Angelica Ross: being transgender is ‘about becoming who you are’

A post shared by Angelica Love Ross (@angelicaross)

November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, in which we remember those who have lost their lives to hate crimes against the transgender community. But yesterday, March 31st, was International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day that applauds and celebrates the successes of transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Angelica Ross, a groundbreaking female transgender actress known for her roles in Pose and American Horror Story: 1984, wrote an essay for People talking about her success in Hollywood. Angelica took the opportunity to remind everyone the best way to celebrate anyone is to accept everyone. Her hope is that society broadens its narrow understanding of transgender folks.

When it comes to human rights, society has mostly been going by a white feminist playbook that doesn’t include the experiences of women of color and trans women of color. If I could put one message on a billboard for this International Transgender Day of Visibility, it would be this: embrace all women.

We can’t keep invalidating other people’s experiences and not hearing their truths. There is not a thorough understanding of what being transgender actually means. Most people think it’s a physical transition, and that’s where we have a problem, because it’s not just about the physical transition — it’s about becoming who you are. For example, if you’re trans and non-binary, some people might see that as a “failed transition.” Or, if a trans woman doesn’t fit into some box of femininity, people will turn it into a joke. They want to laugh at her broad shoulders, or how tall she is and how big her feet are.

I grew up a big fish in a small pond. I thought my small town was going to kill me with its ignorance and harassment. My cousin would bring people to my job at a mall makeup counter and tell them, “You know that’s a man, right?” But in hindsight, I see now that they were waiting for me to show them something different. Now, they proudly claim me as one of their own. When LGBTQ youth are growing up in Racine, Wisconsin, they tell them Angelica Ross came from there. She shook up that town.

We have to focus on creating an environment where not only are institutions and workplaces safe for trans people, but there are safe people that trans folks can go to for support. The trans community has had so many setbacks, but it has been nice to see the wins that we do have, and oftentimes, those wins are in representation. We’re seeing more representation in Hollywood, not just in front of the camera, but also behind the camera with executive producers like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Rain Valdez and myself creating content. We’re employing other people within our community to help us tell these stories, too.

But Hollywood needs to recognize its tendency to love symbols more than it loves actual change. Hollywood players love to put up a bat signal to the world, announcing, “Look! We have trans people in our cast!” or “We have somebody gay in our movie!” or “We have a Black person here!” Instead of constantly using the same faces and names over and over again, however, producers and directors need to deepen the bench and understand that there are so many more voices and talent that could tap into if they just created the space.

[From People]

Space doesn’t allow for Angelica’s full essay, but you can read it here. Her comments about “invalidating other people’s experiences and not hearing their truths,” applies to all marginalized communities and is the main lesson one must learn to become a true ally. The easiest way to process that which we don’t understand is to invalidate it, that way we don’t have to think about it. Which is exactly why so many well-intentioned people are looking at all the hate crime in the US right now and asking, “how did we get here?” Because one group wouldn’t hear another groups truths. And this goes hand in hand with Angelica’s point about a person becoming who they are. As with most things, we should give more focus to who they are than what they look like.

I really like what Angelica said about Hollywood, too. They do revel in their tokenism. And they’re absolutely shameless about it, too. They put one non-white or non-cis or non-male in any position of power or fame and they think it all better. “Look, racism, sexism, homophobia – fixed!” I am becoming much more aware what it means to provide a safe environment for people and how that extends past just physical safety. We, as a society, keep kidding ourselves that things are improving. My timeline was full of Transgender Visibility Day posts. I wear my Trans Lives Matter mask all over town. We use correct pronouns for people. And yet, they’re passing dangerous discriminatory bills like this one in Arkansas, denying children gender affirming health care. Thousands of lives will be affected by this unfair legislation because some backwards thinking bureaucrats refuse to let these kids become who they really are.

A post shared by Angelica Love Ross (@angelicaross)

A post shared by Angelica Love Ross (@angelicaross)

A post shared by Angelica Love Ross (@angelicaross)

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