to talk to some Transgender people on these topics as well as the lack of proper representation in the media, how all of us can be better allies, and more.
This week we have the incredibly inspiring, resilient, intelligent, beautiful, entertaining, and articulate Brielle joining us to talk about fashion, inclusion, and her experience as a black Transgender woman.
Brielle, welcome to The Lady Lynx and thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. Could you tell my readers a bit about yourself?
I am a writer, Visual Artist, and postmodern curator based out of New York City. I’ve been featured in Offbeat Home and Life magazine and I’ve had some of my work shared all over the internet. This is my labor of love, my baby. And it’s really nice to know it’s taking off in a way where it can sustain me and support me.
So let’s dive right in. I found you on social media because of #whobutablackwomyn and fell in love with your presence and the project itself. We don’t see a lot of discussion in mainstream media about trans women of color and we especially don’t talk a lot about self expression or fashion and the infinite impact that the trans community has had on the world at large. What inspired the visual project and how did you go about making it?
What inspired #WhoButABlackWomyn initially (and most people don’t know this) but this project had been in the works for two years before it even started. I think by the beginning of this year I decided I was going to start promoting it and do a roll out and have it out by the 1st quarter of 2017. It didn’t exactly happen like that and it ended up dropping in the 2nd quarter, and I couldn’t be more happy with my end result. The inspiration behind the name, “Who But a Black Womyn” came from a conversation I was having with my gay mother, someone who’s opinion I hold in high regard. She actually gave me the title, I just turned it into a hashtag. the inspiration from this project came from watching alot of the black trans women I would see on instagram from the gay ballroom scene just do these looks that were so intricate and next level, and when I picked the pieces to wear for the shoot, or got the hair that I wanted, I feel like I did it paying homage to them. The whole look and the aesthetic that I was trying to achieve was High Femme, but it’s a High Femme that was inspired by black and brown trans girls in the ballroom scene walking a category, whether it be Fem Queen Performance, FQ Realness, FQ body, Labels/Streetwear, I did it to pay homage to the girls who’s creative vision inspired me in turn to create.
I read your article on The Fashion Studies Journal and you said: “There are levels to privilege when it comes to wearing whatever you want.” Which is astoundingly true. Most cis people, especially white cis people with normal bodies don’t really understand what it’s like to have to be aware of what you’re wearing and how it’s going to affect your safety. What’s been one of the most jarring/eye opening experiences you’ve had with this?
I remember being 19 and I was out with a really good cis girlfriend of mine and it was probably like 1 or 2 in the morning so we were on the train getting home. Now at a certain stop a homeless man had got on the the train and at some point he became very agitated and belligerent and started harassing people…Now at that point in my life I had never dealt with the actual threat of violence from an adult man who wasn’t my father and it was so frightening attempting to shrink myself and to not draw attention to myself to not provoke the ire of this angry hostile character who, to be honest could have had some weapons on him or something to physically injure me. All of these things are going thru my mind while this man is now harassing me and my friend. Alot of it didn’t really make sense but it was his aggressive posturing that I think was really it for me, because you might not know what that man is saying but you also don’t know if at any point he might feel disrespected and wanna inflict pain because he was so unpredictable like that. And I honestly don’t know why he targeted us but I look back on that experience & it shaped how I move today and the safety precautions that I take to ensure i’m alive and safe above everything else.
What made you so passionate about fashion? You mentioned being inspired by Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, and your Instagram is a literal visual mecca of style/fashion. How did you learn to curate your own style, make it something uniquely yours? And where do you like to shop to find items that fit your personal aesthetic?
I think my personal style kinda comes from the little things that have inspired me throughout my life, Like parts of certain styles and ideas and aesthetic concepts that I always loved, I kept parts of that in my spirit so that when I do shop, I already know what kind of direction i’m going in. I’m a really boring person so you’re gonna get a really basic answer: most my clothes come from some fast fashion outlet (h&m, zara, topshop, asos, etc) I also scour etsy periodically for stuff too, vintage finds are always nice.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to develop their own personal style?
Start with the kind of person you see ideally in your minds eye and go from there. Pinterest and Polyvore are really great for curating looks on a blank slate, and even if you don’t come up with actual looks you might have a vague concept of what they’re trying to achieve aesthetically which is better than nothing.
How do you feel about the progress (or lack thereof) in the fashion world, and entertainment industry at large, on including the trans community?
It’s obviously something that still needs work but you got a couple girls out here doing their thing, like Hari Nef, Dara, Isis King, Torraine Futurum, and Lea T for example. But the fact that I can literally name them all (or at least some of them) is the problem. It’s tokenistic. The fashion industry uses trans bodies to bring publicity or a buzz of any kind to their shows because they know that with the current sociopolitical climate in our culture, trans visibility and education about trans people are at the forefront of the conversation. But as the novelty wears off, so to speak, do they still get booked? are they still able to take care of themselves and pay their bills off of modeling? There is a problem in the way that cis creatives in the entertainment/fashion go about seeking for trans people to work or collaborate with. Even when there’s a check involved I always question the motives, to me some of it comes off as somewhat predatory. I think that in any industry where you are in some way shape or form in the public eye, there aren’t enough lasting, sustaining jobs being given to trans people.
With the current administration in the US, we’re seeing a lot of progress that the LBGTQA, but especially the Trans community, fought so hard for being erased and attacked. Recently Laverne Cox said that the Trans community is in survival mode and commented on the disproportionate amount of hate crime Trans, but especially Trans POC experience. How do you feel about this and is there anything you’d like people to know?
Cis people need to use their privilege to form a barrier of protection around us. All of you that claim to care and adore and love the trans community, everybody in some form or fashion banking off the intellectual property of trans people (particularly TWOC) are complicit in being a part of the system that seeks to further other us, alienate us, or turn us into to targets. Acknowledge that, come to terms with it, take accountability. Do what’s right. And doing what’s right means something different from everybody, it could mean accompanying your trans friend to the bathroom to avoid a potentially dangerous situation if they were left to go on their own, it means supporting our work. Becomming patrons of our work. It means donating money to causes that fight for us, even on a ground level, it means making sure your trans friends know they are loved, supported, and making sure they’re stable. It means comming out of pocket to help trans people whom, are the most vulerable parts of our population and face disproportionate rates of poverty, homelessness, unemployment & violence. It’s about using your privilege to somewhat insolate that very real reality for so many of us, that we CAN thrive. Being an ally means being devoted to the well being of trans folk, by any means and in every and any capacity.
In your article in The Fashion Studies Journal, there was a quote that really stood out to me: “What was the real price I was willing to pay in order to be seen?” Because, again, a lot people (especially white cis people) don’t have to worry about their safety, status, family, etc. when expressing themselves. How important is it to you that people are aware of their privilege of visibility?
It’s an integral part of doing the work in being an ally, recognizing that your experiences are different from others and being sensitive towards that. And not to talk over us when sharing our perspectives on life. Sometimes being a good listener is better than talking. You gotta be able to absorb.
You’ve written many a post on Instagram detailing the contributions that Trans people have made to the beauty and entertainment industry. You’ve also made it a point to show the lack of knowledge and acknowledgement of how things like transformative makeup techniques, plastic surgery, fashion trends, etc. among many other things were created in large part by or because of Trans people, but were taken credit for by people with more privilege and power. How would you like to see that history reclaimed and the people involved given credit?
I think that while it would be very nice and sorely overdue for us be credited for our innovations in femme aesthetics, makeup, fashion trends, etc, I’m not sure it will ever happen. In an ideal world, I’d like to see the girls who originally started some of the trends get the mainstream recognition that cis female celebrities get, I would like to see the black trans women who perfected the perfectly proportioned body before waist trainers and silicone butt injections became so readily available to the public get club bookings and hostings like their cis female counterparts. I’d like to see a trans woman teach a master class on makeup to a sold out lecture hall somewhere. I’d like to see more trans girs get BOOKED for shows at fashion week. Ideally I would just want them to get the kinds of opportunities as our cis peers and have a seat at the table. It’s insane that so much shit in this world was directly or indirectly inspired or influenced by us and we only get scraps.
What’s your biggest pet-peeve with mainstream media’s portrayal of Trans people?
Cis people playing trans people and not enough narratives on the transgender experience in the media. There is this very strict, binarist, and quite frankly racist idea that exists and is heavily perpetuated by the media about trans people being born in the wrong body. While that may be true for some, it’s not true for all. We need a broader range of stories to be told in relation to us coming to terms with who we are. Some of us don’t feel born in the wrong body but more so are born in a society where people have so many ideas and projections and perceptions of trans bodies: to be clear the problem is not me being born in the “wrong body” but societies perception OF my body and everything that comes with it.
Thank you so much again for being here. Is there anything else you’d like to touch on or mention before you go?
Yes. To any young trans girls reading this: I implore you to take your time as you transition. Don’t be so quick to go under the knife. Take your mones and drink your water and let them do their job, give yourself time to blossom into the BEAUTIFUL flower that you are. Don’t get silicone butt injections becauuse those are dangerous and can kill you.
❤ The Lady Lynx