Indulgence as Self Love

“Our people often need to focus on making it through the obstacles each day lays in front of them, focusing on surviving in a world not built for those who defy gender roles. But here we are… existing as beautiful and powerful trans and nonbinary people. Let us indulge and let us find pleasure. We deserve it all.” —Amir Khadar

We Rise Like the Sun

“Growing up Black and trans, I sought assurance that I could be myself while navigating through a world that told me otherwise. I've grown attached to the idea of depicting people and animals like forces of nature that stand for the liberation of marginalized communities, rising up in the face of adversity. I hope for others to find solace in my work as a reminder that they are not alone.” — Colin Laurel

We Have Never Asked Permission to Sing

Trans people of color deserve a world of safety, support and love. We Have Never Asked Permission to Sing, our TDOR poetry chapbook, features ten poems imagining this world. It features the work of Benji Hart, jayy dodd, kiki nicole, Mia S. Willis, Niko Shahbazian, SA Smythe, Vita E and xoài pham.

Download this free chapbook, share it with your community and dream with us!

We Have Never Asked Permission

As artists — one of us a painter, the other a poet — our visions for trans liberation were united by our desire to center Blackness, and the challenge to imagine tangibly what a world post-incarceration might look, feel, taste like.

While Benji entered the project struck by and hoping to pay homage to the life of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Xtravaganza — an Afro-Latina trans woman who died inside Rikers Island prison in June of 2019 — Glori was particularly interested in honoring Black, trans elders. She hoped to imagine aging-while-trans not as an anomaly but a right, and to capture the tension between Black trans intimacy and public defiance.

With these areas of interest in mind, we began our first collaborative discussion looking for shared imagery around which we could build our respective pieces. What we landed on was doing hair, a site that captured the themes of Black intimacy, joy, and labor outside of capitalism, and which Glori envisioned as representing multiple generations of Black, trans, femme, and gender nonconforming bodies.

Even as Benji’s poem went through intense edits — ultimately landing as a revised version of the various bits of legislation ostensibly passed in Layleen’s name by the New York City Council—the image of Black trans elders having their hair braided/retwisted by chosen community members remained a central image of Black trans life beyond both interpersonal violence and prisons.

I am a New Spirit Born from a Change in Melody

I am convinced it can only be divine orchestration that brought Mia Willis (they/them) and I together as collaborators for Forward Together’s Trans Day of Resilience project. An experience of our own design, as Mia and I both recognize our holiness in our ability to shape ourselves and our realities.

As trans/nonbinary people, we create ourselves along with our art and poetry. We are the divine. Our love of mythology, passion for poetry and imagery, and a desire to push the boundaries of what it means to exist as a resilient trans/nonbinary person made us want to craft new mythologies for the black, trans experience. Rewrite our cosmic birth.

We did this together through sharing resources, and then poetry, which I used to create the imagery for this project. Though we aspire to do more in-depth narrative works in the future, what we created was deeply personal. We were influenced by the other, but also inspired by ourselves and our own tools of resilience through shapeshifting forms, manipulation of time, and collectivity in our voice.

For the execution of the final works, I allowed myself to imagine and receive visions of the trans/nonbinary deities that wanted to be present in these pieces. I gave myself some boundaries as I can get joyfully lost in the realm of possibilities. I wanted to represent a transfeminine elder, a transmasculine parent, a nonbinary child who transcends even the boundries of humankind, and a new god reflected in a transwoman who has not yet transcended her human form.

As I sketched and played, everything became luscious. The roundness of bodies, the swirling of bark, the curling of tentacles, and the softness of sunsets and leaves all create a world of trans/nonbinary resilience that is warm, expansive, and welcoming to all forms of divinity in all beings. I truly believe we cannot carry on if we do not prioritize our rest, our joy, and our unconditional love for ourselves.

The lines that I used from Mia’s poetry are “I am a completely new spirit born from a change in melody,” and “I float in a flesh that define taxonomy, erases binaries.” This reality is a melody, and we are clear notes that redirect the very flow of the song like water. This is the foundational image for my concept. Melody as a biodiverse ecosystem, one we will thrive in. This ecosystem is the place of our birth and its lushness gives us room to birth new forms. Now born, we declare who we are. We are boundless and floating. Like a newly emerged dragonfly, we delight in our existence, the gentleness of plants, and the glisten of our reflection in the water’s surface.

My hope is that people see themselves in these pieces, both in my ink that flows and grows, and in my cut paper piece that further highlights the intricacies of our beauty. Strength in our delicate tenderness. That’s the resilience I crave. One that allows us to be soft and supple and sprouting. May you see yourself and know your divinity. Know you are loved.

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