Right now, the entire world is talking about Black Lives Matter. The moment the world saw the video of George Floyd and heard him call out “Mama,” everyone understood the injustice. Mama is the universal language, and we all felt that pain. In less than two weeks, we came together for a historic moment and have made a powerful impact. Now, imagine the narrative if we use this momentum to put the right people in positions of power, dismantle white supremacy, and the stereotypes that hold us back?
At the beginning of the year, everything looked so different. I had just come back from doing Paris Fashion week and was ready to book a ticket to Mexico to visit my Dad. Then COVID-19 hit. I started seeing those around me lose it; the guy I was dating put up a wall, friends entered quarantine and wouldn’t even FaceTime. It was surreal at first— everyone in masks, social distancing, constant anxiety. Our innate survival instincts kicked in, and the focus was on how we get through our daily lives, staying smart, healthy, and connected to our communities.
My father worked in law enforcement, he was in the Chicago Police Department for ten years and a military sergeant, so my brother and I were always prepared for an emergency. I’m usually the one on Amazon buying flashlights and solar panels, but this was different. The coronavirus followed by so many deaths connected to hatred and police brutality—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Grey—added another layer of pain.
For some, this is the first time they’re experiencing protests and unrest. It wasn’t real until they heard the noise coming down their streets and grew so loud they were affected. We’re sharing this moment of liberation that is so much bigger than our divisions. Bigger than pop culture, celebrities, Republican versus Democrat, and so many of the other things that fill the news cycle. It’s time to push the noise to the side and address the roots of these problems, the realities we’ve been trying to hide.
I consider myself a soldier of love. I want to use my platforms to promote positive change and make sure that whoever comes to my Instagram or YouTube feels positive energy. We’re all family outside of our last names and if you have a different perspective than I do, I don’t want to be dismissive or abrasive. Still, one of the statements I posted recently was “white men are killing Black men, and Black men are killing trans women.” If supporting trans women conflicts with your masculine identity, it’s fragile to begin with. Allyship is what shows leadership and true strength. This fight isn’t only about Black men and women; trans men and women are also part of the community and we bleed like everyone else. You can’t talk about George Floyd without talking directly to the men who look like George Floyd and should stand with us. We need the same level of support and for those brothers in positions of power to say: I am with you, you’re just like me, and we share the same struggle. We are not the enemy, white supremacy is. So many of our trans sisters have been killed or attacked recently, we need people who are willing to put us at the center of the conversation without fetishizing or othering.
In order to talk about the [sanctity] of Black lives, I’ve had to look to my culture. I’m half Black and half Filipino, so understanding that history has taught me so much. We are a vast nation that once contained many indigenous cultures that were wiped out. There are places where long before slavery, Black and Asian people integrated and traded, co-existed without conflict. Colonization erased that, and it’s important to remember what is lost when groups of people are marginalized.
In recent years there has been a new dialogue, signs that trans women are embracing their power—and that scares people. When Black people started having power, white people got scared. When gay people began to have power, the reaction was the same. There is this idea that if one group succeeds, another will suffer and it promotes fear. The fact that we’re even having these conversations makes a lot of people nervous. When I travel and do live talks, I meet people who say they’ve never met a trans woman before or were afraid of them. What scares people is that their old ideas are being dismantled, what they learned and have been living for so long has proven untrue. A lot of people have difficulty with someone coming and saying, your views are outdated. Change is scary. It’s human instinct to resist, but what was taught 50 or 60 years ago doesn’t apply anymore.
People are conditioned to live their lives in a certain way, so to change perceptions, we should look at our education system and the way our media functions. I say this in every interview, but we need more teachers from the trans experience—who better to teach anatomy! Every high school should have a budget devoted to trans, Black, and gay people. I’ve spoken at so many colleges, and whether I’m going to NYU, Harvard, or Columbia, the conversations are the same because the students all grow up being taught the same things and don’t interact with people who are different from them. Why can’t we include Black trans women into every facet of society, so that they aren’t viewed as scary or unfamiliar. I’ve seen that by speaking to the 200 people in those rooms, I can change perspectives and expand their horizons.
What we see [also] impacts us. If you follow one set of people online versus another, it shapes what you believe, but there is still media that feels universal. It would be so powerful to have a trans woman as a superhero, at the center of a blockbuster. Imagine that! It could change the narrative for so many people around the world overnight. Why aren’t we creating content that includes the trans community? We have many facets that men, women, and non-binary people can relate to and understand. Something as simple as actually casting a trans person on television or in a movie opens eyes. One of my long-term goals is to put myself in a position where I can be in a franchise, part of a moment where we use creativity to show that attitudes can evolve.
As a girl from Chicago's South Side, which is predominantly Black and poor, everyday I have people reaching out to me via DM saying, “Oh my god, you made it out, I’m sitting here telling my grandparents your story, and I told them that you were trans too.” Those messages mean so much because they show me that the world is changing. Every day I’m looking for beauty in the smallest areas—light at the end of the tunnel. If you believe in yourself and get to see yourself, it means there is still light. Despite everything there is so much goodness in this world and we can all come together. It’s not too late.