It’s a Monday morning, and as usual, the first thing I do is check my phone. Despite always knowing this will never do me well, I am there – cracked iPhone in hand – peeled to the screen. This morning, felt particularly tense, but also not dissimilar to other morning’s I had experienced.
I went onto Instagram and the first post I saw was a memorial to Ally Stenfeild, a 17-year-old trans girl who was killed by two women in Missouri. I scrolled through some more and saw a selfie of my friend, talking about the taunts they faced as a gender non-conforming person outside a store changing room. Even further down: a post referencing my work, which misgendered me, referring to me as a gay man.
A few moments online and I was instantly reminded of the trauma, violence and pain that encapsulates so much of the reality for trans and gender non-conforming bodies – and of how often our online presence is one that focuses on this relentlessly.
1pm, the same day, and I see a notification pop up on my phone; I’ve been tagged in a photo by my friend Alok. I unlock my screen and am greeted by the images on this page. A photo of myself and artists, thinkers (and most importantly, friends) Alok Vaid-Menon, Eddie Ndopu and Katlego K Kolanyane-Kesupile.
We are all posing with our hands on our hips, our eyes to camera, in different but similar looks, looking – let’s be honest – fucking hot. Like 10/10 hot. Badass. Powerful. Unison but unique.
Captured by Karan Katoch in Oxford, in response to Eddie a Master’s student there facing structural racism and abelism, we came to visit. In the midst of the pain, struggle, and hardship of what institutions do to black and brown trans bodies, we came, got dressed up, paraded the streets of oxford and took these pictures. Together. Unison. But Individual.
It is this feeling that I am reminded of when I see these photos. A feeling of power, of intensity, of a bond, and, most importantly – of friendship. A friendship that does not erase the trauma we go outside with, but instead a friendship that understands this, holds this, but is able to move beyond this – and possibly- dance with joy.
These photos remind me of how important it was for me to be intentional and loving with other trans feminine people, particularly those that are black and brown. It is a friendship that I never thought I could obtain, that I feel loves me for all the things the world could hate me for. One that reminds me that I am not the problem, more the world. One that reminds me, we can still be loved.
We are told, as people who experience misogyny, as black and brown folk, as trans people – to compete, to tear each other down, to think only one of us can exist – and these photos remind me that if we do this – we let them win. That there is power in uplifting each other, in the romance of our poses, in the intimacy we hold.
I wish people would see friendship as something as powerful as romance, or see friendship as a form of romance, as something to wish to obtain and as something to aspire to.
I leave you with these photos, as a reminder that we can exist outside of a cis normative ideal. That trans people are beautiful not because you tell us, but because we exist. And to hope, and want, for you to text your friend after this that you love them.
Trans and gender non-conforming people, I love you.
Images: Karan Katoch