Today is 18th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). It is a day not only to be acknowledged by the world’s trans community, but by the world as a whole. This is because trans people should not be pigeonholed to just their community, or even just to the LGBTQIA community. Just like cisgender people, transgender people are just … people.
Trans Day of Remembrance has been annually recognized since 1999, when it was established by trans advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith. Smith started the memorialization in response to the murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman who was murdered the year before. In the years since its inception, TDoR has become a vigil not only for Hester, but for all the trans people who have lost their lives to violence in the years since.
Today, we can see that violence against the trans community has not changed much. In 2017, 25 trans people have been victim to a fatal crime, including Texas’s own Stephanie Montez, a 47-year-old trans woman from Robstown. The majority of those people were trans women of color; and those numbers are up by 2 from 2016, with still a month and a half of the year left to go before the beginning of 2018.
The names of the people lost in 2017 are as follows: Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow (28), Mesha Caldwell (41), Sean Hake (age unknown), Jojo Striker (23), Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond (24), Jaquarrius Holland (18), Chyna Doll Dupree (31), Ciara McElveen (21), Alphonza Watson (38), Chayviss Reed (age unknown), Kenneth Bostick (59), Sherrell Faulkner (46), Kenne McFadden (26), Josie Berrios (28), Ava Le Ray Barrin (17), Ebony Morgan (28), Troy “Tee Tee” Dangerfield (32), Gwenyvere River Song (26), Kiwi Herring (30), Kashmire Redd (28), Derricka Banner (26), Ally Steinfeld (17), Stephanie Montez (47), and Candace Towns (30).
Sadly, the attitude toward the trans community around the country is not generally improving – especially so with a president in the Oval Office who perpetuates antiquated and ridiculous stereotypes about the trans community by trying to ban trans servicemen and women from the military. From there, it trickles down. It trickles down to his supporters, those who are unsure of him, but who still listen, and then to the children of all of those people. Children who, if I might add, we should be educating about equality, about not seeing gender identity or sexual orientation or color or religion or nationality.
That’s why here at About Magazine, I’m making it a personal mission to make About Magazine + About News just as inclusive of our trans community as it is of the lesbian, bisexual, gay, and pansexual community. We will also be more inclusive of the intersex and asexual communities, so that no one is left behind.
To do so, we will be launching in 2018 our first page on the website for trans-only content, aptly titled About Trans. Currently, we are looking for trans writers and editors to be a part of this initiative. Until then, I will oversee it. However, I am a cis person, and in order for this operation to be genuine and authentic, it is my earnest belief that this portion of our site should be trans-run. If you or anyone you know would like to be a part of About Trans, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Going forward, let’s remember what today stands for, and remind ourselves and our trans friends, neighbors, and loved ones that they are just as important as anyone else, and that we’re there to aid them if they should ever need it in any way. Give them your love, and give them your support, because they are just as much a part of the LGBTQIA community as anyone else that falls into any of those other categories. And if you don’t believe this to be true, read a little bit of our content today so that you can understand why trans people are so important to the queer cause. Because as genderqueer activist and musician C.N. Lester said, “Even when we are confused about someone’s gender, and don’t have a greater awareness of what it means to be trans, we have a choice to respond with kindness rather than cruelty.”
Fabian Washington, also known as Graffitti Notez SP, is an entrepreneur that has great attributes to present to the LGBTQIA community, as well as the world. Fabian is a business owner and activist of many sorts to the community and its youth. He is the proud founder of the multimedia company IMAN MARC LIVE and an active affiliate of Freedom Overground & Transcending Barriers. He not only believes that equality is vital, but that to achieve this state, we have to knock down the barriers of categorizing ourselves aside from our allies. A part of the reason that IML was created was to bring an entertainment label to the forefront that is all-inclusive to the world, and in one step at a time breaking down the walls of segregation.
What made you decide to transition medically?
As a child, at the age of 6, is when I found out that I was not [anatomically] a boy. I had been a tomboy my whole childhood, and in my freshman year of college I had come out identifying as lesbian. It never really sat well with me, I knew that I was attracted to women, but it still was a very confusing and depressing time in my life. I knew that there was something missing and that I had to find myself. I had been asked quite often, respectfully, if I were male or female as I matured more into myself, even before I started transitioning medically. One day in 2008, my girlfriend at the time and I were in the store and an older woman stopped us and said, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude. Can I ask you a question?” I responded and told her that that was fine and she then asked,”Are you a man or a woman?” I responded,”I am a woman.” After my response she said,”Well, you are very handsome, I just wanted to let you know that.” My heart was so touched, and that was when I realized who I was actually was—who I was to become. I didn’t medically transition until 2014. I had my first T-shot in June of that year. A couple of years later, I had top surgery with Dr. Pranay M. Parikh, MD at Baystate Hospital in Springfield, Ma. I just had been working to become the man I was inside, and now I see what everyone else saw in me. Through everything good and bad, I am the happiest that I have ever been in my life.
… When it comes to my craft, I don’t want to be recognized as a hip hop artist or music producer because I am transgender. I want to be recognized as an artist that is a transgender person.
What has been the most difficult and the most rewarding aspects of your transition?
In the process of transitioning, I faced some prejudice in the workplace. It was especially hard when the name and gender marker on my ID did not match my appearance and I dealt with discrimination. Not only in that but being a black man, there is a huge difference in how my interaction with people was pre- and post-transitioning. I remember I had a knee injury and I had to see the orthopedic surgeon. The pain was immense and I was on crutches barely able to stand. After my appointment I made my way to the elevator. There was a white woman getting on the elevator after me. She stopped and looked, grasping her purse and then stepped back to take the stairs. Prior to that, I could sit down as a complete stranger and talk for long periods of time with anyone. From there I knew that I needed to be more cautious. I felt she looked at me as a predator, but I would never harm a soul in my life. I love people, and I enjoy fellowship with folks from all different walks of life. That is the only way that we can understand the world in broader aspects is to be more receptive to one another for our differences; and there we will find our similarities and common ground. The willingness of understanding, communication, and overall knowing one another. So in the midst of the trials the greatest lessons I learn are through the obstacles that I have faced. To find understanding is a reward in itself.
How would you describe the intersectionality of being a black trans man in the South?
Coming from the Bay Area, it is very down south as well as north east. Not just being a black man that has to watch his step in the streets of the South, but as a black man in a very segregated community, and as a black trans man that is frowned upon by other black people. Being a public figure and appearing on national television on Jerry Springer, I had made a sacrifice. Under the circumstances on participating in the production I feel I still was able to show a positive example for members of our community as well as those that do not understand the reality of trans identifying individuals such as myself. I have been disrespected in public and have heard another ‘correct that’ person. People always look for something wrong with the next person regardless. There is always going to be someone that will have a problem with you based on the silliest assessments. The prejudice within the POC community and the racism that exists outwardly is a real tragedy considering that racism is taught. Back home, it is so much more diverse and so much more accepting that I miss it quite often, but I know there is something that I am here to do and I do it wholeheartedly! I am a part of an awesome non-profit organization called Freedom Overground, which was founded by Ky Peterson and Pinky Shear and is also affiliated with Transcending Barriers, founded by Zahara Green. These non-profit organizations focus on assisting trans people during and post-incarceration giving them the help they need to get on their feet. Especially with assisting trans men; and that is a big deal simply because there aren’t many organizations that help trans-masculine identifying people. One day at a time we can make a difference. The world is crazy in this time and age and it is the most importantly time for us all to be vocal and to influence and practice unity, awareness, and love.
What challenges have you had as a trans man in the hip hop industry and how has this impacted your career?
As an artist I am known as Graffitti Notez SP. I have been well-rooted in the industry since I was a young child. I was a prodigy saxophonist. [I] played professionally and even had my own quartet in high school. We performed a lot when I was a kid. As I got older I got into music production and my network grew. When I began my transition I took a seat back from everyone because somehow I just knew that they wouldn’t accept me. So I thought! Since I have gotten back into music, my network has been completely supportive and this has helped me to regain my confidence and continue my work as an entrepreneur. I have been working on building my company I M Live for some time and now all the hard work is paying off. Must say, I have some amazing affiliates and individuals on my team. We are currently organizing a tour for the summer. Details will be released soon and we will begin moving forward. Through all adversity, I cannot wait to rock the stage again, vibe out with my fans, and enlighten the hearts of many. Through The Trees [an EP] has been released and available for stream on SoundCloud!
Is there anything you want people to know about transgender hip hop artists?
I can’t speak for everyone when I say this, but when it comes to my craft, I don’t want to be recognized as a hip hop artist or music producer because I am transgender. I want to be recognized as an artist that is a transgender person. One thing that I have noticed is that people in the community take advantage of their identity for publicity. My transition is not to exploit myself to create opportunity. What I do hope to accomplish through my visibility is to reach our LGBTQ youth and inspire them to go after their dreams and know that they can do whatever they set their minds to. The music and film industry is tough to get into as is, and though there is more acceptance in some aspects there is also still a lot of discrimination. It’s all about how you present yourself to the world. Put your best foot forward, first impressions really are everything.
Let’s talksurgery …
When it comes to surgery, I know that personally it has helped my dysphoria a lot. I have had top and look forward to bottom surgery sometime this year. The thought of surgery can be scary for anyone, and for others its the complete opposite. Medical transition is vital for me, and it is a part of my journey in who I have become and the man that I am being visible as to the world, not just in my head or on a piece of paper. I feel as though I have been set free. I would like to thank Dr. Pranay M. Parikh, MD, for an amazing job on my top surgery. I give him 5 stars and would not change a thing about it!
I have been told you came to Houston to assist with clean-up post-Harvey. What made you want to help all the way from Atlanta and what part of Houston did you assist?
I am a compassionate individual and I love helping people. When I found out about the devastation that Houston had faced, no questions asked, I was there. Though I struggled with some things while I was there I would not change a thing that happened for the simple fact that the things we go through in life mold and shape us into the people that we become. Seeing the wreckage alongside the streets and people’s homes was tough. My empathy goes out to all the people affected and the people who lost their homes. In my time there, I aided Woodbridge Apartments in maintenance for rapid repair of about 340 units. Some units weren’t affected while others were completely destroyed. People were in their homes with huge holes in their ceilings and no shelter from the rain droughts that continued after sporadically.I have to give it up for the Houston community for standing together to get through this hardship and coming together to make amends to there streets.There is still a road ahead, but the progress and the hard work that has been put into making Houston home again has been phenomenal thus far.
I would like to thank Dylan Wilde Forbes and the rest of the team at About Magazine for having me. And I would just like to close out with this: for our youth, if we don’t guide them, they will have no direction. Our youth will be our leaders one day, and it is up to us to set the example and show by action in which way they should go. To inspire their hearts to follow their wildest dreams and strive for nothing but EXCELLENCE. I love you, Houston.
Ian Syder opens up about being coming to terms with being trans, his transition, and how he’s helping the transgender community.
(HOUSTON) — My name is Ian Syder. I’m a 34-year-old married man who plans to have kids one day. There isn’t much special about me.
Except that I was born female.
When I was a child, my sister and I used to play house, just like all kids do. Even then there were clues as to who I really was. I always introduced myself by male names and took on more masculine gender roles. My sister, who is now my brother (and they say it’s not genetic…) often did the same. Back then we had no idea what transgender even meant or that it was possible to do something so radical, so life-altering. As an adult, I look back with amusement. Knowing what I do now, I wish it could have happened differently. I have, however, no regrets.
We won’t go into the turmoil of my teenage years. It’s the typical unfortunate story. Self-medicating, drug abuse, promiscuity. Anything to drown out what my mind was screaming at me. I presented as a very butch female, so people assumed I was a lesbian. It was so much easier to go along with that. I let people sort me into this category and never allowed myself to think about what it really meant. But that’s a story for another day, so let’s skip ahead to the point when I really found myself.
When I was thirty, I was invited to an amateur drag show here in Houston. I had been to shows a few times in the past, but never really thought much of them. This one was different. It felt like I was watching real people onstage. My then-girlfriend told me I should try drag. I had the personality. So why not? The friend that had invited me said the same, which led me to make the decision to give it a whirl. A few weeks later, there I was with street clothes and a horrible makeup beard (I’ve gotten much better since). I introduced myself as Ian and the people there called me sir. The entire night I was in a daze. It just felt . . . right. I was hooked. I suppose I did all right that night, though I really don’t remember, to be honest. Still, I feel like that’s the moment that my life began to change.
It took a few months for me to start coming out to the people I had met in the drag community. I was met with joy and acceptance from all sides. I’m still amazed as to how accepting these people were. Once I started telling the people around me, I dove into research with a fervor I never knew I had. I watched every video, read every blog. I looked for information about how to do this venture down this path I’d been pondering. I found every tidbit you can imagine, positive and negative, but not quite what I was looking for.
I found myself lost again, even contemplating how to end my life. I felt alone and desperate, and had no idea where to turn. In my weakest moment, I went to Legacy Community Health. I knew nothing about what they did and continue to do, but I had a friend that worked there who I thought might be able to help me. I had done a benefit for them once and the person who helped me set up all of the details was one of the most amazing people I’d ever met. He was so open and kind. He explained that if I ever needed anything that I could look him up. So I found myself in his office, crying in his arms begging while for help I was sure he couldn’t give me.
But I was wrong.
He took me downstairs to talk to the people who would help him save my life. Some long months and an arduous process later, I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I feel like that was the first real day of the rest of my life. Legacy has since done a lot of work to improve the services they offer the trans community, and have been one of the greatest advocates for us of which I know. They have literally saved the lives of thousands of men and women, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for every single one of the people there.
Since then I have changed more than you can imagine. I am a completely different person. The parts of me that make me who I am are the same, but transitioning has allowed me to become confident in ways that I never thought possible. I learned to be happy, not just content with my life. The happiness applies to all aspects. From my clothing to my sexual preference, I am who I was always meant to be. I will, however, always be grateful to the woman I used to be.
Valerie. Without her, I would not be the man I am today. Her experiences molded me, and I promise I will never forget that.
Transitioning allowed me the confidence to help others find what I couldn’t all those years ago. I still perform regularly, and use it as often as I’m asked for anything it can do. I’ve organized “top surgery” benefits for several trans men, all of which have been able to get the medical surgery they needed to live their lives happy and healthy. I use my drag performances as a platform to promote understanding and acceptance with people who may not have ever met another transgender person. I don’t shy away from any question, and make no secret of who I am. People sometimes find it easier to approach a personality than someone they meet on the street. I’m just glad I can be that guy.
Currently, I facilitate two different support groups here in Houston. One meets on Monday nights at Grace Lutheran Church. I’ll open the doors at 7:15, so maybe one day I’ll get to meet you. This group allows people of all types to come, so don’t hesitate if you aren’t like me. As long as you come with an open mind and a kind heart, you’ll be welcome. The second group meets the first and third Tuesday of every month at the Montrose Center. We start at 7:30, and it’s only for transgender men. We also need a space to be ourselves, so please don’t feel left out! I know I couldn’t do what I do if it weren’t for the ability to live my truth. I’m lucky, and that allows me to give other people hope. I don’t feel that I deserve the breaks I’ve been given, so I do what I can to give back to those that aren’t as lucky as me.
In January I was able to get my name and gender marker changed legally, with the court system in Travis County. It took months, and was not the easiest process at the time. No one I spoke to could tell me how to get this done, because in Texas there wasn’t a way to change your gender marker. There just isn’t a law specifically saying you can. It’s left up to the judge’s discretion. Usually that means that it was denied for almost everyone. I wouldn’t take no for an answer though, and made sure to do everything I could to get this done right the first time. My husband had his name changed years ago, but that was all the courts in Harris County allowed. So I did what I do best, and started researching.
What I found first was that Travis County was the most likely place to get the approval for the gender marker change. I also found a document that was written by a law student as part of a class. It had never been tested. I took the leap and started editing the petition to match my information. A few friends found out what I was doing and asked if they could tag along. I couldn’t say no, which led to the petition for me and my husband turning into one for a group of eight. I was terrified that this wouldn’t work and that the trip would have been made for nothing.
That day in court, one of those friends was asked by the judge who was responsible for the petitions and the editing. I was pointed out of course. The judge thanked me, told me that everything looked good, and asked that we call ahead next time we were bringing such a large group. That day, eight people walked in with a name they never chose and left knowing that they would never have to hear it again. They would never again be questioned when showing their ID. They could live exactly as they always knew they should. We all cried that day, and they were finally tears of joy.
To date I have given this information to 147 transgender people. Felons, minors, foreign nationals, even a few lawyers who wanted to help but didn’t know how. Not one has been denied. The clerks in Austin took my calls and emails in the beginning, and we have worked out a system that makes the process much easier – especially for the judges! I’m still getting the requests, but so far it has been word of mouth, and word is slow to spread. I’ve held several “clinics” for various groups and look forward to hosting as many as I can. This information just isn’t available in a Google search. If you know someone who might need this, please find me. I would welcome the ability to get every one of us taken care of. Without proper identification, we face discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and many other ways. There is no situation that can’t be worked around, so please don’t think that you can’t get this done too.
When I realized that I was transgender, I felt like there was no hope for me, that something was broken inside and could never be fixed. I know now how wrong I was. We have a long way to go, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day that we go out into the world is a triumph. Every conversation that we have is a victory. I was able to find out who I am, and I know for a fact that there is nothing wrong with me. There are so many others out there who do what I do, but they stay in the shadows. There are more of us than you might think. So the next time you see someone who looks a little different, don’t turn your head and whisper behind our backs, just say hello. We are more like you than you can imagine.
If you would like to reach out to Ian for assistance with changing your name or gender marker in the state of Texas, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(HOUSTON) Tatiana Mala-Niña is a local drag celebrity who has been performing in Houston and the surrounding area for the past six years. She has been a finalist for both the Gayest and Greatest Awards and our very own FACE Awards for the favorite drag queen. She is currently a hostess for the Roomers Show the second Saturday of every month at The Room Bar in Spring, Shenanigans every Thursday at Hamburger Mary’s, Cabernet at the Cabaret Fridays at Michael’s Outpost, and is featured in the cast of Eye Cons (also at Michael’s Outpost). She is also consistently booked in other shows at various clubs and bars as a guest. She is the self-proclaimed Glamedy Queen of Houston, being a perfect convergence of glamor and original comedy. But aside from her successful career in drag, Tatiana is also a transgender woman.
Ian: What made you decide to pursue medical transition?
Tatiana: I always knew I was different, but it wasn’t until I saw members of my drag family live their own truths that I believed it to be possible for myself. They gave me the strength to come out and really admit, even to myself, who I was.
What do you find are the hardest, and the most rewarding, aspects of transitioning?
In both aspects, passing. When you go out and don’t feel like you pass in today’s society (breast size, waist, masculine appearance), it’s very daunting. You’re constantly worried that people will “clock you.” On the flip side, when people do see you as you are, this can be very affirming.
What difficulties and advantages do you find you have being a woman in the drag scene?
An advantage is that you feel more feminine when you perform. It’s more than a character, but a more elevated version of myself. Not to mention the cleavage! The biggest disadvantage, I would say, is that many cisgender performers feel that it’s cheating. We are faced with more criticism than a cis male performer. Also, when people touch me without permission, I actually feel it, which is a bigger violation in my opinion.
What would you change if you could?
I would love to be able to perform without padding. That would be so nice! Same thing with wigs. I would love the option of being onstage with nothing more than my own body. These things transfer into my daily life as well.
Let’s talk surgery …
The first surgery I am saving for is the one that takes the longest to recover from, FFS [facial feminization surgery]. After that I would like to get a fat transfer to my hips, to allow my body to be more proportionate. The final surgery, at least for now, would be breasts! I wouldn’t have huge tits, but I want to be able to swing them around in a circle ha ha ha! I haven’t decided on the lower region yet, but when that day comes, I doubt I’ll share.
What is your favorite thing about being a trans woman in drag?
Being a drag queen allows me to explore so many aspects of femininity. I can be a beauty queen in a long flowing dress, a chola from the barrio, or an old church lady. I get to experience every aspect of being a female and can be any girl I want to be onstage.
What do you want people to know about trans female performers?
I want people to know that we work just as hard as cisgender performers. Most of us started out believing that we were just men, and that hard work mentality does not leave us when we transition. We put just as much time into makeup, costuming, and performance as anyone. We are not less than just because we take hormones.
If you are a lover of drag in any form, I would expect you to be mindful and aware of transgender issues, as well. So many of us are both, male or female. The little things I see from our fans, like using transgender in the past tense [read: transgendered], can be hurtful. Educate yourselves and it will help you become an ever better ally to both drag performers and trans people alike.