Four generations of Black Trans women (child, young adult, adult, & elder) sit together on the front steps of a burgundy home. Strong, yellow sunlight rakes in from the left side of the image illuminating the scene. Furthest left the young adult sits comfortable and reclined with one leg raised, gazing over at the pairing of older women in the center. Here, the elder sits with the adult women between her legs, bent forward as she braids her hair, her own graying locs piled into a bun on her head. While on the right of them the young child sits, legs crossed peering over the legs of the central women with excited curiosity.

We Have Never Asked Permission

By Glori Tuitt with poetry by Benji Hart.

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.

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