By Ebony Harper
In the initial days of what we call the LGBTQI community today, Black trans women gave you the medicine you needed to thrive in a world where you were rejected. From the show gowns to TV screens to advocacy to serving roles at nonprofits to taking in and mothering LGBT youth, our backbone for your wellness has been relentless. Black trans women are the bedrock of wellness in the LGBT community, but who’s there to help us navigate our wellbeing?
When you’re busy ensuring everyone else is taken care of, it is quite easy to neglect your own self-care. I have witnessed Black trans women burn out after many years of ensuring everyone else is taking care of. Yet, and still, after the burnout, they have no other choice but to push on… without an iota of support. Dragging the body to the next engagements, to work, to the world stage. Utterly consumed by heaviness, but the rent must be paid.
I had the privilege of accompanying a group of Black trans women on a self-care retreat last year, and for many of us, it was our first time on an actual vacation. We didn’t know that a journeying holiday was accessible to us (we thought that was for rich folk). But yet there we were, in Hawaii, right off the beach, getting our ever-loving life. We had workshops on wellness and gathered to eat together every night. The laughs, the beachwear, the light-hearted shade, converted that hotel into an enchanted place of wellness for Black trans women. Sounds revolutionary? It was!
A few of us travel the country, telling our stories of resilience and guiding souls to tap into their inner power. I believe that’s a gift amongst our community. The ability to rise above adversity and inspire, as well as ushering others into their divinity. The giving of all that energy needs a refill-station, whether the filling-station comes in the form of a life mate or nurturing friendships; we need that energy poured back into us.
Who’s seeing about us when we get off the stage? It is possible to have a persona of a strong and accomplished Black woman, but behind closed doors crying in your pillow because you have no emotional support. The expectation of strength is put on all Black women, trans, or not. When a Black woman suffers from a mental disorder, we are labeled as weak. And weakness in Black women is intolerable, trans, or not. Black women’s mental illnesses often go undiagnosed due to issues of stigmatization and access to care. The strong superhero Black woman translates to Black trans women as well. Black trans women are expected to embody strength – at all times – and when they are unable to do so, they may feel obligated to isolate themselves from family, friends, and their communities. They’ll muster just enough strength to make their commitments and back to solitude they go.
It’s Black History Month, and while the Black trans woman has contributed so much to Black history and LGBTQI culture, she’s nowhere to be found in the Black history narratives. This Black History month, I want you to do a random act of kindness for a Black trans woman, for her contribution to moving the world forward. Handwrite a loving letter, treat them to a trip to the spa, send them some money for self-care, pick up the phone, send them a text, a quote… Whatever you have the means to do, please do it. Because you can’t leave Black trans woman mental health to Black trans women. You, the neighbor, the friend, the family member must be there to encourage their self-care and care for them if they can’t find the strength to care for themselves. It’s a tough job shining in the dark!! We must love and support one another to promote good mental health.
Black Trans-Led Organizations To Support:
- Unique Woman’s Coalition
- Kween Culture Initiative – Social & Cultural Empowerment for Trans Women of Color
- TGI Justice – Home
- St. James Infirmary – A peer-based occupational health and safety clinic for sex workers and their families
- Compton’s Transgender Cultural District | San Francisco
- Black Transmen Inc – One Is Not Born A Man HE Becomes One
- take: HOME
Materials on Black Trans History:
- Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity
- 5 Black Trans Women in History Who Paved The Way For Me
- Why we owe Pride to black transgender women who threw bricks at cops
Mental Health Resources:
- California LGBTQ Health & Human Services Network
- Exploring Trans Wellness
- Trans Wellness Center: Home
- TDOR 2019 | Honoring Trans Lives, Dreaming of Trans Freedom – Share art & poetry celebrating trans resilience by trans people of color.
Ebony Ava Harper is an award-winning nationally recognized activist and philanthropist, she’s one of the first open Black trans women to work at a philanthropic foundation in the nation. Through her professional career and her activism Harper has helped to uplift and shift culture for marginalized communities across the country. In 2019 Harper was recognized by San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s Office for her trailblazing advocacy work. She is the leader of the new statewide initiative, California TransCends, which promotes the health wellness of transgender people throughout the state of California.