Content note: includes discussion of COVID-19, police brutality toward Black people, murder of unarmed Black people, transphobia
As I was moving my arms back and forth next to my wife in our very first protest, chanting Black Lives Matter, two beautiful strong brown-skinned African Americans in the midst of COVID-19 and racism pandemics, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions. I was thankfully reflecting on the opportunity to participate in a protest that meant so much to me as an outlet to reclaim my identity as a strong, talented, biracial black transgender man with multiple disabilities. Reflecting on how much I had to fight to get to this point and how much I will continue to fight to end systemic racism, oppression, and marginalization. Reflecting on how rare and challenging it is to be able to be authentically present in the totality of who I am with all of my intersecting identities while advocating for justice and change. Each identity informing the other and each experiencing its own oppression that when combined have created a complex convergence of marginalization and oppression.
Reflecting on Who I Am
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, there are not enough words to describe the heaviness, pain, sadness, fear, anger, and more. Watching and reading the news has been another lived reminder that I and my family and other black and brown friends and communities know daily of what it means to live in a society with deeply embedded covert and overt racism. My identity as a biracial black man with multiple disabilities was formed with this understanding at a young age. I grew up attending predominantly white schools and I experienced the fall-out of family relations leading to estrangement due to my parents marrying outside of their race and having children. The racial trauma and data of what it meant to be black and brown in our society was passed down to me from my grandmother, mother, and our family. At the same time, racial slurs, maltreatment, microaggressions, and discrimination were being dished out in our neighborhood, communities, and schools. This racial trauma interacted with growing up with multiple disabilities in a community without much accessibility and full of ableism. I also experienced the slurs, maltreatment, microaggressions, and discrimination in the context of my disabilities. Then, when I got older and came out as transgender, all the same happened.
I internalized and wrestled with the consistent messages that I was an abomination just because my parents got married and decided to have a child. I internalized the consistent messages that my physical disabilities were the punishment for that and an everyday reminder of the proof for the messages of who and what others claim I am. Both my peers and adults treated me as though both the color of my skin and my physical and developmental disabilities made me less than human. When I tried to fight against those messages I was shut down in various ways, and when I expressed my voice it was unheard, filtered, and changed. Trying to advocate for myself was shut down by those that viewed me as unable and by those that meant well and thought they knew what was best for me.
Because of these experiences and more, there was not a place I felt safe in or a place where I knew I could be myself and be loved unconditionally until recently. This became a complex, deep lens through which my identity developed around my race and disabilities. I took the complex convergence of marginalization and oppression I experienced and internalized it because that was all I knew. I didn’t have anything or anyone to really counter it by offering different data or support navigating it. I wish I had that earlier in my life, but I am thankful for the therapy and work I have done, including my advocacy work, to get to know myself and merge these once very separate identities into one, while fighting for change.
A New Lease on Life Through Reclaiming My Identity
It was a surreal moment to be back in that community I grew up in that was a source of so much pain and part of so much that needed healing. To be in that community with my wife at a protest for George Floyd and the black lives lost to police and other racial-based violence against black and brown individuals. It was very emotional, still inexpressible by words, to see all the crowds, hear the speeches, march in protest and gather because the violence needs to end. It should not be a crime and death sentence to be born black in the United States. All Black Lives Matter.
It took me a long time to include myself in believing that my life also mattered when I say “All Black Lives Matter” as a brown skinned biracial black man who is also transgender with multiple disabilities. These three parts of my identity never really blended well together and rarely received messages of kindness, worth, love, and value. Rather they received the opposite which assisted in the development of self-hatred and truly believing I was an abomination and a mistake while growing up and into adulthood because of 1) being black and biracial 2) being a transgender man and 3) having multiple disabilities.
This self-hatred impacted how I interacted with myself and the world around me, including participating in advocacy work in and around my community. Often, my advocacy work itself existed in each of these identity communities without much mention of the other. It was like being seen by my race while my gender and disabilities were not acknowledged or didn’t have a place, and the same would occur when it came to interacting with groups focused on ableism and gender identity. Not feeling like I was being seen as a whole person or that anyone understood the marginalization and oppression I experienced in relation to the other parts of who I am created an isolating feeling.
So, something changed that day for me rolling in my wheelchair next to my wife during our very first protest. I was reclaiming my identity, power, and value on my own terms. I was participating for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and all black and brown people including the millions of those who have lost their lives to violence including police violence and hate crimes, social injustice due to lack of equity and access to quality services, living conditions, and medical care/treatment, and more. I was participating for my family and friends. I was participating for accountability and social justice. I was participating for myself. I was fighting so that all parts of who I am may be authentically free to live fully – out and proud. Fighting so that all people may have the opportunity to live as their authentic selves safely, equally, and freely in all aspects of everyday life.
I was fighting because All Black Lives Matter. Because systemic racism needs to change. Systemic oppression needs to change. Reclaiming who I am by saying that I am not an abomination. I am not a mistake. I am not less than, not according to my race, my gender, or my disabilities. I have worth and value. I am human. I am irreplaceable. I matter. My life matters. All of who I am matters. This always has been true of me and every black and brown life. What will always remain true is that All Black Lives Matter period without any questions or conditions. This includes who I am in all its complex beauty as a biracial black transgender man with multiple disabilities.