What each of us now fear most—violence, illness, bankruptcy, loss—may be the most revealing indicator of how we’re each suffering. Our privilege, meanwhile, is revealed in where we find peace: the peace of responding to issues of social justice as a matter of moral decision-making rather than reacting out of imminent personal necessity. The peace of treatment for, or safety from, disease. The peace of being safe in a body, or even on a familiar block, in a familiar neighborhood, with familiar people.
In August, three Black trans women were attacked by two men as they waited for an Uber in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Bystanders heckled them, rather than helping. Between the initial arrest, release, and the final charges brought against their attackers, murdered and missing trans women have continued to trend on Twitter.
I spoke to Aurora Lloyd, a D.C. singer and songwriter who works with True Colors United and A Way Home America; Khai St. Lawrence, a wardrobe stylist in West Hollywood; and Kameron Davis, from New Orleans—three Black trans women who reacted to the violent story with their own accounts of safety and passing, allyship and acknowledgement.
Thanks so much for doing this, everyone. We know about terms like “intersectionality.” What is it like to be at the intersection of your race, gender, and trans identity?
Kameron: I’m a proud transgender woman, but the first thing you will see from down the street is the color of my skin. For Black trans women in particular, we have to protect ourselves from bigots on the street and bigotry in our own community. Many Black families are deeply rooted in Christianity, with strict taboos on homosexuality, which makes the concept of transitioning from one “gender” to the next so hard to accept and understand.
Part of transitioning that I believe isn’t spoken about enough is the change to our place in the social hierarchy of the world. Being assigned male at birth, we were born into privileges that our cisgender counterparts do not have in society: more power, more respect, a higher “value,” a higher glass ceiling. Transitioning to female flips that on its head. Now we have to deal with the objectification, the constant critique of every move we make, condescending men who find us inferior and less intelligent because we’re women.
Aurora: “Intersectionality” is such an interesting word because it plays on the concept of dealing with multiple levels of impact. But I always wonder, whenever someone feels they are experiencing some level of intersectionality, which area of their identity is impacted first, or most? When I was a young boy, before understanding anything about the world, race was most prevalent to me. As I grew into my trans womanhood, my gender became the most prevalent.
Khai: Personally, I identify as gender nonbinary, so I express my gender identity in different ways, at different times, in a much more fluid sense. While that term is very misunderstood by those outside of it, I feel very much a part of the trans community, as I present and express myself as female very often. However, I acknowledge that there are still instances when I present male, in ways that many of my trans sisters do not, and often cannot. So, for me, the intersectionality that you mention is key, and I recognize that there is a privilege in my being able to present, or perform, masculinity when I choose.
How do each of you feel about the Hollywood attack on those three trans women?
Kameron: I’m actually Instagram-friendly with one of the girls who was attacked in West Hollywood. The footage was brutal, but hearing the story was horrifying. Three trans women were attacked, tormented, and chased, and one was knocked physically unconscious. A group of men laughed and recorded [the incident]. “Innocent” bystanders stood by and watched. Among all of the bystanders, no one responded to their screams for help.
The attacker being released is hardly a surprise. If people on the street don’t care for trans lives and safety, how can we expect the police force or state attorneys to care?
Khai: It was particularly jarring for me because I often frequent that area for work. In Los Angeles, there’s a false sense of safety because it’s a pretty open-minded place—but being on the wrong street at the wrong time can leave you in great danger. West Hollywood, which is often referred to as a “gay mecca,” is only 10 minutes away. Ten minutes can cost a person their life.
Have you experienced violence as a result of being a trans woman of color? Have you been afraid in situations because of your identity?
Khai: I have, thankfully, not been the target of physical violence, but the threat is very real. Just last month, I helped a friend move from Hollywood to West L.A. When I Ubered back to my car in Hollywood, my driver dropped me at the wrong spot. It was about 4 a.m., and I decided to walk to where my car was parked. In the 15 minutes I walked alone through Hollywood, I was approached by several men in cars cat-calling me or asking me to “join them.” When I refused, I could feel one of the cars following me down the street. My mind was racing before I heard him speed away: What can I defend myself with? Could he overpower or kill me?
Kameron: I’ve also luckily never been a victim of violence, but I agree, the threat is there. Living in the Deep South as both Black and trans is terrifying, point blank. I carry a knife and pepper spray and have tasers within reach at all times. It’s a near constant stream of anxiety.
Aurora: I have actually experienced violence. When I first moved to D.C., I was raped and robbed. I was new to the area and thought I could take the bus home because it ran until 3 a.m. This was before Ubers, and my attacker was a college student, like me, who [said he would] direct me to the nearest taxi home. Instead he led me to a park, where he began to come onto me. When I disclosed who I was and told him he had the wrong idea about me, he said it was “going to happen anyway.” Then he hit me and forced me down on the grass. After it was over, he ran off with my things and left me there. It was one of the worst nights of my life.
I walked the streets of D.C. alone, crying for help. Cars drove past me. When I made it to a main road, a taxi driver saw me and offered to take me home but, as I was directing him, I felt his hand on my leg. I told myself as soon as I saw an area I was familiar with, I would get out and run, and that’s what I did.
I am afraid every day of my life. I am afraid every time I have to step into a room where I don’t know anyone. My bedroom is the only place I feel 100% safe. I pretend to be confident, and sometimes even aggressive, because I’m like a creature in the wild doing everything in my power to avoid and scare off a predator.
Thank you for being so open with your experience, Aurora, and for trusting us with it. I am so, so sorry that happened to you.
Thank you for listening and being open to hearing it.
How much do you think Black Lives Matter has shed light on these issues?
Khai: Black Lives Matter, in my opinion, shed a light on issues of violence against cisgendered Black people, but it never felt like it was big enough to encompass issues that face trans people. I remember seeing the video of Iyanna Dior, not long after George Floyd’s death. Seeing that happen in the same place, less than two months after, sent a very clear message that “Black lives matter” doesn’t apply to trans people.
Aurora: I agree. Black Lives Matter is such a problematic group because though it was founded by queer-identifying Black women, as the movement grew, its core foundations got lost.
Kameron: Yes. Black Lives Matter is an amazing movement for Black people, but for Black trans people, our existence is largely invalidated. It’s not a competition, but for every Breonna Taylor or George Floyd, we have a Brayla Stone, a Merci Mack, a Shakie Peters, a Draya McCarty, a Tatiana Hall, a Bree Black. Trans women have been lynched in public. They have been pulled by cars down dirt roads with nooses around their throats. There are stories that need to be told that just don’t get the same attention.
Plus, if you don’t fit the mold of what cisgendered people find to be “passable”—”masculine,” or “feminine”—you may not have the same value to outsiders looking at you. But a human doesn’t have to look a certain way to deserve to live.
How can people show up as allies for trans women of color?
Kameron: Do more than tweet support. Donate to our GoFundMes. Volunteer at shelters. If you know a Black trans woman, something as simple as a compliment and a smile goes a lot farther than you could imagine.
I also have to implore everyone to vote. If you’ve seen the way our country is going and you’re scared, please vote. There are numerous problems with both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but not voting at all, because it makes you “feel better,” endangers people who aren’t as privileged as you.
Vote for the LGBTQ+ community, the BIPOC community, people both rightfully and wrongfully incarcerated who have lost their right to vote. Vote for people whose voting process is sabotaged or altered by the postal services not delivering ballots. Times are scary, but never give up hope. You cannot get to the rainbows without flying through the clouds.