In early 2012, Jeff and I were classmates at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. We often found ourselves engrossed in deep theological discussion surrounding our theses based upon two respective new theologies that we had created – Jeff’s Theology of Imprisonment and my GenderQueer Liberation Theology. We found so many similarities in our respective theologies, we knew the opportunity to collaborate was near.
Over the past month, Jeff and I have been trading emails about “Orange Is The New Black” – specifically about its groundbreaking treatment of women’s and gender issues. When Jeff asked me to author a Guest Blog on Trans* issues on Orange Is The New Black for his wonderful blog site about his ministry, the Progressive Prison Project, I could not resist.
As a Trans* advocate and a person who identifies as GenderQueer, my thoughts about the Trans* character on the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black are mostly of relief. The series comes at a time that is most poignant for our country concerning Trans* rights. From hospital and healthcare to the educational system, Trans* folks are paving the way for important dialogue concerning the social construction of gender, sex, sexuality, and visibility therein.
In the gender variant communities there seems to be a spotlight on the white Trans* male experience. Their journeys are courageous. I’ve read memoir after heartbreaking memoir, seen and read countless blogs and interviews galore that highlight tragedy and pain of what it is like to be FtM. On the flip side, I have celebrated various Facebook status updates about money gained for testosterone shots or top surgery, times when these men are “passing” as male and therefore finally gaining emotional healing from all the trauma incurred by larger society. All the while wondering, where are our Trans* women? Specifically, Trans* women of color.
I cannot help but notice that the same issues that pop up in mainstream society surrounding systematic issues of oppression and class largely stemming from white, heterosexual, male privilege are now hitting my community with force.
Some Trans* men who now live full-time as male adopt the dangerous misogynistic attitudes of their brothers, all too soon forgetting the trials and tribulations of what it was like to grow up in America as a little girl. Let’s not forget the opportunities afforded to them that paid for the surgery which now lends them the same joys and ease as their cisgender male brothers.
I cannot blame them- growing up female in this world while being GenderQueer has been an awful experience for me, at best. It was only through my faith, supportive family and friends, in addition to my own personal drive that I have learned to love my sexuality, my sex, and my gender identity, and my gender expression. I wish I had a character like Sophia Burset in my youth, the Trans* woman of color to look up to while growing up. I had two choices, dress like a man and be perceived as butch, or dress like a woman and try to fit into boxes I never liked nor wanted.
But Sophia, like many Trans* people (and arguably anyone who is human and does not fit the various prescribed cookie cutter boxes society as a whole doles out) is my heroine for paving her own way against all of the odds.
Sophia is good with style, witty, fierce, tender, and (gasp) quite spiritual. And it’s okay!! Finally, a series that not only reflects the back-story of a Trans* person but she has an entire emotional arc and gets similar character development as the rest of characters on the show. Additionally, she is a person of color and her experience is seen in its entirety and as a whole. Sophia is the leader in the facility for aesthetic prowess, appropriately.
Trans* women have processed being a woman on a level that cisgender women have not. Trans* women of color, more so. It is not a better or deeper process, just different. Trans* women are fighting for the right to be themselves, knowing all too well the marginalized place in society they are now privy to join. Their femininity runs so deep there is just no other way to exist in this world and herein lies the strength of their stories and struggles. And they are doing it well, with fewer resources, less support, and from a more vulnerable spot than the rest of us.
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604