Living In A Dangerous Body, Or What Are We Doing To Protect Black Trans Women?
Conversations is a series of stories involving heart-to-heart talks that touch upon provocative subjects and bring them to life.
Conversations project started about a year ago with a very uncomfortable situation, that became a learning experience, when I attended my first drag party in Miami. I took photos of a trans woman, named Remy Black, who performed in the nude and got them published on an online queer blog without asking her permission. She reached out to me the next day and asked to have a conversation about consent. I was mortified, but the way that Remy approached the situation was very mature, and we resolved the conflict in a matter of minutes.
At that time, I had no idea why, but I asked Remy to do an interview with me next time I would be visiting Miami. I sort of liked having an open discussion about “an uncomfortable subject” with a stranger.
I felt that both of us were more open with each other, as our purpose wasn’t to make a first good impression; it was rather about sharing how we really feel about a situation.
We talked for about an hour, about everything queer and trans related, and it felt so right. It felt nice to hear and be heard, not to judge or be judged. I learned a great deal on the subject of what it is to be a trans woman of color – and I thought that I already knew a great deal about it. I found that the information Remy presented to me made me understand things so much better on a human-to-human basis.
In this conversation Remy gives us a glimpse into the reality of being in a “dangerous body,” as she refers to it.
Religion & Spirituality
I arrived at Remy’s house in Miami in the early afternoon. I was a bit nervous, as the last time we spoke was when I was confronted with posting her nude photos online without her consent. After a couple of unanswered calls, she finally picks up the phone and says she is going to be right out. One minute later, she opens the door of her front gate and greets me with the brightest, widest smile: “Hi! Welcome to the House of Cummies!” She gives me a quick tour around her property with a large front, side, and backyard, while explaining that all three people who live here (including herself) are sex workers, hence the House of Cummies name. She takes me through the back of the house to her kitchen, gives me a glass of water filled with ice, and proceeds to give me a tour of the house, which ends in her room. “I lived on this couch for months before I was able to move into this room and now look how fucking cute it is!,” she exclaims. Her room is very cute indeed – it is neat, everything has its own place. I notice a Buddha statue: “Are you into?..”
Remy: I studied traditional Tibetan Buddhism for three years. I took my bodhisattva vows, I was on my way to be a monk, that’s a whole other story – do I consider myself a practicing Buddhist? No, not really.
SWK: What made you change your mind?
Remy: I found that the flaws that I find in most organized religions were still inherent in Buddhism, the way that they stratify gender, how I was being taught, where I was being taught… It was not in line with commitments to my own self and to my own truth, so it felt at times like I was allowing another system to take control over the way that I express and understand myself. In Tibetan Buddhism, specifically, it’s very rigid. When most people think of Buddhism, they think, “Oh prayer and meditation and monk shit.” When you get into Tibetan Buddhism you are heavily involved in ritual, and at the position that I was in as an ordained bodhisattva, I had a lot of expectations and commitments and responsibilities that I quite frankly wasn’t ready to uphold. I found that I was using that path as a way of escaping from the parts of reality that I didn’t enjoy.
Drag Culture: Perception VS Reality
Remy: But yeah, I got my own vanity set up, my butters and my oils, all these spaces have different intentions, like this is my sex space, because I’m a sex worker.
SWK: “What about this?” I point at a microphone sitting on a windowsill. “Do you sing?”
Remy: I am a singer. Singing is actually my primary talent, it’s my first talent, it’s my best talent. It’s what I want to be famous for. But somehow I found myself doing drag, now I’m this drag queen and recently I sort of made an announcement that I am done doing drag and it was mostly because I don’t like the culture of drag, I really don’t like being associated with it.
SWK: Why is that?
“…My access point
to a queer identity
is not so much
about the fact
that I suck cock,
as much as it is the fact
that I am black.”
Remy: I love doing drag, I think drag is a really powerful performance art and I love that it’s an avenue for really anyone to have a moment on a stage to do whatever it is that they want to do.
When I think of drag I think of open-ended performance art and expression, and I really enjoy that. There’s a culture of drag around the country that has been influenced by the way that RuPaul’s Drag Race has shaped our understanding of what drag is and who gets to do drag, what is qualified as good drag versus bad drag.
That influences, then, the mentality of the audience and what they are expecting to see from drag. So in South Florida you have a large culture of battle drag. It’s these lip-sync battles and, you know, a lot of the drag queens are very young, they are kids. They are 21, 22, and I’m 29 years old. I’m going to be 30 in a month. It felt weird to be in the position in my life where I’m almost 30 competing against 20-year-old kids lip-syncing to pop songs. That’s not what I do, that’s not what I like to do, that’s not the kind of performer that I am. I would much prefer to sing Nina Simone songs all day.
Not that I don’t like pop songs, but I think that there is a drive towards what is relevant, or perceived as relevant culturally, to the young queer community, and I find myself just uninterested in most of that, because my access point to a queer identity is not so much about the fact that I suck cock, as much as it is the fact that I am black.
More than even being a trans woman, my queerness has always started at being a black person, and so when I see queer communities built around this nebulous word “queer,” I’m like, what does that mean? And why do I have to sign up and subscribe to your definition of “queer,” if your definition of “queer” includes people that are my oppressors?
SWK: Why do you think people generally want to put everything into a box?
Remy: I think it helps to know who your community is and who you’re aligning yourself with and who your oppressors are and who your companions are.
SWK: Talking to you right now just confirms that in our generation, there is more to it than just putting something in a box and compartmentalizing it. I think there are more blurred lines at the moment and people are understanding that it’s ok to have these blurred lines and it’s ok not to belong to a certain box, even if you are a queer person.
Remy: I think it’s wonderful to live at a time when people are expressing themselves in ways that defy the boxes that we’ve been conditioned to go into. Exploration is fun and creative and can be really spiritually enriching, but I think that, at times, there is an urgency to feel the need to redefine yourself, even if that redefinition is “I don’t go by any labels.” And so I feel, in a lot of ways, that this rise of the queer community is really sometimes enmeshed with the privilege to be able to explore gender in this way which isn’t a reality for everyone.
“…I don’t have access to male privilege and that’s what being a woman means to me.”
There are certain spaces in which it’s safer to explore gender identity than it is in other spaces. For those who don’t have access to safe spaces to explore identity, I feel like it’s nice that these people have access to the resources and communities to explore their gender in these ways and then go back after the night is finished and assume whatever gender identity is convenient for their day life.
I don’t mean for my statements to ever invalidate non-binary identity, because in ways I understand myself in that context, but I am a woman, and so it’s been challenging for me to be able to say, “No, I’m not exploring my gender.”
I mean, I guess we all are, but I am a woman, I am a trans woman, I am a woman who has a penis, I am a woman who has a natural estrogen deficiency. And so when people see me and my association with queerness or queer nightlife or drag, my identity becomes associated with this queer clusterfuck thing happening, “Oh you’re a drag queen? Cool, so what’s your boy name?” Like no no no, I’m a woman.
My name is Remy Black, period. Sometimes I get onstage and I sing, sometimes I get onstage and I lip sync, sometimes I dance, sometimes I drink coffee, but at all times my name is Remy Black and I’m a woman. So, you know, it’s not so much that I feel some sort of way about people explain their gender identities in whatever ways they choose.
It’s just that some people assume womanhood for a moment in time that is fun or cute in whatever ways they think of being a woman is, and then they go back to not holding or claiming that identity, and that to me is just something that I don’t understand.
I don’t understand, because I don’t have access to male privilege, and that’s what being a woman means to me. And so when people assume that I have the ability to do that when my reality is really different, it’s a little frustrating.
And so my desire to distance myself from the queer community doesn’t come from disliking the queer community. It comes from not wanting my womanhood to be compromised or invalidated by my association with queers.
SWK: So that event that brought us together…
You performed. Your performance was so fucking powerful, and then at the end when you took off all your clothes and you just stood there, for me, the message was, “I’m fucking beautiful, I accept myself the way that I am.” So when I sent the photos from the event to the magazine and got it published, I got a message from you about it the next day. I was fucking mortified.
Remy: To me it’s water off a duck’s back. I thought your photos were beautiful and I was very happy that you captured that moment. There were certain photos that I thought were less flattering and as a performer and as a trans woman existing in a body with which I experience a lot of dysphoria… To have my body broadcast to people I don’t know, to a community who I have not chosen to show my body to, that’s more of a boundary. It was just like who’s going to be looking at the pictures of my dick?
I also think that the trans body in general is sensational and it provokes.
Most people just have never seen someone with tits and a dick naked in front of them. You know what I mean? And I think it’s important to show – this is what my trans body looks like, it looks different from any of the other bodies that you’ve encountered and there is beauty in that, there’s eroticism in that, just like there are in any other bodies, but my performance that night was about the danger of being in my body.
What you saw as a celebration of the beauty of my body was absolutely there and that was implied. It was a secondary message; the primary message was the reason that I’m wearing white and covered in blood is this idea of being in this very dangerous body.
Being a black trans woman is very dangerous and I always want to remind people of that because I think that we become over-concerned with viewing trans identity as exciting, as sexy, as cool, as edgy.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I think a lot of people want to be cool and sexy and outrageous and sensational and so they flirt around trans identity as a way of accessing coolness mojo – the juice. They are like, “Oh I’m cool. I’m not like those other cis people, fuck cis people, I’m queer.” And it’s like okay. Alright. My experience is not that I’m trying to be cool, I’m trying to exist and my reality is a very dangerous one. I have been physically assaulted for being trans. There were five black trans women murdered in the state of Florida in 2018. Murdered. They were all black, they were all trans women.
So when I’m onstage when I’m going to those communities, wherever I am, I’m always aware that yeah, it is fun to party, it’s totally fun to celebrate queerness, but what are we doing to protect black trans women? Because black trans women are always dying. It’s not light-skinned trans women who are dying. I’m sorry.
“I think it’s important
to show – this is what my trans body looks like, it looks different from any of the other bodies that you’ve encountered and there is beauty in that…”
It’s the black trans women who are being murdered and it’s happening in this state and every other state.
So for me, I like my performance in equal parts to be a celebration of my beauty like yes, bitch, I am out here living and I look like this. I look good. I’m fucking happy.
I love the skin that I’m in, but I’m always aware and I want you to be aware that this is dangerous and at any point I could be murdered for this shit. So, I want to encourage the community to be mindful of that and hopefully encourage them to find ways to really hold space for black people, for trans women, for those who exist in dangerous bodies.
And while I want to also hold space for everyone’s clear expressions, right? And so when we do this big queer wash, where everyone’s welcome, as long as you say you’re queer it doesn’t really matter, we’re open to everybody, and then everybody gets a rainbow brush stroke across and like we’re all like in this, you know, nebulous queer thing. It’s like, okay that’s cute. But when we leave here, you’re going to take your makeup off and go back to your boy job and I’m going to be a threat of fucking dying. I’m going to be responding to fucking calls from my ad of clients trying to come fucking pay me for sex because I’m a black trans sex worker…
I think that I could approach in a way that would make me more popular and a way that would make people more likely to wanna approach me, but I’m less interested in participating in the fun as much as I am interested in challenging the narrative.
Creating Spaces For Trans Women
Remy: Remy: I’ve had fun. You know, I’m 30, I’ve had so much fun and you know what? I still have lots of fun. But you know what, I’m sober, I don’t do that shit anymore. If I was fucked up on cocaine and fucking drinking, bitch yaaaahssss [screams]. But I’m sitting there like, “What do y’all think about black people? Do y’all really host spaces for black people? When was the last time y’all let a black person speak? Do you know we are getting murdered?” And people are like “Remy, stop!”
We’re getting murdered! Y’all gagged from me when I gave you shows, don’t be coming to my funeral like, “Oh my God, Remy was such a light.” Y’all didn’t do shit! Y’all wanna give me $50 to come to Miami, I live in Ft. Lauderdale. I’m not coming there for $50 to pour my fucking heart out on the stage and slay harder than the rest of y’all bitches, for what, for $50? Nah, because I know you pay your out-of-towners $150. So if you wanted to really show some support for black trans lives, I think you could probably get some more money. I think you could figure it out. Redistribute resources, honey. Instead of spending all your money on drugs, spend some money… Like I don’t know… Supporting the girls. You know, if I go on Grindr right now and go to the Trans Tribe, I’ll see all the fucking girls working, right? All the fucking trans girls who are escorts like myself.
I guarantee none of them are coming to these parties. None of them are coming to the queer parties. Cuz I don’t even think they know how to access those spaces and if they did access those spaces, I don’t know that those spaces would really know how to take people who are really struggling.
“…before I was a fucking gay boy, before I was a trans woman, before I was a gender-nonconforming being, I was always black and I was always queer…”
Like I’m fucking sucking dick to get by, you know what I mean? Like do y’all hold space for me outside of the sensational like yeah, real party and wearing cool costumes and assuming gender identities that are radical and awesome? But I don’t know. I will also acknowledge that I’m highly critical while also not having deep personal connections with most of the people in the community that you were talking about.
So I am not here to like rag on them and be like “Y’all aren’t doing it right” but I’m skeptical of any communities that call themselves queer, especially if they don’t seem to have a political mission that is specifically embedded in uplifting the lives of black people. That’s the queerest thing to do to me, period. Cuz before I was a fucking gay boy, before I was a trans woman, before I was a gender-nonconforming being, I was always black and I was always queer, and the same queers who were supposed to all be joining this ship because we are all cocksuckers, it’s like no y’all were shitting on me then and y’all shit on me now. So I’m glad we’re all in this queer little umbrella. But have y’all addressed your anti-blackness?
To Be Continued…