Community Voices: Not Your Token – The Conversation We All Need to Start Having About Race and Racism in the QTPOC Community

*Article by Ryley Rubin Pogensky. Feature image by Katya Moorman.

A week ago, I wrote an article for Qwear, a fashion site that often steps outside of clothing and addresses issues in the LGBTQ community. As a black blogger who is also a trans man, I decided to write an article about the growing problem in the transgender community of white trans men taking up every possible inch of space with no accountability for their privilege. I wrote in a what I thought to be a very calm, level headed voice. I was asking for conversation, for dialogue. For white trans folks to take some form of responsibility. It did not take long for those same people to come at me. Well. I have heard your shots. And I am firing back. My name is Ryley Rubin Pogensky, and I am a black queer trans man. I usually call for everyone to check themselves in all spaces, to try and acknowledge and understand where and when their voice matters in conversation. In this post, I will not be doing that. In this post I am, as they say, going in. In the words of Nappy Roots: Let’s Begin.

It’s February. Which means more than half of the country is frozen, everyone is scrambling to figure out how to do their taxes, and for 28 days America is reminded of the fact that this world has produced a hell of a lot of important, brilliant, smart, talented and gifted humans who happen to be Black! It also means that Black people in this country have to sit through 28 days of hearing white people ask why Black History Month needs to exist? Oh I don’t know, maybe because it is currently 2015 and a college chose to honor truly amazing leaders and icons by offering its students fried chicken! Just like the Blacks eat!

Wright_State_Black_History_Fried_Chickenvia USA Today

But that hat’s not racism. That’s just lunch. Right?

After my post came out, a few days later a familiar face was filling my newsfeed. FTM Magazine had put Aydian Dowling on it’s cover. Aydian is a white, cis passing, trans man. On the cover he recreated a shoot Adam Levine of Marroon 5 had done. The cover quickly went viral. And yet again we all got to see a buff white trans man getting all of the media’s attention. My own inbox quickly became filled with the opinions of trans men, highlighting that what I had written days earlier was literally being played out in real life. Conversation after conversation ensued about how it was time we all did more than talk about this issue. But put our words, our network, and our passion to good use. During all of these conversations, I was shocked to receive a message from FTM Magazine’s owner Jason Robert Ballard, asking me to submit to FTM Magazine. This is where an entirely new shit storm began, both for me mentally, and visually on FTM Magazines Facebook wall.

When you call a spade a spade, isn’t it refreshing to see that spade act exactly as you predicted? Not exactly when that spade is racism. FTM Magazine posted my Qwear article and the comments represented my exact reasons of hesitation for writing for this magazine in the first place. FTM Magazine largely caters to a genre of people I do not write for. Folks who talk about reverse racism being real. You know, those same people who either inwardly or outwardly question why Black History Month needs to exist. I would like to take a moment and directly respond to a few of the comments left underneath my article. And would like for you all to see what happens when a black person calmly tries to address privilege to a room of white people. To be fair, one of the comments comes from a Black person. I will happily address that comment as well.

Comment #1. “This article is hardly journalism but a heavy opinion piece. I appreciate different voices coming out and sharing their experience, this was less a sharing of experience and more an address to white masculine of center transgender folk. The articles title was also misleading.”

You’re right! This is an opinion piece. But correct me if I’m wrong – since when does an opinion piece not count as journalism? I think a sharing experience occurs when one voice speaks out and reaches out to other voices, just because that voice makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t make the article nor substance of it less than. 

“The deaths in the past year on transwomen have been hard for the community, and for trans women of colour particularly given four or more of those deaths were on women of colour. What needs to be addressed is homophobia and transphobia within the black community.”

NOW you need to sit down, wrap it up, and shut it up. How darling of a white person to tell the Black community that WE need to address the problems WE have with racism and transphobia. The reason so many trans women of color are being murdered is because Black people are transphobic assholes, thank you for clearing that up. 

“Also, white people can be discriminated based on their race depending on where you are from. There is also economic based discrimination, disability based discrimination and age based discrimination.”

Reverse racism. Is not. A thing. REVERSE RACISM IS NOT A THING.  

Moving on…

Comment # 2:

“Really? ‘When I white FTM person speaks, it’s newsworthy. When a black trans* woman is murdered it is a passing headline.’ All I see all over my timeline from individuals and in groups is about trans POC to the point that when someone posted about a 15 y/o white FTM who committed suicide recently, a comment was ‘Yeah, Leleah and Zander are important but what about the transwomen of color who have died!’ That completely negates 2 teens who felt the need to end their lives, who gives a crap what color they are! WE LOST LIVES!”

And a reply to said comment: “Yes, thank you. Aren’t most, if not all, of the celebrities that are mtf people of color as well? Laverne Cox, Jannet Mock, Carmen Carrera…”

Y’all. When I tell you I was shaking when I read this, I was shaking when I read this. I get scared to look at my newsfeed because of the very real fact that once a week this year I have scrolled through to see that yet another QPTOC trans person has been murdered. You know who gives a flying fuck what color those women are? QPTOC youth growing up who not only have to deal with the fact the world they live in is already racist as fuck, but also transphobic. Those youth see that being out and open with their truth comes with the very real possibility that they will be killed for who they are. The fact that our most famous MTF faces are beautiful empowering women is just that: beautiful and empowering. But, when their sisters are being slaughtered on the streets, do you not realize that maybe the reason they are the icons of a community is because they have beat all of the odds? Why, when a few POC people make it, do white people have to insist that they are enough? Hollywood is not an equal opportunity employer. Would you like some cold hard facts about POC transgender people? Maybe these will strike a cord with you, and with commenter number one who doesn’t seem to think I am much of a journalist:

From Injustice At Every Turn – A Report of the National Transgender Discrimnation Survey:

Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating.

-People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring far worse than all others in most areas examined.

-Black transgender people live in extreme poverty with 34% reporting a household income of less than $10,000/year. This is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15%), four times the general Black population rate (9%), and over eight times the general US population rate (4%).

– Nearly hald (49%) of Black respondents have reported having attempted suicide. 

There’s more, a lot more actually. But those are just some highlights of this staggering report. 

So the next time you wonder why race matters. This is why. 

Comment # 3 (from a black person): “This article didn’t address the topic at all furthermore can the voice of the black transpeople be someone with a black cultural experience and background? Not saying the black gentlemanly experience is less than but I think that not having a black father that is a good black man makes a difference and has make me more aware of myself in a long history of struggle.

I am not sure what topic I did not address. Because all I was writing about was white privilege and accountability. Maybe you thought I was literally talking about us all riding the bus together. In which case yes, I did not address the topic at all. It’s interesting that you think my growing up experience was not “Black enough” because my parents were white. You are correct in thinking my childhood was probably a bit different than that of a lot of my black friends, what with all of those Jewish holidays. As I have gotten older, I have realized certain things that were missing from my childhood as far as race. My father could never understand what it meant to be randomly stopped and frisked due to his skin color. He could sympathize, but,  you are right –  he does not truly know what that feeling feels like. My grandparents have a closer idea, seeing as they were Jews who survived WWII. But still no, they could not possibly grip what it means to be a Black trans man today. It’s interesting to me that you say my “blackness” and my “masculinity” could only be influenced and nourished by having a Black father. Could a black mother not do the same? Can strong Black women not raise strong Black men? Oh and just so you know, I was raised in a house with a Black woman. My mom and my dad got divorced when I was one, my father remarried a Black woman when I was six. I should also mention that my mom’s parents adopted two Black boys back in the 60’s and 70’s. And two of my aunts married Black men. So, there are, and have been, many Black men in my life. 

It is detrimental to our movement to keep stating that the only way a boy can become a man is by having a strong man in his life. It is a direct and deliberate slap in the face to any woman who has raised strong successful men. 

I have heard similar sentiments from quite a few LGBTQ folks about how the Black community is less progressive and understanding of gay people. Former NFL player Wade Davis and writer Darnell L. Moore have started a campaign called #ThisIsLuv which moves to dismantle the myth that homophobia is more present in the Black community. 

As I said earlier, the owner of FTM Magazine reached out to me to be a voice in the publication. Which sounds amazing. Until your read the first line of his message. “Just read your article on qwearfashion. For the first time, I was able to read it without feeling attacked and instead feeling empowered to look at privileges and word choices and such.”

Dear All White People,

It is not my purpose on this Earth to make YOU feel comfortable. The above sentence completely and totally sums up all of my feelings about how white people can NOT wrap their heads around the amount of space and privilege that they naturally have. Because when anyone says anything, instead of sitting and listening and trying to understand how the system has literally been set up to shit all over Black America, they first have to get past having their precious feelings hurt. I AM NOT HERE FOR THAT. Do you know how most Black Americans got here? On slave ships. My birth parents last name was Stewart. Do you know the origins of that name? Well, it means household guardian. And its roots? Scottish. Not sure how much you know about Scottish history, but dark skinned brown folks are not igneous to the Isles. So how did I get that name? A slave master. Every Black person that was brought to this country by way of slavery was stripped of their background and culture, and instead given the name of a master. Yet, you need to feel empowerment coming from my words?

I write for many reasons. But the outstanding reason is because I know that there needs to be more vocal and visible POC voices. POC youth cannot be made to feel like their words or their lives are disposable. POC youth do not need to hear the voices of whiny white people. Not when they’re brothers and sisters are being murdered by systems that were put in place to keep them a silent minority. I do not write to stroke the egos of white people, or make them feel more comfortable about the privilege society has given them from birth. That is not, nor will it ever be, my responsibility. If reading the words of a POC writer who is trying to do nothing but combat racism is too much for your eyes to handle, than by all means continue to talk about reverse racism. Continue to say shit like #alllivesmatter. Continue to live in a blissfully wonderful world where racism doesn’t exist anymore! Because for you it never existed in the first place. Because for you, you have always gotten to eat off the silver spoon of privilege. And before any of you decide to write comments about how you as a: Jewish or Irish or Italian or ____ person knows exactly what racism feels like to you, I say please stop taking up more space. Discrimination is a real thing, and it can happen to anyone; but your words are not welcome in conversations POC and their allies are having about race in America. You are not a person of color. Therefore racism does not apply to you.

I often stay away from voicing my opinions in such an irate way. Society already wants you to think of me as an Angry Black Man. Well I am an Angry Black Man. A non violent citizen of this country who is entirely fed up with and completely over having to think that whenever I say something about race I have to put my arms around a white person and guide them through the dialogue in a way that they do not feel attacked. No thank you. If you can not read a critique and criticism about something millions of black Americans have to deal with daily, without having a temper tantrum, my words are not for you.

My words are for those who are open to embracing different cultures. My words are for those who are trying to implement change in a society that regularly sets POC people up to fail. My words are for those who will stop at nothing to see young POC youth and young POC LGBTQ find success and happiness without having to worry about being killed. My words are for those of us who know there is work to be done. Not for those who think the work has already BEEN done.

*dapperQ’s Community Voices is a platform for and by the community to share stories, opinions, and essays. We embrace diverse points-of-view and welcome you to join the discussion in the comments section below, on Twitter, or by pitching your own pieces for publication via [email protected]

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  • Thank you, Mr. Pogensky, for calling out racial privilege and ignorance in the community. It looks like hard, infuriating work. White ftm's, please take a breath and step back from your defense mechanisms. Don't react yet. Stop and re-think having a knee jerk reaction.

    Ignorance about race issues is a privilege we white people have inherited from a half-assed 'pc'-when-it-matters culture. We just don't know unless we've taken the time to listen. Because we don't have to know about this stuff. That's the privilege part. We don't have to know.

    Basic ignorance doesn't mean we're bad people, unless we deny it's our personal responsibility to unlearn all the twisted ideas about race that get held up as normal in American society.

    You might not think your opinions are wrong or that you've done anything harmful by perpetuating ideas similar to some of these people quoted in the article. But racial ignorance is the soil in which racism grows. And in America racism is deadly for cis and trans POC. So, on this serious, serious issue, please have the humility to pause and consider that you may have more to learn about the topic. You might need to approach things from a different view point. Would you not expect that of a cis person learning about trans people?

    There is as much to grapple with about the complexity of race in America as there is about gender in America. We need white members of this community still their fingers, stop, and open their minds to the experiences of people of color.

    I'm re-reading this and I hope anyone who's read my comment will give some deeper thought to the article too. Begin to get yourself educated. 😉 Thanks again, Mr. Pogensky, for wading into this.

  • "My words are for those who will stop at nothing to see young POC youth and young POC LGBTQ find success and happiness without having to worry about being killed." This is so important, this PIECE is so important, the work you're doing is important, you are important. Thank you for this.

  • I really appreciate that you take the time to address, and readdress these topics. This was a great read, and I hope many more people will be inspired by it.

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