Gaïa Do you have this feeling of belonging to a community, and how is it important for you or not?
Bambi It’s mostly in the beginning that I felt this need of sorority, I started my transition at the same time as several sisters of mine, but I also felt an uneasiness towards the community on ideals which one tried to impose to me at the beginning of this transition, mainly on the rhythm of it. For me, the community has always been trans women, I never considered gay, lesbian or bi people as part of my community because of the rejection they made me feel. I always had in mind the distinction between them and us. There was a huge release just after same-sex marriage was made legal in France and we realized that we were really alone. A little tired of the militant spheres not always as safe as they pretend to be, I decided with Idris (@soft.boi) to create a sharing circle for trans people of color, in order to fight against the isolation in a general way and more specifically the one that the Covid-19 and its measures had created. We wanted to find this sense of community, to be able to have times together of socialization, spaces to meet new people, etc. It’s a very gratifying project because there are some really beautiful things that come out of it, for the first time in my life I was able to see a 40 years old black trans woman, it gave me a lot of emotions because it was also one of my goals through this initiative, to be able to put things in perspective and to see that a future is possible and that we’re not alone.
Jelani I think that where I felt that sense of belonging the most was in the ballroom scene, that community that unites around joy, performance, empowerment, we’re there to celebrate each other. It allowed me to see our identities in a much more joyful light than I was used to in other spheres, where we always have to exist through our oppressions or when we have to make a choice between our black identity and our queer identity.
Bambi Community spaces are not something that I rejected, but more something that I had never personally felt were accessible. When you start navigating different spheres, you understand that there’s a choice to make between being black and being queer. As if these two identities were mutually exclusive. In white-dominated spheres I felt that my skin color was an issue, while in black-dominated spaces it was my trans identity that was an issue.
Jelani For me, what makes me go less often to these predominantly white spaces like techno parties for example is the fact that my identity as a black man comes out and the thugification process starts and I’m quickly being associated with this gangster or drug dealer image.
Bambi Coming out also made me discover a new perception of my skin color, and it’s quite a weird feeling to witness the change of perception on how other people see you. Before I came out I was considered as light-skinned, which, due to colorism, is more valued for a male-identifying person because you’re perceived as less threatening, and now I’m defined as brown-skinned and this new perception of my skin color is not at all in adequacy with the one I’ve always had. Add to this the fetishization, most of the people who approach me are 40 year old white men, always the same profile, with a racial and economic privilege, creating a strong feeling of predation.
Jelani Personally, it took me a while to realize the extent of the fetishization that trans men are facing. It is much more insidious because it’s coming from cis women most of the time, so it seems less violent than the fetishization coming from cis men, and it’s based on things that are supposed to be positive. We’ll be seen as less threatening, or even harmless, we represent some sort of an acceptable masculinity, trying to separate us from cis men. But the dictates of patriarchy come back when you talk about it, because if you denounce it right away you are seen as a violent guy, on top of that, a man cannot be a victim of this kind of things in people’s mind. And above all, people don’t take well the fact that you question points that they thought were positive, when it’s really violent. I know that I’m a trans man, I don’t want to be reminded of it all the time and to base these relationships on this very precise point.