Culture reporter Tre'vell Anderson's new anthology We See Each Other is a groundbreaking look at the history of transgender representation in TV and film. But the book starts at an even earlier point. "It often feels like people seriously believe that trans people dropped out of the sky with Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black," Anderson declares. "It was important for me to dedicate prime real estate in the book—the beginning—to the history of trans people before moving images at all."
Anderson, who wrote EBONY's engaging March 2023 cover story featuring Janelle Monáe, also shares how the book has been personal enlightenment of their trans journey as well. "It was interesting to revisit my old work, which was documenting some of this history in real-time, and to then remember what I was personally navigating alongside those moments," shares the writer.
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Here, they share more about their book and how the Black community can come together to support trans rights.
EBONY: Where did you start your research for this book, what moving image was your starting point?
Tre'vell Anderson: I actually didn't start my research for the book with moving images. As a community, we often say, "We have always been here." I wanted to detail that a bit while citing the work of trans scholars like C. Riley Snorton whose text Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity is foundational. From there, I basically wrote the book with a loose chronology of the history of film in mind starting with silent, short films. There's a film from 1904 called Meet Me at the Fountain that is considered by some to be the first trans film ever. Folks can watch it on YouTube.
What are some of the most memorable trans projects shared within your book?
Everything—from Silence of the Lambs and Psycho to To Wong Foo and Pose to P-Valley and Tyler Perry plays—is discussed in We See Each Other, which is to say that the book grapples with both images of actual trans folks in culture as well as some of the images that aren't quite of trans folks but have impacted our lives and broader society's misunderstandings of our lives.
What personal stories from these projects really touched you?
The parts of the book that are most touching for me are those that document some of the Black transcestors whose names many folks may not know—your Lucy Hicks Andersons and Willmer Broadnaxes and Ajita Wilsons—but who have contributed to this current moment in increased visibility nonetheless.
How did writing this book relate to your own trans journey: was it retrospective? Enlightening? Cathartic?
My journey to nonbinary and trans bad bitchery coincided with my coverage of diversity in Hollywood with a focus on Black and queer films over the last decade. It actually felt very appropriate that I could engage in and wrestle with the discourse around the paradox of visibility for trans people, especially Black trans people, from an embodied place and not just a theoretical one. And it was enlivening in some ways because I was, in effect, writing myself and others into a long history that was already ours, but I, at least, had not yet claimed.
How did seeing positive images of trans life help you learn to love yourself, and how does it help others?
It's often said that "you can't be what you can't see." I challenge that idea. It's not that we can't be what we can't see because, for so many trans folks especially, we have created ourselves out of the depths of our imaginations with little to no mirrors in culture. We can be and become what we can't see because here I am. But, what would that journey have been like, how much trauma might I have avoided and in what ways would I have known safety and love and care was possible for me, too, if I had seen not positive, per se, but more varied and complex renderings of trans life on screens large and small? And how might non-trans people be treating trans and otherly gendered folks differently, better if you saw more varied and complex and humane renderings of us? I think those are the questions we should all be asking ourselves when it comes to this discussion.
Trans rights are in jeopardy. What can the Black community do to support trans rights?
Well, for one, Black folks can stop acting like trans people are not also Black. We can, as a community, stop making trans and queer people out to be the enemy, and instead properly attune our focus to the problematic systems that keep us all under white, cis, male hetero-patriarchy's boots. Black men can stop killing Black trans women and femmes, and Black people can stop enabling and supporting the behavior that leads Black men to kill us for fear of their manhood being questioned. Your liberation is tied up in mine. If I can't get free because some Black people believe their freedom is more important than mine because I'm nonbinary and trans, none of us will ever get to that Promised Land.
What do you hope people get out of this book?
I hope that Black trans people feel empowered knowing that we belong to a legacy of brilliance and triumph. And I hope people who are not—in the words of Tyra Banks—"learn something from this." I want them to be moved to look at the movies and shows they consume differently and to treat the trans folks in their local communities better.