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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.

Everyday Heroes

Every day, trans femmes are told that we are unnatural. That we don’t belong in this world. Governments and people target us to tear down our bodies and spirits, to remove us from this world.

What we know is that trans femmes are nature itself. We have always been here, whether we’ve called ourselves trans or not. We’ve gone by many names and have played sacred roles in our communities across the world and throughout time. We are everyday heroes because we are still here. We are stewarding the movements that transform our world. Our resilience, imagination, love, and compassion is that of the natural world. We are in the trees, the wind, the stars.

Divine Love Is Our Birthright

Our calling to the divine, otherworldly, and the liminal spaces we live in informed how we embarked on our respective journeys for this project. How do we give a face, a name, a word to the multitudes that enhance our majestic power and beauty as trans Black, indigenous, and people of color around the world?

We understood that in their unbordered livingness, our ancestors, animal guides, spirits, god(s) or source all carry various geographies, meaning, and knowledge, gracefully loving us in our totality through whispers, light pushes, and witnessing.

This set a sparkling spiral of creative energy to flow between and through us. Our final works demonstrate our efforts to bridge the ancient, present, and future across time and space to reflect what we think is needed to support our collective imagining of another, more just and tender world.

Our intention was to capture that liminal radiance and weave it into an eternal mosaic of intersectional trans, queer, Black, and indigenous resilience. We forcefully maintain that divine love is our birthright. We know that there is so much violence that pulls us from feeling fully loved and held, and so as an artist and a writer we felt compelled to create a clear cosmic pathway that links us to our greatest strength and source of our resistance: unyielding faith in our grandeur, in our beauty, in our joy.

We offer a poem and an art piece to help provide a sanctuary, a place to sit, to recognize that we are loved by our ancestors, held by divinity, and forevermore eternal. In commemoration of the 2019 Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience, we honor how that love sustains us in the here and now, especially as the human kin we encounter slowly catch up and respond to our everyday call for what it would mean to fully love us, too.

We hope that these bridges help us meet the long line of ancestors, the stars, the present living, and future generations in one place full of enduring love, lasting protection, and otherwise community.

Endless

At first, we came up with the idea to do something that connected the trans people that came before us and the free trans people we imagined existing in the future. It became important to us both to honor the path we were on, one that had been paved with so much of our history. Both of our processes took new shape as we began.

As the writing process began, the project as a whole became harder to do — not because of the subject, but because of the societal differences happening so violently. It was so hard to imagine a world where we’ve won, given all the death we’ve come to know for his year. But Kemi’s guidance led Vita to the idea of exploring our present in relation to how far we’ve come.

So Vita’s piece became less about how we’ve “won,” but more about how we’re winning, and honoring what it took to make it here.

As Kah’s visual piece developed, it became more about the adventure and freedom and creativity that is already a part of being trans.

Our work has the feeling of “outside the box” dreaming that’s manifested itself in our present day, not forsaking the past as forgotten, but honoring it as tribute to the magick we’ve created.

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