In Conversation: Junior Mintt and Larry Owens Share How Theater Needs to Change
“Congratulations on your award!” Mintt says to Owens, who just took home the Drama Desk for Lead Actor in a Musical for his acclaimed performance in Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop.
“Oh my gosh,” Owens replies, “Congratulations on everything you’re feeling [following the rally].”
Mintt helped organize the Black Trans Lives rally in Brooklyn on June 14, which Owens attended, and both refer to the event as a watershed moment for the Black Queer community.
In honor of Pride, we connected the two artists and asked them to talk about what this moment means for their community and the world, the importance of intersectionality, and why and how theater needs to do better. What they had to say should be required reading for all.
What does Pride mean to you in 2020?
Junior: Well, I guess that I would say that Pride would be continuing the footsteps of the Black trans women before us, doing justice by what Marsha [P. Johnson, Black trans activist] would have wanted, which is not a capitalist Pride, not a Pride that’s filled with police officers or any police officers at all, Pride with a right against that.
I think that’s pushing Black trans power more than ever because I think if you’re not speaking to the most disenfranchised in the community, you’re allowing us to fall through the cracks. So for me, it’s very, very much a matter of continuing to enfranchise, support, and take care of Black trans people because when you take care of Black trans people, you’re taking care of Black people and you’re also taking care of trans people and all of the Queer umbrella.
Larry: Yeah, I agree. 2020 is specifically about elevating and furthering and protecting the Black trans story and the history of our people and making sure that we all advance together.
Junior, you mention Marsha P. Johnson, who was a pivotal figure in the Stonewall riots, and there seems to be such a parallel today with the Black Lives Matter protests happening and the Pride protests that happened and continue to happen. What does that signify to you?
Junior: I feel like it’s all cyclical. Everything that’s happening now happened in the past, and it’ll keep on happening until we decide to learn from our mistakes. Because we’re fighting the police the same way we were at Stonewall. The leaders that I have been looking to and have been very inspired by are the Black trans women and as well the Black trans femmes. It is a broad coalition of people who are pushing for this equality, and it makes me happy that leaders in every community are stepping up and they are actually speaking to their community. It’s a little bit different than what’s happened in the past and what is giving me a bit more hope is seeing white allies telling off other white people like I’ve never seen before.
The moment that the most privileged of us join the fight is the moment where the fight can make more traction. Because us, who have been disenfranchised, we know about what’s been happening this whole time. This isn’t new to us. We’ve been Black every day of our lives. I’ve been trans every day of my life. So for us, it’s nothing new.
Larry: I think that the legacy of Marsha Johnson endures, and there are so many people, like Junior, like Ianne Fields Stewart, who along with Nyla Sampson, has this amazing organization called The Okra Project, and they were heavily instrumental. To see Ianne speaking before a crowd of the tens of thousands last weekend [at the Black Trans Lives Matter march], it’s incredible to have a personal connection to that person who is making a global impact.
So the legacy continues on, and we are forever indebted to the Black trans women and the Black trans femmes who pioneer us towards the deepest depths of equality–not just a surface equality. Because as cis Queer people, we can pass in many situations, and we can leverage our history as cis people’s privilege. Cis-Queer allyship is not the deepest equality that we actually can reach. We have to look to our Black trans people because of the level of depth that their experiences.
What’s the importance of intersectionality within the movement to you?
Larry: Until maybe four or five years ago, I thought of myself as maybe the most disenfranchised. I mean, as a Queer, Black, overweight male, I thought that I had so many chips on my shoulders. But then to realize that not only do my trans sisters have the same fear and intimidation of the criminal police system, but also that Black men, which I identify as, have also been prey to these people as well. So it has shifted my notion of the fight and just the call to arms and to acknowledge the privilege within myself and really to just have a nuanced 2020. We are just at such an apex of social entwining as a people. So with that privilege, we also have a responsibility to know each other in a nuanced, more intimate way. So I accept the responsibility of keeping my sisters and my trans brothers alive. I accept that responsibility as I would hope that white people would respect and show up for me that way. It’s really easy if you just think about it.
Junior: That is what pushes a movement forward. Even me, as an able-bodied Black trans person, I’m like, “I don’t have to think about how I’m getting from one location to the other. I don’t have to think about how I’m going to handle dealing at a march.” So it’s my job to make sure that those people have what they need and their resources because we all have an ounce of privilege that we can be putting towards someone who is more disenfranchised than us. I sleep with a roof over my head. How many Black trans people don’t have that roof? My goal is to help make sure that they can get those roofs by supporting The Okra Project, by supporting G.L.I.T.S. Inc., by supporting all of these Black trans, Black-led, Black created movements. It’s so beautiful to get to watch your community support itself instead of watching society tear it down.
You cannot be comfortable and make change at the same time.Junior Mintt
There have been a lot of conversations about how women are being forgotten in the fight against police brutality, and Junior you posted a video on Instagram about this. Can you speak about this?
Junior: I always like to say: “Think about it as any white person in history who’s been erased, except multiply that multiple times because of intersectionality.” We have been creating history since the beginning of time. We have been pushing this world forward. We have been forcing society to ask questions about themselves, to look at how they treat people. We have made this society better. We have enriched it. We have left this world far better than we have found it. We get erased in history. We get misgendered in investigations about our murders. We get dead named. We get all of these different aspects that erode away at even our humanity — let alone the history that we made.
Larry: Just the most absurd thing to me, and speaking of the space that cis white people hold, you would never, ever, ever read any article or anything about Samuel Clemens because who the fuck is that? They call him Mark Twain because that’s what he chose to be identified as through his identity and his work. So to honor Mark Twain every single time they write or refer to that person and never, ever, ever call him by his birth name, it just proves that these things are not hard. They’re made hard by the need to oppress and the need to make people feel smaller. Now we’re flipping a switch and putting the magnifying glass on the people who deserve it the most.
Joy is our inheritance. Our ancestors did not build this country for us to not be able to enjoy it.Larry Owens
What was your experience at the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn like?
Junior: Honestly, I can’t even put it into words really. The activism that I fight for is truly because me as a person, my spirit, I’m going to fight for every fiber of my being to make sure that the disenfranchised get their voice heard and are taken care of. So for me, 15,000 people wasn’t really the thing that shook me because I was like, “You all should be out here. There should be five million people here.” But for me, it was standing on a stage with those Black trans women because as a Black trans woman, who do I look at to say, “Oh my God, that’s who I emulate myself after”? I have Marsha, absolutely. Like all the Black trans women in my neighborhood, all of them I look up to. But where is the person who’s like, “Oh my God, this is the path that I want to follow. This is the path.”
Just like you said, Ianne Fields Stewart? Oh my God. The Okra Project? Ceyenne Doroshow of G.L.I.T.S. Inc? I got to stand on the stage with women who got to lay the path for my freedom. I got to stand on the stage with a group of women who thought the way I thought, felt the way I felt, but as well, walked in my shoes. It’s no different than when I hear about my cis Black woman friends and they get to meet Michelle Obama. It’s like, “Oh my God, this is an exemplification of who I could be. This is an exemplification of my identity.” That’s what I got to see. Because I see the beauty in my people every single day. Every single day when I walk down the street and I see a Black trans sibling, I go off. We are family.
I went to college in 2013, and in 2014, the protests began for Trayvon Martin. I have been doing these protests for a minute now. What I can say is this the first time I have seen Black trans women on the microphone and not anybody else. Because every single time another one of those women spoke, gospel came out. Gospel, because that is the perspective of the disenfranchised. The disenfranchised are the ones who can tell you what’s wrong with you, what it truly feels like to be a byproduct of your society. It makes me so happy that they stood up there, every last one of those women, in their true self, in their true honesty, and and they stood up there and said, “I’m going to be who I am. You will accept this and you will make space. You will. My voice is valid, my voice is important, and my community is important. I am not watching them die anymore.”
It’s been what we’ve been saying forever. But to say it to 15,000 white faces was great. Then to get to move every Black trans person down to the front so that way they got precedence, I can honestly also say actually being a part of the march, I literally was confused when we started marching because I had never been at the front of a march. As a Black trans person, I had never been at the front of a march. The fact that all the Black trans people were the ones leading it, I literally was like, “I’ve never experienced what it is like to be in the first class position of the march.” So for me, it was a true watershed in my life. I truly was a completely different person after that day. I have felt enriched. I felt like my voice has doubled in worth.
Larry: I’m so glad that you had that feeling. As Black Queer people, we are actually living full lives, and we know this for ourselves. But like you said, to be on a platform and to have others bear witness to the fullness of life that you lead every single day, it carries a different weight and it is the privilege of, up to this point in history, through media, cis people and non-Queer people. To shift that and to have the spotlight be on this generation’s freedom fighters, like you said, we’ve been marching now for the better part of a decade for six years. Since the murder of Trayvon Martin.
I was in Ferguson and I was working in a very prominent musical theater job in St. Louis, and when Trayvon was killed, I remember it being a watershed moment in my life as a Black person to realize: “We are going to have to fight. I have not been living in the Twilight Zone. I have been living in the world as designed to make me feel this way. I don’t have to feel this way. In order to unlock that access for future generations, we are going to have to show up, march, and fight.”
So to see now in the development of the Black Lives fight, to see, to be at this point where trans voices, Queer voices are being looked up to, it’s an amazing development and it is a part of the Black experience that even in a massive trauma, we can still find places to heal.
I’m just so glad that you had that experience because you are who we should be looking up to. You deserve the platform and the world will be better for it. Even when you weren’t fighting for your life, even when you are just living your fullness on a Tuesday.
Junior: But I tell you, as I was processing everything that was happening with the pandemic and then as well with George Floyd and with everything that was happening, I was trying to discover where my joy even rested in any of this. Because something that one of my roommates and my friend, Juniper Juicy, another performer, told me is about how there’s always a space for Black joy along with our resistance. I have to remember that my joy, the joy that I feel on a Tuesday is the same. It grows from the same amount of pain that I felt from Ferguson, from George Floyd, from all of that. I have to remember that my joy is never goes against the lives of the people that we’ve lost. It enriches it. Because for Black people to continue, for Black trans people to continue to smile, to find life, to find joy, to find happiness, to find fabulousness, to find the whole breadth of experience, it’s godly.
Larry: Joy is our inheritance. Joy is our inheritance. Our ancestors did not build this country for us to not be able to enjoy it.
Junior: Oh, hold up. I’m writing that down. I love that.
Larry: We’re fighting for our right to enjoy it, and I think that that can actually be confusing for white people to witness the fact that on the other side of this, it’s not that you’re walking around as a white person with a muzzle on and afraid, it’s just that you respect and honor the space that we’ve always been respecting and honoring for you so that you’ve been having a good time until 2020. We’ve been having a bad time until 2020. What if we met in the middle and then from 2020, we all just had a symbiotic time? Like we don’t even have to kiki after work, but we can at least make the work mutually civil. Not one-sided where I know that history and codes and traditions and ways of your people and anything that is innate to my people is alien to you. Like get to know us. Get to know the people that made the house that you live in.
Junior: And do not be expecting us to educate you as well. We built this country. We were dying every single day. The last thing that we need is another job being your educator.
Larry: I’ve taken a huge step back from that. I feel like some of the most work I’ve been doing is the careful space with my white adjacency and, again, the compassion that I was taught to have for people and the space that I was conditioned to hold for these people. Then to release that and then to let their love for me manifest in how they change their lives rather than having to work.
Junior: I’m like, “I should not have to convince you to care about my people being murdered. I shouldn’t have to convince you. I shouldn’t have to convince you about my pronouns. I shouldn’t have to convince you. If you need convincing, go to school. Go to an educator. Go to someone you’re paying to educate you, to have that conversation. I’m not here to try to help you figure out about my humanity. That is not what I’m here for.”
There’s so many different ways you could interact with our community, grow with our community, learn from our community, but you cannot be comfortable and make change at the same time. That’s just not going to happen. Comfortable is where white people like to stay. White people like to stay in their apartment, in their AC, in their gated community, and you need to get up because you cannot choose your comfortability over my life. If you do, I don’t fuck with you. Period.
I’m interested to hear both of you talk more specifically about how this change manifests in theater. Larry, A Strange Loop felt like a watershed moment for Black Queer identity in musical theater, but there are also several shows that came before that weren’t as recognized. What did it feel like to be a part of that moment?
Larry: I don’t want to talk about A Strange Loop like it was the thing that solved theater’s problems. I don’t want it to be that red herring that makes everyone think that they can relax. I feel incredibly honored to play a protagonist that’s so explicitly on-paper lived in my skin. Overweight, Black, Queer and possessing the comedic and dramatic nuance that I think what I carry as a well-rounded human being in my everyday life on a Tuesday. But I think that there’s so much work to do. We have to put Junior as a protagonist of a musical. We have to put L Morgan Lee who co-starred in A Strange Loop as the center of the musical. I think that we pass the torch. I’m excited for people who look like me to pick up that text and see the depth of themselves in that text and to have something to play with and something to enjoy.
I know that coming up, I always had to Trojan horse my identity into white protagonists’ shoes and hope that a table of white people would understand that and then thus grant me an opportunity to serve another one of their worlds on stage. I think that it is time to shift every single part of that. That I can train as a young person on material that’s built for me. That I can audition or look forward in front of a panel of people who might look like me, and then that the work, that I gain from both of those experiences, continues to deepen and enrich people who look like me, who I know feel the same way that I do. Then also, who white people identify with the same way that I identified with Maria von Trapp and Sandy from Grease as a little boy.
Junior: I completely agree. I went to college for scenic and production design at Emerson. Oh, yes, oh, yes. She’s got to be a BFA! I never got on a stage to perform before two years ago when I started drag. Because drag was truly what helped me unlock my gender, my comfortability with myself, my trans, and every single thing came together through drag. It’s so funny because I would’ve never in a million years guessed that I would be a performer because I was so deeply excited and interested in scenic design. The thing that I realized the moment I got to college was, “This is not built for me.” Because at Emerson College, my class had 12 people in it, and I was the first Black person in the program in at least 10 years. At least. There were no Black professors.
Junior: I will say I was fully blessed with some professors who were fucking amazing. Professors who took the time to educate themselves. Professors who knew that I was poor and I lived in DC and it was up in Boston and offered their garage for me to store my things. Professors who took the time out to see that I’m also dealing with all this college stuff, but I’m also dealing with the experience of being Black and Queer. It was people that took the time out to care, and I realized more and more as I was designing, I was like, “I just don’t connect with any of this,” and I thought it was me. Then we got, junior year, August Wilson’s Fences and it was the first Black person who wrote any text that we got. I was like, “I don’t connect to this at all either.”
It wasn’t until my senior year that I was interning in New York for Second Stage that I saw anything that was devised. It was a devised moment. That was my first grasp into, “Oh, art can be for me.” Because all four years, I was only designing things based off of white scripts from white actors. The first two plays that I saw at Emerson College, the only Black person in the entire cast was a slave. Like in the first two. The Love of the Nightingale, then Big Love. It was like, “Okay, so I know what energy this whole program is bringing me.”
Being Black and Queer, you get one chance. You don’t want to give anyone any excuse to disregard you.Larry Owens
Larry: That’s such a trauma to not have the school that admitted you understand how special you are and that you are the first student in 10 years of Black descent and what a privilege that is and then thus to cater some sort of the thing to you by being special in the program. Then for you to witness the work that they weren’t doing and then to see the only representation of yourself in a subservient role. If you’re telling the story with the casual resolve of someone who faces this type of thing over and over and over again, but this is really, to me, listening, it’s like a big trauma. You ask where are the Black voices in theater and it’s like they get scared away! They’re told to play the subservient role or they’re told to design the white text one too many times. That is not actually what Black people want to do.
Junior: The first time I connected with a text was my senior year. Like actually was like, “Oh, this is the thing.”It was For Colored Girls. I left it bawling and I immediately needed to call my mother and just have a conversation about what I experienced because I never connected to something. Like I saw a piece of myself in this. It was from a troupe on campus that was honestly, the 12 Black people in the acting program from all four years. So they put together this troupe, and they put on that performance and it unlocked doors for me.
When I went to New York the year after I graduated, I apprenticed at New York City Center and it was one of those moments where I understood that not only was this system not built for me, but also the localities of it was not built for me. In general, theater is expensive and a classist operation, but on top of it, there are no Black people. There are no trans people. There’s no Queer people. There’s no one enfranchised in this entire business. But then on top of it, as a tech person, I’m fucking talented as hell. I was a master carpenter. I was a master electrician, a scenic designer. I knew how to do all of it and painting. I would have to go into these situations and I would be looking at four burly, masculine-ass men. You knew they were straight as hell and they don’t want to listen to what I have to say because I have a high pitched voice and a limp wrist.
It’s the type of thing where you really learn. You have to ask yourself, “Do I care enough to keep pursuing a career where I’ll have to fight for every inch that I get?” I found that that, as a Black person — especially a Black trans person — that will be every career I choose no matter what career I choose. But that’s why I realized drag is what I want to do for the rest of my life, is because fighting the fight for my career in drag fulfills me. Fighting in theater, it felt like, “I’m swinging at this. I don’t really care.” I was assisting Donyale Werle, Tony Award-winning scenic designer, and that was the first time I ever assisted a woman designer and I was like, “Hold up. Wait a minute. I connect with you on a level that I have never connected with a designer before.”
Then when I tell you, she’s looking at me at the end of the apprenticeship and she goes, “Junior, you know you’re not passionate about this, right?” And I went, “You’re right.” Then she said, “You know you need to be in drag,” and I was like, “You’re right.” Because that entire apprenticeship, I never talked about scenic design once. The only thing I would talk about was drag and how excited I was to sign up for a drag competition and all these things. It’s one of those things where truly she saw me. She saw me for who I was and saw me for not seeing myself. I so am thankful for her for saying something because I think everyone has their own fight, but are you fighting the fight that is meant for you?
Larry: Hearing the story, I have a thousand feelings. I’m so happy that you got aligned with your destiny and what fulfills you. It’s literally singular to hear of a Black person’s journey in tech. I think, in the professional theater world or in the educational theater world, I feel like there are probably a lot of people who should read this, like to hear your experiences, because I think you’re giving a truly unique perspective in the theater industry of what it’s like to be in that. If we think of the world onstage, of course that is grandfathered in with the commercial aspect of what we’ve been trained to see. But what we don’t know is that the backstage world is literally grandfathered in — the unions, they’re truly patriarchal and that usually someone’s son will then sire the theater that their father did and that’s a very, very particular legacy and that creates a very, very particular environment for everyone to work in, for all Black people to work in and under.
I’m happy that you’re in your destiny. I wish that there were more Black people in tech. I wish there were more Black designers. As I grow in my artistry, directing is something that I’m really excited to do, and I would love to collaborate with someone who shares my experiences and can help me build worlds that would stand out in direct contrast to what we have known. Like whatever the hyper-masculine, Euro-centric design of theater that we have come to take as American may not actually be the defining aesthetic. What happens when we unlock Black creators behind the stage? What happens when we activate Black creators with autonomy and not with tokenism and not with the duress of being the only Black?
The incredible pressure that I felt last summer to do…I didn’t leave the stage in that show. There are almost 20 songs. The monologues could stretch into probably the mid-500s of word count. I never felt like I could drop the ball because, being Black and Queer, you get one chance. You don’t want to give anyone any excuse to disregard you. That’s a lot.
Junior: [When I was at Emerson] the thing that always, honestly, got me through was the fact that I never submitted a piece of myself to them. I never allowed it to change me because of the amazing, Black woman friends that I have. My intersectional friends held me down because Black people were less than one percent of the population there, but we were strong.
If theater had been made more accessible, more Black, more trans, more Queer, more actually representative of what the world looks like rather than six white men sitting and writing a script and then six white men acting it out. It made me so happy because I knew who my community was. I knew the people who loved me for who I really was. Those were the people who kept me sane and made me realize that I am me despite what the system tells me. Just because white people can’t step from their comfortability to listen, that does not mean that I’m not worth listening to.
Larry: Yeah, it’s really, really huge, the fact that in order to be successful in the theater, you have to prove your legitimacy to whiteness in order to get a pass. I remember living the same body with sort of the same passions, the same motivations, and feeling like I could do what I saw was happening onstage, but in order to get the pass, I had to make sure that it was coming through the prism of what they are trained to see. So I ended up going to an acting school where I was fortunate for the first time to have Black teachers for me, Black male instructors in the room, which was really, really important to my artistic development. But I know that I went to school so that I could once and for all have the white… This is so painful to admit that I knew that I needed training so that everything that I felt was natural about myself could come out in a way that would be accepted through whiteness.
Like we know we lived through this trauma. We make these concessions out of survival. If you made a Broadway contract, for a young artist, that is a significant contribution to one’s lifestyle. That’s a significant contribution to one’s legacy. These things, Black and Queer and trans people still exist under lifestyle legacy. We still want nice things. Like the fact that I feel guilty for going to school to get trained in a way that would then unlock for me the economic access of not worrying and/or feeling good when I look back on it. Like with the support of the hyper-wiring of systemic oppression that you literally can’t win.
Junior: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Larry: The whole system is rigged. Now people are like, “Oh my gosh, really?” It’s like, “Yeah. It’s rigged in your favor so now you’re going to have to work.” Like white people are literally, for the first time, getting their collective space disrupted with inequality that our collective space has been filled with since, if not birth because of whatever duress our parents were under in creating us or at least we know from one of our first cognizant moments especially in education or in integration. Like I feel like very few white people go through education system or any sort of racial integration, which there are many Black people who live self-contained Black lives in America and don’t care about white… I mean, they know that white people are evil, but they don’t really fuck with them like that anyway.
I would love for there to be a commercial theater space that is an autonomous, self-run, Black organization where the theater owners aren’t donating to inequality. Every year, there is an article released about the record-breaking profits of Broadway, but then there’s also an article every four years about so-and-so cast sues creator for workshop dues. It’s like, there is money to go around. There is money to be invested into something. Where is it going and to whom is it going? How can we use this profit? More people went to Broadway shows than to Yankee games. I am just stating facts. We can google these headlines. So I think that that is my hopeful start for the future, is that we can create more self-regarding Black spaces in the theater and we’ve seen it happen. They have the AUDELCO Awards. We have Antonyos now. There are major inroads being made in pursuit of that.
Junior: I would say I want to see redistribution of assets from theaters. I absolutely love seeing Black Lives Matters on the streets, but what I need to see? I need to see it economically. I need to see it politically. I need to see it culturally. Are you putting Black people on the stage? Are you putting us in the actual positions of power to actually change this organization? Are you just making somebody a manager or are you putting somebody on the board of trustees? Because if you say that this is something that’s important to you and you say that you understand that what you’re doing is killing us, then why aren’t you doing something about it?
I want to see big changes because if you truly understand this is an issue, you understand that it’s systemic, and it won’t get fixed by just changing around a few people. I want to see the theaters redesigned to actually make it more comfortable for other people. Those theaters are built for white Euro-centric-ass people. That was not built to make anybody who’s a person of color actually feel comfortable like they want to actually sit and watch this. So it’s even down to those aspects because as a scenic designer, that’s what I always thought sitting in theater. Sitting in one of the most ornate places, all it tells me is that I don’t have enough money to sit here. I don’t have enough money to afford to sit here.
We need to be honest and true to what our communities are, what the history of this country is. We need to be honest and real about it and start to truly dismantle it while also uplifting it and empowering Black trans lives.Junior Mintt
That was one of those things that was instilled in me as a kid. Like, “Well, I mean, you have to look prim and proper. You got to have them right shoes. You got to get dressed up. You got to get a tie.” It’s like I grew up poor in Camden County, New Jersey. We did not have money for dress clothes and everything and then you feel bad for when you show up that way. Then you’ll turn around and there’s a white family dressed the same way not getting any looks because they look that way.
When we look around these spaces, you can always tell who a space is built for based on who is on the walls. I walk into these spaces and I see white donors names. I see white theater people’s names and photos. I see the rich people who could afford to build this thing. I don’t see any acknowledgement of where Black trans people, Black people, Black Queer people, all of us, everyone under that Black-ass umbrella has helped to craft every facet of theater that we get to experience. Every single piece, whether it be from our inspirations as actual artists or whether it be through white people’s foolishness with Jim Crow and blackface, it’s like we have consistently been profited off of without ever being enfranchised for any piece of which you all have gotten. We sit having to buy tickets all the way in the back balcony. I want to see free tickets given to Black trans people see this show for free.
Because at the end of the day, you need to be addressing the fact that there are so many levels besides what’s happening in the theater that need to be changed. We need to be changing prices. We need to be changing the writers that we book. I don’t care if the writer is white and you decided to put in a bunch of Black people. I want to see Black everything. I want to see this being a Black story told by Black people with Black actors with Black design.
We need to be honest and true to what our communities are, what the history of this country is. We need to be honest and real about it and start to truly dismantle it while also uplifting it and empowering Black trans lives because at the end of the day, there are more levels to me going to a show besides the cost. Is the person going to look at me strange because I’m trans? Am I going to be getting looks from people? Because it happened to me in theater. The same people that want to sit there and act as if they’re the most prideful people will be the first person to keep using he/him for me.
I need to see Black trans empowerment in these organizations. I don’t want to hear just about a donation. Everyone’s activism needs to be economic, political, and cultural. I need to see you putting your money where your mouth is. I need to know what congressional district you live in. I need you to be voting for representatives that are actually pushing legislation for Black trans lives. I need you culturally putting these people on the stage, putting them behind the scenes. I need you doing everything. Because if you’re only dealing with one, you’re not dealing with the whole issue. Because we are in a capitalist society. Money is important and I need you to fix that.
We live in a society where you all can appropriate our culture, appropriate our bodies, profit off of it as much as you want. I need reparations for it. I feel so strongly that lots of corporations will just use, “Oh, we did this one amazing thing,” or, “We got rid of this person.” People are not the issue. It’s the system, baby. The people who built the system are long dead and gone, but you all are continuing it and you don’t need to. So what I need you to do is break this wheel. Why have I not seen the stories of Black people on these stages? The most you get is Motown because that’s something white people are comfortable with and I’m tired of having to serve around white people’s comfortability. It’s not until the moment that white people started getting uncomfortable that change starts happening.
My favorite quote from any play ever is from George C. Wolfe and it’s from The Colored Museum. In one of the vignettes, he says, “The Great Depression was only as bad as it was because white people had started living the way Black people had already been living.” That is all of what has been happening in this world. Because I guarantee you, no one would have been in the streets for Black trans lives if there had not been a pandemic. If white people hadn’t been laid off from work, they would not have been in the street. They would have been at work looking at their windows filming it, tagging it on Instagram saying, “This is happening at my job.” It took white people being disenfranchised with money in order for them to see us as people. For a minute. There’s still no guarantee that tomorrow they’ll see us as people. That’s the thing.
I want to be hearing about things every day from theaters and organizations changing because we’re dying every day. So you need to be making changes every day. If that’s too hard, well, I don’t got time to focus on you. Let’s go build something that does work for us over here. Let’s go enfranchise our Black trans community without you. Let’s go figure out what this looks like. Because Black trans people have been actors, have been dancers, have been designers, have been makers of everything for all of time. It’s just do privileged people choose to see us? So it comes down to a simple matter of we are going to make it with or without you, but if we’re going to do it without you, don’t expect anything from us. Don’t expect sympathy. Don’t expect us to give you roles. Don’t expect anything. Because Black trans people have had to build everything that they’ve had. They’ve had to watch it get taken, watch it get stolen, had to rebuild it again. We’re tired of it. We’re tired of it. We’ve always been tired of it, but now it’s going down. 2020, it’s done on period.