y assignment is to survive. My assignment is to thrive in the way that my ancestors were not able to…[Y]ou are undoing timelines and creating new ones when you do it.
- Sonya Renee Taylor
With my 40th milestone birthday looming, I noticed I increasingly am being asked to advocate, counsel, and vision in my social circles. I did some digging into its significance. Reverend Victoria Weinstein sermonized that 40 is a time when “a task with your name on it finds you” and is also a time when “you must tell yourself the truth about where you have been placed and why [...and] whose you are.”
Belonging to the Black trans community comes with responsibilities. I must engage in vital capacity-building absent a formal rite of passage. Against the backdrop of Black trans homicides and year 40 quickly approaching, I must stand in the gap and effectively function as an elder for younger Black trans folks while our community works to secure a full life span for all of us.
a moment of silence
25. 29. 19. 34. 33. 25. 31. 21. 32. 28. 20. 38. 27. 25. 33. 37. 17. 22. 32. 27. 24. 28. 22. 22. 32. 24. 43. 32.
These are the ages of known or suspected homicides of transgender people (many Black) to date in 2020. The number continues to climb. They became ancestors far too early without ever having the chance to become elders.
This is where my rite of passage into that growing edge begins.
Ushering myself over the threshold into eldership is one more task that has my name on it. I want to be an elder that is healthy, accountable, and courageous.
Healthy means practicing interdependence, setting appropriate boundaries, and developing emotional intelligence. To be accountable, I must show up and follow through. I must admit to my failings and strive to do better. Courage, in my view, is commitment to my own transition and living authentically.
Taking direction from Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy, I found a useful assessment to jumpstart this work. The prompt was: “Interview three people you trust in your extended community to give you feedback about how you show up in the world. Share your purpose/intention with each of them and ask them to hold that as they answer your questions.” I used the three sample questions provided, which were:
As the oldest of three, I reached out to my siblings; then I expanded that circle to include Black trans folks and later, others who know me. I shared with them my intention: to explore the gap between who I am and who I want to be. I encouraged radical honesty in their answers.
To the first question, responses included “[I]mmense, you are an inspiration to what I would like to become creatively,” and “You’re an advocate for others and you being you in a world that’s so against you is what I call impact.” As for what I embody, they offered words like curiosity, power, grace, creativity, and fierce vulnerability.
Interestingly, all respondents indicated uncertainty when it came to my growth. I choose to believe truth-telling in relationships takes time rather than assume I have no room for improvement. However, one response highlighted a recurring issue for me — my inattention to self-care.
I use self-care in a specific way. Back in 2018 I learned from a healer that, “You contain the capacity to be really harmful, to plant the seed of warfare. You don’t do self-care because it feels good. You do self-care to reduce the harm you can enact with your power.” This shapes my philosophy and practice beyond “feel good” self-care to distinguish between being an elder and simply being older.
a moment of silence
I ask myself: if self-care and community care are linked, what must I let go of to ensure the health of my community? My neurodivergence makes my desire to live inconsistent. Nevertheless, I cannot fuel the system that’s killing us while I yet live. I have to actively resist it, and resistance looks a lot like fortification.
I must forge multigenerational relationships within the Black trans community. To manifest what transformative justice activist Mia Mingus calls a “pod” — an intimate and trusting network to give me feedback on how I move in community. My capacity-building should include political education, transformative justice training, generative somatics training, and more.
What can I offer the next generation? What do I intend to leave behind?
In Miss Major’s words on legacy: “She came, she cared, she left.. What else would there be?” Here’s to new timelines.