Below, you are going to read about seven Black queer and trans perspectives on a variety of issues important to the community. You will know their names, their faces, their voices. We commissioned this piece from photographer Gioncarlo Valentine to add another layer to the BLACK Collection, one that would not just show more opinions and perspectives from the community, but would demonstrate a visual artistry we want to deliver more of to this space and to our readers.
If you notice the lack of women and femmes, please know that we had reached out, and arranged 3 more individuals from those experiences, but were not able to add them to this piece by the time of publishing. We do show a trans masc experience in the group below. We will, however, work to do better, and we hope that you still find value in the individuals and views presented in this piece.

Tylan Cunningham | He/Him

GIONCARLO VALENTINE: Do you ever feel fetishized or  privileged for having lighter skin? How do you consolidate the guilt of  that privilege and what has been the impact of that fetishization?

TYLAN CUNNINGHAM: I’ve  been aware of the fetishization and privilege surrounding my lighter  skin since my adolescence. Growing up in a black environment, colorism  reveals itself very early on; I was able to identify politics  surrounding skin tone from day-to-day life, well before I could identify  politics surrounding blackness, which I learned from the media. I don’t  know if I necessarily reconcile guilt specifically as a result of being  lighter skinned, I understand that life isn’t built on fair terrain,  and I don’t approach it from a place of fragility either, rather I  acknowledge the privilege and try to do the work to bring it down, and  implore my peers to do the same. In terms of dealing with the  fetishization, it’s caused me to put up a lot of walls when dating,  afraid that I interact with men who have a type, versus men who are  truly attracted to me. I’m also hyper aware of how I’m treated in white  spaces versus someone who is darker, in an effort to challenge that  treatment in scenarios I see a disparity.

GV: Do  you believe that we all participate in ableism and the erasure of  people with physical and intellectual disabilities? Why or why not? What  steps can we take every day that deconditions this ableism and its  impact?

TC: I do believe we all  participate in a way, thinking from a silence is consent mentality,  though many of us acknowledge ableism, few of us are proactive in  identifying it and trying to be allies to facilitate more welcoming  environments. I think steps we can take to combat ableism, is to  actively remove ourselves from spaces that are simply accessible to  people with physical and intellectual disabilities, when you enter these  accessible spaces, you’ll find that these individuals are rarely  present. Being accessible isn’t enough; we need to invest in spaces that  are accessible, welcoming and encouraging to these individuals.

GV: How urgent does HIV in our community feel to you today? Does it feel more or less dire? Why or why not?

TC: It  still feels very urgent and at the center of a lot of conversations  that surround sex. It feels more dire in a way, because while I think in  the past, it may have been a taboo conversation, and something to be  silent about, today it feels like a conversation that people bring to  the forefront. I see the dialogue in contemporary television and film,  and living in NYC, I see a great deal of messaging surrounding HIV in a  lot of public ads, in that way it feels considerably more present.  

GV: Do you feel like you face more or less homophobia in the Black Community? Explain.

TC: This  question is difficult to answer, because I grew up in and of the black  community, so the bulk of my experiences are black centered. I think for  many of us who’ve grown up similarly, it’s easy to say that we’ve dealt  with more homophobia in the black community, because we’ve primarily  only been in the black community to experience homophobia. I feel  homophobia is baked into whiteness as well, at the root of the  patriarchy, but just externalizes itself differently. When you loop in  the hyper-masculinity that thrives in the black community, homophobia  may seem at the forefront, but that same violence is in whiteness too,  just better hidden.

Tashan Lovemore | He/Him

GV: Was/Is your family supportive of your transgender experience? Explain. What has been the impact of this?

TASHAN LOVEMORE:  From the beginning my dad has always been supportive of any decision  I’ve made in this life. His support alone shadows the people who aren’t  as supportive.  The rest of  my family took to my transition pretty  well. I’m not sure if age played a part but I didn’t get a “talk” about  it being unacceptable . My mom was living in Arizona at the time (2015)   I started my hormone replacement therapy. My dad told her about my  transition. Mom my send me a card that she wrote in expressing herself  like years before. This time around it was warm and understanding. My  mom may not know all the variables but she tries to understand and  showers me with love in many different ways. I always tell people who  slip with the pronouns - “i understand, it’s okay. If my mom who carried  me for 9/10 months has made leaps I’m sure you can too.” Normally it’s  not faced with any back talk because i mean - it’s my mom I’m talking  about. My Queen and my creator. My mom was there for me from beginning  to end during my top surgery and healing process - we grew closer. I’m  patient with my family. Changes aren’t only happening inside of me but  around me.

GV: Do you feel like you face more or less transphobia in the Black Community? Explain.

TL: I  believe I face more transphobia in the black community. For a while I  didn’t like the idea of fighting or speaking up for the black community  because the black community wouldn’t speak up for me. Me = the trans*  identified community. If a trans* individual is murdered black folks  write it off like we aren’t human beings. I’m someone’s Son, brother,  cousin, Godfather, friend. I’m important. I realize that people fear  what they don’t know or take the chance to understand. That’s where I  come in. I don’t mind having open dialogue to break the barriers - as  long as it’s address with respect.

GV: There has been an  explosion of new terms, ideas, spaces that expand on the ideas of  gender, gender language, and gender politics. How does that make you  feel? What are the pros and cons

TL: I  love that it’s in people face now. I remember looking up or trying to  find trans* identified folks online back in 2008/2009 and for the most  part 10 years ago trans* men especially of color was hard to find. I  appreciate going into facilities that offer bathrooms that are inclusive  of all genders, single stale bathrooms are just as sufficient. When  filling out paper work for jobs or going to the doctor(s) they now as  for prefer names and pronouns. My younger brother is a Cis male and his  preferred name is Blanco. ( derived from his birth last name white) it’s  promoting people to be themselves. Look at life from a different lens.  The cons are the increasing rate of murders among black trans* women  because of how fragile masculinity is in the black community. Instead of  ending the intimate relation they rather kill. The increase of worry  for trans* people  who don’t fit the mold ascetically are targets when  they shouldn’t be. On one hand people tell you to live authentically on  the other hand everyone else makes it hard for you to.

GV: What has community looked like for you and what kind of impact has this community had on your transition?

TL: One  piece of Community is BlackTransTV. A platform of inclusivity and  helping inquiring minds find the answers they need in a comforting  space. Life is a learning experience. My transition has been impacted in  ways of connecting with others from different walks of life but sharing  experiences.

Tyrice Hester | He/Him

GV: What is sexual racism to you? Have you ever experienced a kind of sexual racism?

TH: Sexual  racism is racism experienced at an individual level within the context  of romance and love. It’s when you read “not attracted to Blacks” on a  non-Black persons dating profile. It’s responding to a seemingly nice  message on an app from a person of another race, only to discover their  profile reads “looking for BBC only”. It’s walking into a gay bar that’s  frequented mostly by white men and immediately being looked at as if  you don’t belong or you’re taking up too much space. It’s having to  defend why you’re reading a pro-Black book to the white man you’ve been  dating for several months. Yes all of this has happened to me.

GV:  Do you think coming out has gotten easier with the development of  social media and broader representation in the media? Why or why not?

TH: Social  media has led to an increased visibility of our community. When I came  out at 17 I didn’t have the resources that are readily available now. Of  course I could of asked Jeeves “how to come out?” or visited my schools  LGBT center, but that’s different from being able to go on social media  and literally watch videos of people sharing their testimonies and  experiences. I think it’s a powerful tool for the younger generation.

GV: How can we better love and protect Black transgender women/men?

TH: We  have to speak up for trans people during times of injustice because not  doing so is complacency and harmful. I was sitting in an Africana  Studies class during undergrad once and the professor said “trans women  are not women,” and then made disparaging comments about the trans  community, specifically trans women. One of my classmates identified as  trans and I could literally see them shrinking in their seat. Without  hesitation I challenged the professor and the conversation became very  heated. I couldn’t understand why she willingly used her platform and  institutional power to promote her trivialized opinions. When sentiments  are expressed on platforms like hers, they shape societal attitudes and  contribute to racialized, gender-based violence against transgender  people. It’s literally the reason why Black transgender women have a  life expectancy of 35 years.

GV: Do you feel like you’ve  had adequate representation in the Black gay community in spaces like  film, television, and music? What would you like to see more of?

TH: Adequate?  No. Is mainstream media coming around? Yes. Recently our identities  have been explored more, but the majority of our narratives center  around trauma and hardship. I’m looking forward to a more carefree Black  gay film where the protagonists doesn't die or get gay bashed. Or  perhaps a mediocre film where nothing happens and the two characters are  just existing, in love. This might be too idealistic though.

B Hawk/ He Him

GV: How complicated is it living as a Gender deviant/GNC person? What are some of the bright spots?

BH: It  can be complicated at times living as a GNC /queer person especially  when your of color. But I don't let those complicated moments ruin my  daily performance and hustle. I love being black and I love my  queerness. They both are my magical superpowers that most people don't  have or want.

GV: There has been an explosion of new  terms, ideas, spaces that expand on the ideas of gender, gender  language, and gender politics. How does that make you feel? What are the  pros and cons?

BH: Honestly the titles  and labels used for the the LGBTQ community have grown dramatically in  the past few years. And it's really hard and annoying at times to keep  up.  But what I've learned is that people want to be individuals and be  understood more then anything. So a lot of the new terms used to  describe different forms of sexuality are coming more from a individual  personal level and people are connecting to them. I'm trying to become  more open to learning new ideas and terms within my community but I  can't even remember my damn email password half the bea with  me.

GV: How important is media representation to you as a  LGBTQ person? Does it feel like media is doing a better job of  representing people like you?

BH: I was  just having this conversation with my best friend about how we would  love to see more representation of LGBTQ people on TV. Keep in mind we  were watching "Love & Hip Hop Miami" which is a mess but it would  still be cool to have at least ONE queer "character" on the show that  wasn't messy and was a GNC character. I feel like the only two "popular"  representations we have for Queer men of color to see are Drag Race and  LHH Miami. Which are two totally different forms of queer energy. We  had shows like "Noahs Arc" in the early 2000s but that was sadly taken  away from us unfortunately without a REAL answer. But I know a lot of  creatives are really working on shining light on diverse characters.  YouTube is such a huge stage for amazing new Queer media content from  networks like Bawn Media, Slay TV & many more. We do have more great  characters on cable TV then ever before but its not enough. We have to  create more content OURSELVES and do the work. Because most cis  (straight) white men & women who are ahead of these "popular"  networks are not thinking of us or want to see us shine in a positive  way unfortunately.

GV: What makes you feel the most beautiful?

BH: I  feel most beautiful when my skin isn't breaking out and my hair is  DONE. But on a deeper note..when I'm feeling confident with a group of  my really close friends pumping through NYC.

Emil Wilbekin He/Him

GV: Does life as a Black, gay man really get easier after 40? If so, in what ways?

EW: I'm  not sure that life gets easier for a Black gay man after 40. For me I  am more clear about who I am and what is important to me. I believe we  live in a state of constant growth and transformation so there are  always new challenges and learning. Physically, a man's body changes as  he gets older so there are differences in metabolism, hormones and  energy. It's all a journey and a process.

GV: Do you think that we have an obsession with age and role in the gay community? Explain.

EW: I  believe society overall is obsessed with age. The gay community is  definitely a part of this obsession. Historically many cultures are  enamored by youth and what's new. We see this in popular culture,  fashion, marketing and beauty. In general, I think people are more open  to intergenerational perspectives, beauty and conversations. Ageism is  being discussed more in the conversations around identity —sexual  gender, body politics and race. I believe Millennials are more open to  the wisdom of intergenerational conversations and experiences.

GV: What makes you feel the most beautiful?

EW: I feel most beautiful when I am at peace with my spirit.

GV: Why has creating space and cultivating a sense of community been so integral to your work?  

EW: I  believe it's important for Black gay men to have a safe space where we  can be who we really are and to have conversations about what's relevant  to us. My hope is that these spaces will help our community grow and be  more self actualized, healthy and loving towards each other and show  the world our beauty, brilliance and power.

GV: How important is legacy to you and your work?

EW: My  work is important to me. My intention is to create work that moves  culture, changes people's perspectives and opens people's minds. I'm  grateful that my work has inspired others.

Sir Knight He/Him

GV: Do you believe that most Black LGBTQ people deal with mental health issues as a result of their experience? Why or why not?

SK: I  believe that American Black Folks in general are prone to mental health  issues because we've been brainwashed by The American Society and it's  false ideologies and doctrines of how one should be and what it means to  be American. In America, American is a word that simply refers to white  people. Outside of America, American references all people who inhabit  and live in America. See the difference? We live in a society that  constantly denies our humanity due to the color of our skin. Now add  sexuality and gender identity/expression on top of race and that's where  it becomes even more complex.

American Black LGBTQ Folks are even  more prone to mental health issues due to their experiences with  navigating their identity and/or sexuality within the confines of The  American Society and The Black Community. The American society does not  cater to difference of any sort especially not difference of identity  and/or sexuality thus making Black LGBTQ Folks feel like outcasts and  shunned in a multitude of situations from work, to school, social  settings and beyond. Being LGBTQ is one level of difference but then add  to that being Black and you have two levels of difference that often  find conflict within themselves. The Black Community doesn't like to  accept the fact that LGBTQ Folks exist within the black race and treat  our existence as "a phase" or  as "a result of the white man" when in  fact Black LGBTQ Folks are simply living naturally and authentically.  Historically all ancient cultures including Africa had names for third  genders or queer folks. It wasn't until America was "found" that this  notion that men and women had to be a distinct way came about. This  conflict of identity tends to lead many Black LGBTQ folks to have mental  health issues because in certain spaces they must deny their truth  while they are celebrated and free in others. This duality of living and  navigating the world is frustrating and stressful for the mental health  of Black LGBTQ folks.

GV: What has been the most fulfilling part of your transition?

SK: The  most fulfilling part of my life has been recognizing, accepting and  living my truth. I choose not to call it a "transition" because I'm not  going anywhere I'm just letting my soul unfold and following as it  instructs me to become my highest self. My life is a journey as is the  case for all humans. I do not have a destination other than my happiness  which is nonnegotiable. I am fulfilled by existing. I am fulfilled by  utilizing my voice to help others navigate through this experience. I am  fulfilled to share my story with the world so that those who come after  us will know that we were here that black trans men, black folks of the  trans experience existed and resisted and didn't hide in the shadows. I  am fulfilled that I am living in my happiness and taking whatever steps  I see fit to simply be happy and comfortable in my skin so that I can  live in/on purpose. I'm fulfilled to have had the opportunity to take  nonnegotiable steps towards my happiness so that I can live more  comfortably in my skin while navigating through this life as I know a  lot of black folks of the trans experience don't have the privilege,  funds or resources to do so.

GV: Do you believe it is  easier for Black transgender men in our society, than it is for Black  transgender women? Why or why not?

SK: Black  Trans Women experience extreme harassment and violence at a high volume  because 1) the woman's body has been hyper sexualized and objectified  and 2) black men have a toxic/fragile masculinity.

Just last year  a reported 27 trans women were murdered. There were 27 trans women  reported murdered in 2016. Every year the numbers are the same or  growing. These are just reported murders because often the reports  record trans women with the improper gender and often times these  murders aren't even documented.

The majority of the women  murdered are black trans women. The majority of these black trans women  murdered are at the hands of cisgender black men. The American Society  has a lack of respect for women's bodies deeming them only acceptable  for the pleasure of a man. When a trans woman exist she is  "complicating" the narrative even though she is a popular woman of  desire for most men even though they don't like to admit it. So when men  find trans women attractive and then are informed that the woman is  trans they become enraged because of their fragile masculinity. Most men  can't handle being attracted to a woman of the trans experience which  often leads to violence and most often their murder. The criminal  justice system enforces this ideology that trans women are not women by  not seeking justice for these deaths which leads to men thinking it's ok  to inflict violence on trans women because often times they will get  away with it.

Black Trans Men endure violence and murders as well  but it tends to mostly be through intimate partner violence. Navigating  black masculinity is complex at times but because most men don't want to  talk about how they feel when/if they see me navigating male spaces  they don't think twice about it because overall I present male in their  eyes. I do know a lot of guys like to intimidate men whom they deem as  feminine, flamboyant or gay. I've seen/heard situations where men are  harassed in male spaces due to those reasons but in my experience I've  not experienced any harassment or violence due to how I identify.

I  do believe because of all of these factors and so many more that Black  Trans Men do have it easier than Black Trans Women. This is one of the  many reasons why myself and Tashan Lovemore created BlackTransTV as a  platform on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube to bring awareness to the  black trans experience. We utilize the platform to weekly shine light on  a Black Trans Women who has been murdered as our #WCW. As well the  platform uplifts, motivates and inspires black trans folks to live their  truth. We also educate the masses on what it means to be black and  trans in America in hopes that we as a black people can come together  and rise up as one regardless of gender identity, gender expression or  sexuality.

You can find us:

Instagram: @BlackTransTV

YouTube: BlackTransTV

Facebook : @BlackTransTV

GV:  Was coming out difficult for you? Share a bit about your experience.  Was your family support? What were the more fulfilling parts of coming  out?

SK: As a queer child growing up I  struggled to navigate who I was because I knew I did not align with who  everyone was telling me I was and/or the person they believe I should  be. I struggled to try to fit into the binary and the rigid societal  norms of gender. I never felt comfortable, happy or aligned so I kept  asking questions and being curious. It wasn't until I was 14 that I  started dating. My girlfriend was beautiful. I ran track and she was the  track manager. I knew something was different about me the moment I saw  her. I never had or felt this attraction before. I could not take my  eyes off of her and I just wanted to be close to her. A few weeks later  we became official. I trotted around my high school halls proudly as I  held her little hand in mine. I was happy and I didn't place a label  upon myself. I just knew she was the person I was dating and she made me  feel good so what was there more to define? We expressed our love for  each other through writing notes back and forth. One day while at home  my mom approached me with one of the letters I had written my  girlfriend. That day my mother labeled me as a lesbian. I had heard that  word before but I knew that couldn't be who I was. I didn't even  identify as a woman how could I be a woman who loved women? And I  realized then the expectations placed on gender and the label lesbian  was applied to me. I never called myself a lesbian. I was simply me. My  mother showed me nothing but love because she thought it as "a phase"  and assured me that I could still catch STDs so when/if I had sex to use  condoms.

From that day forward I dated women and sometimes a few  guys here and there to appease my parents and to have a gender  appropriate date to school functions. The more I was forced to wear  dresses and conform to female gender expectations the more I loathed  them. To other people I looked good in feminine dress to me I felt like I  was cross dressing. I was extremely uncomfortable.

Overall I  think my family ( mom, dad and sister) were supportive but again they  all thought this was "a phase" so there was no deep thought put into my  identity. Meanwhile I was diving deeper into my masculinity and trying  to explore my personal identity outside of the labels placed upon me.

It  wasn't until I was able to leave home and go to college that I began  identifying as male. I just knew that I was more than just a masculine  lesbian. I was a man. I navigated as male by dating only straight women  to affirm myself and them being attracted to me sealed the deal. I never  told my family about navigating as male because I was away from them  and I didn't feel the need to. At that time I didn't know that I could  alter my body to match what I was feeling. I lived that way until in  2015 I decided I couldn't live in a body that did not align with my  mental, emotional and spiritual anymore and started to taking the steps  to do what I needed to do to be comfortable in my skin.

Khalid Livingston He/Him

GV:  Do you feel like you’ve had adequate representation in the Black gay  community in spaces like film, television, and music? What would you  like to see more of?

KL: I don’t think I  will ever consider it to be adequate representation. There are too many  nuanced stories that have not been told. I’m more interested in seeing  people adequately positioned, compensated and funded within those  industries so that more dynamic bodies of work can be created without  the current barriers.

GV: When do you feel the most beautiful?

KL:  If we are talking about beauty in the context of being desirable by  others, I feel the most beautiful when I have committed time to the  details. Groomed and polished. But in the context of being desirable by  self, I feel the most beautiful when I’m full of enough love to share  with others.