Carter G. Woodson — the co-creator of “Negro History Week,” which later became Black History Month — believed the teaching of black history was of utmost importance because without it, black people in America stood no chance of survival.
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” he said.
No one recognizes the serious threat of erasure more than black transgender people in America. We’re not only navigating anti-blackness; we’re also targets for transphobia and misogyny. While Woodson’s ideology was specific to race, it stands true for every intersectional layer of black trans identity. We don’t have the ability to separate our race from our gender identity. Black trans liberation is still black liberation, and the African-American community at large can’t move forward until black trans survival is just as much of a priority.
Though our lives are seen as disposable and we’re often reduced to nothing more than a lit candle and a hashtag, we draw hope and strength from those who’ve come before us. Society may harshly deny the legitimacy of trans identity, but it cant deny our historical presence and perseverance.
The 10 black transgender figures listed below are a reminder that despite the circumstances, we can and will overcome adversity as a people.
Jones was a trans woman living in New York City in the 1830s who made a living as a sex worker. Her clients were wealthy white men, and after she slept with them, she’d steal their wallets as a bonus. Most of them never reported the thefts because they didn’t want their conservative peers to know they had a fetish for black trans women. She was eventually charged with grand larceny when someone turned her in to the police.
Jones was released after five years in prison, at which point she was arrested again for dressing as a woman. She served an additional five months.