Monica Roberts is a writer, blogger, spokesperson and activist who also happens to be a proud African-American transwoman. She co-founded the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, led a black transperson conference called Transsistahs-Transbrothas, and has won numerous honors for her advocacy.
Roberts, a native Texan, will present "Blogging at the Intersection of Race and Gender" at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Gallagher Theater in the UA Student Union, 1303 E. University Blvd. The event is hosted by the ASUA Pride Alliance, the Women's Resource Center and African American Student Affairs. Visit transgriot.blogspot.com to read Roberts' blog, or call 626-0370 for more information. The event is free and open to the public.
Tell me about the talk you're giving in Tucson. What will your focus be?
Since it's Black History Month, I'm focusing on women's history and transgender issues. I'm going to talk about the intersections between sex and race, and how class affects a transperson's transition (to a self-identified gender), especially being a transperson of color.
Have you ever been to Tucson and/or Arizona before? If so, what do you think of it?
I've been through Tucson and stopped twice ... in 1988 ... and four years later. Tucson does have an interesting LGBT history.
What do you think about Tucson, compared to the rest of the state, politically?
The key thing is the effort of Pima County to secede from the rest of the state. That gives me a clue that Tucson and Southern Arizona are not as rigid as other parts of the state.
Being a Texan, and you an Arizonan, we have the same problem of right-wing yahoos running the state—while we also have people in individual cities and towns who are passing LGBT-friendly legislation. But I feel (Tucsonans') pain! I feel your pain! (Laughs.)
How did you start the TransGriot blog, and what does the name mean?
A "griot" is, in West African culture, an old historian. They have the ability to recite up to 500 years of their people's history from their heads. Griots are still part of the peoples of West Africa.
I love history, and my mom and godmother were historians; when I was trying to come up with a name for the blog, TransGriot was perfect, because I'm trying to tell the story and history of transpeople of color. At the time I started the blog (2006), there were transgender blogs, but none that talked about trans issues from the perspective of a person of color ... subjects like our black transgender historical figures, or the amount of murders we've been hit with.
What negative reactions do you get to your more-radical TransGriot blog posts?
There are some comments that I literally "flush," because when you talk about race and class issues ... well, I've been a trans-activist since 1998; I do get comments like, "You're a racist, because you're bringing up race"—which is ludicrous to begin with. (I get comments like that even) from the LGBT community.
What's the biggest challenge for black transpeople?
Visibility. For the most part, it's been all about our white trans brothers and sisters. We've been in the shadows when it comes to our role in building the trans community.
What are your hopes for the future of the black trans community?
One of the things I'm very happy to see is that other black transwomen have garnered visibility for a newer generation of people, and they're showing that we're not only beautiful, but we can do whatever we put our minds to if we're given the chance.
If you could change society in only one way, what would it be?
There are so many things I'd love to do, like get Fox News off the air. That would go a long way. (Laughs.) But, seriously—funny, you hit me with one of the questions I like to ask.
I'd love to have the world I grew up in, in which we had progressive values; it was a given that people's rights needed to be expanded, and we had respect for each other. Since 1980, when the conservative movement picked up steam, I don't like the America I've watched over the last 20 to 30 years. I'd love the liberal progressive movement to become more active about getting elected the people we'd like to see in office.
Considering the conservative forces the black trans community has come up against, you've come a long way.
We've made some huge strides legislatively and also socially. You're starting to see trans characters in TV shows. I'd love to see other trans and people-of-color characters, too—I think Hollywood is far more important to a marginalized group's civil rights struggle than D.C. is. For example, it took Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek and other African Americans on TV and in movies before the tide started turning to let the legislation catch up with (popular feelings). Same thing with the gay community.
What can everyone do to advocate for civil rights and national acceptance?
Be fierce advocates for our human rights. When you've got someone in your circle running their mouth and speaking untruths, you stand up for us; tell them we're human beings, just like everybody else on this planet.
Anything personal you'd like to share?
It was amazing to me how fast I got hit with sexism when I started transitioning—within six months. I mean, I had some notions about what it might be like, but there were some things that just took me off-guard: the general belittling of women's intelligence ... just the daily things that women have to go through, (like) getting the message one night that I'm a target for sexual assault and violence, and having to deal with that.
And how did you overcome that?
You don't. It's a reality.