and started bearing witness to her female essence. This was not a person performing for me, for anyone. She was merely being. This was before I was comfortable with terms like "gender identity" and yet staring at her, I could no longer pretend that gender identity was so black and white. If you have muscles and a penis (even if tucked in jeans you stopped fitting a long time ago), you're a boy. Sure, most of the time. But in watching Cynthia that night and a few more that followed, I observed what I knew in my heart to be a girl child. It was that simple. It takes one to know one.
Flash forward a few years later. I'm an editor freelancing at Seventeen magazine and I have an opportunity to interview a young White trans boy. He's far away and we are on the phone but I listen and listen and listen and suddenly all the dots I'd suppressed connect for me. NEWSFLASH: SOME PEOPLE'S GENDER EXPRESSION AND THEIR GENITALS JUST DON'T MATCH UP. SOME PEOPLE ARE BORN IN THE WRONG BODY. HELLO, KIERNA, IT'S NOT JUST CYNTHIA.
Many years after the Seventeen story, as fate would have it, I'd have the opportunity to interview yet another trans person. I had been groomed in a way, through my own subconscious, through the nagging way that Cynthia had first (unbeknownst to her) touched my spirit and deeply transformed my understanding, to meet the incredible Janet Mock. Throughout several months, we worked together fighting fears and stepping out on faith to craft the 2011 Marie Claire article that would be later nominated for a GLAAD Award, but more importantly would change the course of her life (dare I say our lives). (More to come here!) Through her honesty, Janet gave me access and information about the trans experience I could've never known. That new education emboldened me, it freed me to be not just an ally, small 'a', but an out and proud Ally big 'A'.
However being an ally doesn't mean that I (or anyone who believes that trans folk deserve all the rights, protections, opportunity, love, health and happiness that the rest of us enjoy) always get it right. It means I'm always willing to listen and learn--and perhaps as important, share what I know with those around me. I encourage anyone reading these words to decide that today is the day that you will open your heart and mind and discard old and, quite frankly, dangerous ways of thinking about the trans community. The advantage of the Internet has never been more apparent than when it comes to how simple it is to research communities other than your own. You can find what you are looking for if you care to.
One of the sheer joys of being the Editorial Director of EBONY.com has been the ability to unabashedly champion the best of the Black LGBT community. While the ''T" often gets lost in larger discussions of what is generally known as gay rights, we try not to let that happen here. But even here, LGBT education is an active thing, it's not a one-and-done type of mentality. We aim to learn and teach, report and challenge. We don't pander. We want to earn respect, and as such want to be respected. In this era of public shaming, it seems so often the first course of action is the rabble-rousing takedown as opposed to the discourse that might actually lead to greater understanding and sustainable change. Be that as it may, we made a mistake yesterday on Twitter (we own that), and some would say also in the lack of deeper context in this as-told-to confessional about a transgender woman. We do hope that a loving trans community can forgive our failings and embrace our successes. As it is, I am and we are committed Allies. Big A.
Kierna Mayo hopes to be the change. Follow her on Twitter @kiernamayo