A Two-Spirit response to Carimah Townes: “Trans women of color are missing from the conversation about transphobia” ... and thoughts on Black-Indigenous solidarity

Poet, author and activist Lee Maracle from the Sto:lo nation, writes:

“To Black mother do I offer a piece of CanAmerica, unconditionally, for she had to sacrifice so many of her finest daughters. With her alone do I strike a partnership, an equal right to rebuild a nation more lovely than settlers can imagine. Everyone else will have to fall in line or be left behind, outside the warm circles of our fires." (1996, 120-121)

As a two-spirit,  queer, trans non-binary Indigenous person, I cannot help but think of this quote by Lee Maracle when reading the article: “Trans women of color are missing from the conversation about transphobia” powerfully written by Carimah Townes.

Townes looks at the anger and the grieving happening as trans women of colour are murdered, anger and grieving largely unshared and ignored by the general population and mainstream media. I read this article, I think of Lee Maracle and I wonder how many more of her finest daughters will Black mother have to lose on these lands?

At the time this article was written, March 6 2017, 7 trans women of colour had been murdered in United States this year. As of today, that number is up to at least 12. How many more? Francois Pierre, a GNC trans femme interning for the New York City Anti-Violence Project, is quoted in the article saying:  “When we die, folks barely flinch.”

As an Indigenous person, I am familiar with the disposability with which our bodies, our communities, our lands are treated. I am familiar with the public apathy and disinterest in the face of our struggles, even as we are dying. I see it every day as the numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous Women, Girls and two-spirit people rises ever higher. This apathy, this lack of response to the murders of trans women of colour and indigenous women and two-spirit people, is not coincidental, but rather by design in order to uphold the systems of oppression: white supremacy, settler colonialism, capitalism and cis-heteropatriarchy upon which the CanAmerican nation-states are built.

The perpetuation of anti-blackness, and the perpetuation of settler colonial violence are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Our struggles must also be intertwined. Our resistance must also be interconnected and mutually reinforcing. On Black-Indigenous solidarity and movement building, Anishinaabe activist and artist Leanne Simpson writes:

“I have a responsibility to make space on my land for those communities of struggle, to centre and amplify Black voices and to co-resist. We both come from vibrant, proud histories of mobilization and protest, and it is the sacrifices of our Elders and our Ancestors that ensured that our communities of struggle continue to exist today. They believed in their hearts that there is no justice and no peace until we are all free, and so must we.”

I too carry this responsibility. As a two-spirit Homalco person: to amplify black voices and to co-resist. To continue to build on these histories of mobilization and protest. To continue this fight for safety and justice.

In a poem I wrote entitled Denim Regalia, written after the Pulse nightclub massacre a year ago, I think of my communities of struggle, I think of mobilization and protest within the context of a queer dance party, writing:

“...The flash of strobe lights gives me glimpses
of our queer trans indigenous black and brown bodies
I am so tired of seeing us, in missing posters and in memoriams,
in racist media coverage and mugshots.
Here we move we laugh we love. Unapologetically.
I long for us to feel this kind of freedom in the streets.
In our schools, our workplaces, our childhood homes.
Here the flash of strobe lights gives me glimpses of release and escape.
We take these moments to witness each other beauty illuminated.
I know ours is a radical love and being here our sovereign bodies dancing is a radical act.”

In this poem I talk about representation, about seeing ourselves in "missing posters and in memoriams, in racist media coverage and mugshots"… too rarely do we see our love, our beauty, our resistance represented.  

Another way in which our fight for safety and justice is underrepresented happens when the discourse around Bathroom bills overshadows other issues and struggles, as Townes outlines. Lourdes Ashley Hunter, the executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective in Washington, D.C., is quoted in the article: “Bathrooms are important, but how important are they if you’re dead?”

This battle for justice and safety is far bigger and broader than bathrooms. And to best battle these intertwining systems of oppression, they must be attacked at the intersections. If we truly want to take down white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy, capitalism and settler colonialism  - then Black trans women and two-spirit people must be leading the movement.

The lives and voices of trans women of colour must be re-centered in the struggle. “Every one else will have to fall in line or be left behind”.



It Starts With Us: Community Lists. (2017). Retrieved from http://itstartswithus-mmiw.com/community-lists/

Maracle, L. (2001). I am woman: a native perspective on sociology and feminism (2nd ed.). Vancouver: Press Gang .

Schmider, A. (2017, June 6). GLAAD calls for increased and accurate media coverage of transgender murders. Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/blog/glaad-calls-increased-and-accurate-media-coverage-transgender-murders

Simpson, L. (2014, November 8). Indict the System: Indigenous & Black Connected Resistance. Retrieved from https://www.leannesimpson.ca/writings/indict-the-system-indigenous-black-connected-resistance

Townes, C. (2017, March 06). Trans women of color are missing from the conversation about transphobia. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/trans-women-of-color-are-grieving-and-ignored-6b5b518dcfa