COVER STORY: Black, trans, man

Carter Brown

Carter Brown knew from personal experience that African-American transmen are among the most invisible and most under-served people in the LGBT community. So he founded a new organization in hopes of filling in the gaps

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Transitioning is never an easy process for anyone, but African-American female-to-male trans people face some special challenges, according to transman Carter Brown.

“Our lives, the path we feel we have to take is a challenge. We are voluntarily accepting the role of Public Enemy No. 1: The black man is the most feared man in America,” Brown said. “When we transition from female to male, we are accepting all the challenges that black men in this country face, from society, from our families and from ourselves. It’s a lot to bear.”

And Brown noticed early on in his own transition process that black transmen, in many instances, had to face those challenges alone. That’s why he decided to launch an organization focusing primarily on helping others like himself.

That’s when Black Transmen was born.

Brown said that, having been born biologically female, he knew from a young age that he was different. As a teenager, he came out as a lesbian and “found a place in the community as a butch lesbian.”

But still, something was missing: “I still didn’t feel complete,” he said.

Then one day, when he was 24, Brown was watching TV and saw a talk show that included a transman as a guest.

“It just turned a light on for me,” he said. “Finally the pieces started to fall into place.”

So he started going to the library, using the computers there to look for information and resources that could help in his quest to transition. He found some resources and made connections with other transmen in Yahoo groups. But few of those resources addressed the special challenges of black transmen, and few of those new friends were transmen of color. They couldn’t relate, Brown said, to the special challenges black transmen face.

“I couldn’t find people who were like me. That’s why I decided to start this organization, to reach people like me and move us forward.”

Brown said he started out by creating a page on Facebook, and he was amazed at how many people were drawn to it. The more comprehensive organization grew out of that Facebook page, and today, Brown said, Black Transmen has about 300 members nationwide and is led by a three-member board consisting of Brown and two other transmen that he chose not to name out of respect for their privacy.

Brown said he and the organization’s other leaders have worked to create a structure with programs and outreach designed to address the needs of transmen in general as well as the specific challenges that transmen of color face.

One of the greatest challenges for black transmen, Brown said, is financial, adding that “a majority of black transmen fall into the lower financial class,” and finding money for a therapist and for medications is difficult. So one of the organization’s first goals was to find a way to address that need.

So Brown and the other group leaders began compiling a list of therapists to whom they could refer newcomers, and they established the FTM Fund. Through this program, he said, transmen can earn financial assistance to help pay for medications and other costs by putting in volunteer hours.

Careers

Black Transmen also works to help transmen pull themselves out of that lower end of the financial spectrum with a program offering advice on developing their careers.

“A lot of guys feel that they are male, but they haven’t actually walked in the world as a man,” Brown said. “We have to be socialized as men, to learn how to speak as men, wear professional clothing, even how to shake hands.”

Looking again to his own experience, Brown said that when he was first beginning his transition, he communicated online with a group of other transmen, all of whom were caucasion. He said those men, as they transitioned, often found themselves with new opportunities for advancement in their careers.

“But for me, it was the opposite. As a black man, I saw my opportunities decrease,” he said.

The group also offers advice on if, when and how to come out as a transman on the job, something that Brown knows from personal experience can be problematic.

He said when he began his transition, he was fired from his job. And at another job, when he came out as a transman, he was “harassed until I finally had to quit.”

Now, he said, he stays quiet about his trans status at work.

“What I found was that I was back in the closet,” Brown said. “The people at work see me as the man I am. But I can only get so close to someone without them knowing that I am trans. And being in the closet is a hard way to live. You have to find a balance.”

Health

Providing resources to help transmen stay healthy is another primary goal for Black Transmen as an organization, Brown said. The organization works to provide resources to help transmen find the doctors, therapists and surgeons they need, and is looking now for outside funding that will allow the group to help individuals with the costs of those services.

But Black Transmen is also actively involved in HIV/AIDS and STD education and awareness, he continued, and in August will participate in the Hip Hop Summit for HIV.

“A lot of transmen are not being tested for HIV and AIDS,” Brown said. “A lot of them are not educated on how the disease is contracted and how to avoid being infected.

“A lot of guys still sleep with cis-gendered men and have unprotected sex. But they are ashamed of that, and because they are ashamed they don’t protect themselves,” he continued. “One of the things we try to do is get guys to understand there is no reason to be ashamed of who you sleep with. We try to give them a place to go where they can be comfortable talking about these things.”

And there are other health concerns that black transmen face that their white counterparts don’t, Brown added.

“For instance, African-Americans in general are more prone to have high blood pressure. We want to address those issues as well,” he said.

Black Transmen also works to help transmen balance their mental health needs as well, offering peer menoring, either online or through a 24-hour telephone hotline.

“Our goal is to provide an overall support system that will help transmen have a healthy transition and a healthy life,” Brown said.

Culture

Perhaps the most difficult challenges for black transmen, Brown said, is dealing with some of the “culturally specific issues we face not as transmen but as black men in general.

“In the African-American community, because I am a man, they expect certain things of me. They expect me to be very aggressive, to not care about getting an education, to not care about the arts,” Brown said. “Too often, we feed into those negative stereotypes people have of black men, things like sagging your pants, being a womanizer. If you don’t do these things, then you’re seen as weak.”

And then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, where black men are expected to be heavily involved in the churches that play such a big role in the African-American community — something that can be problematic for transmen who are often shunned by religious communities.

“And the African-American community depends on men to care not just for themselves and their immediate family, but for their extended families, too,” Brown said. “That can be a very heavy burden, and some of the [transmen] just are not prepared to carry that burden. We are here to help them with that.”

Although his journey has not always been an easy one, and there are still challenges he has to overcome, Brown said it has been worth the trip.

“I feel free,” he said. “I feel like now that I am no longer consumed with my transition, now I can focus on being who I am, on being a comfortable and confident man. And I want to help others like me reach that same place.

“That’s what this organization is about, helping black transmen be free within themselves, letting them see other guys who have been where they are and who can say, ‘I understand. I’m here to help,’” Brown continued. “This is a safe space, where guys can come and find encouragement, where they can find family that understands and has no judgment.”

Around the edges of the circular logo for Black Transman are the words, “One is not born a man, he becomes one.”

And that, Brown said, is the organization’s goal: to help transmen become the best men they can be.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “We are men. We are unique, exceptional men. And we are there for each other.”

—  John Wright

Gettin’ schooled

Tim’m West says hip-hop is gayer than you think —and he plans to prove it

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

MAN OF ALL TRADES | Activist, author and rapper Tim’m West brings his knowledge to UTD.
MAN OF ALL TRADES | Activist, author and rapper Tim’m West brings his knowledge to UTD.

KEEPING IT REAL
UT Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson. Oct 21–22. Visit website for schedule. Open to the public. Free.  RedDirt.biz.

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The gay community and hip-hop music often clash over homophobic lyrics, but in the last few weeks, those paths crossed in two different but significant ways. Amid the rash of gay teen suicides, rapper 50 Cent tweeted about how men over 25 who don’t have oral sex with women should kill themselves (he awkwardly tried to backpedal after an outraged response). That was soon followed by Anderson Cooper’s interview with Eminem, who responded to questions about his attitude toward the gay community with, “I don’t have any problem with nobody.”

But gay activist and rapper Tim’m West isn’t buying any of it.

“It’s all part of the necessitated spewing of homophobia in hip-hop,” he says.

“It’s like this right of passage for artists to do that.”

The thing is, West says hip-hop — the music and the culture — is gayer than it wants to be. He’ll set out to prove it with Keeping it Real: Hip-Hop Has Gone Gay, a master class discussing the queer side of hip-hop. The Fahari Arts Institute teamed up with UT Dallas to host this two-night session, starting Oct. 21.

The event is spearheaded by UTD faculty member Venus Opal Reese, who says now is the time for this kind exposure.

“I think the Dallas community needs this class to have a different experience of blackness, queerness and gender, even,” she says. “If all we ever see is black men killing, gay bashing or dying from HIV, there is no hope. Tim’m is hope.”

West says that hip-hop needs to be exposed and his class works to show people that LGBT culture was a part of the genre in its infancy.

“I argue that the music has always had those elements but the industry has this inability to see how LGBT culture influenced hip-hop,” he says. “In the early days, there was more acknowledgement of gays in rap. Grandmaster Flash referred to ‘gays’ and ‘fag hags’ in his music but with no derogatory notion. He rapped about that as part of the life and the city.”

West, who hails from Houston, boasts the kind of multi-labeling applied more to a medicine bottle: He’s an activist, author, rapper, poet, scholar and professor. Working as a project coordinator for the St. Hope Foundation, he’s now taking his work on the road to make the LGBT/black/hip-hop conversation a national one. He calls Dallas his first stop in this new venture.

“The plan is to advocate on a national scale,” he says. “I’m touring and traveling to speak about diversity, inclusion, bullying. I’m also a suicide survivor, which has risen as an issue recently. I feel the experience I have can lend itself to a bigger conversation.”

Despite the homophobia in hip-hop, West points out prejudices stem from gays themselves. Gay racism and stereotypes have also held back what he considers should be a progressive community. He cites that block as part of what keeps big gay events sanitized with the usual types of performers year after year.

“Parades or Pride events always may have gay artists and definitely have their drag queens, but propose a hip-hop entertainer and nothing,” he says. “I want to talk about how we can mobilize hip-hop as a tool rather than running from scary black men and gunfights. Gay musicians are choosing it as a medium and gay kids listen to it. “

Gay or straight, black or not, Reese says this class is open to as broad an audience as it can get. For her, the message here goes beyond labels, demographics and stereotypes and instead works to shatter those abstract restrictions.

“This class absolutely is for everyone,” she asserts. “If you are a writer, activist, a person interested in gender studies, it would be totally appropriate. You know, race, gender, sexuality, class are all different pieces that make the whole. When we realize that we don’t have one essential self but embody different intersections of those part, you can be moved to tears by who you really are.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Local briefs • 10.01.10

The Group for HIV-positive black men celebrating 4th anniversary

“The Group,” an organization for black men who are HIV-positive, will celebrate its fourth anniversary Thursday, Oct. 14, with a meeting beginning at 7 p.m.

The theme or the evening is “Thankful! Celebrating Four Years of Education, Empowerment and Support,” and guest speaker will be Sabrina Y. Taylor, MSW, of Tibotec Therapeutics.

For more information or to become a member of The Group, call 214-455-7316.

First Community Church holding benefit Sunday for Youth First Texas

First Community Church will celebrate its Alternative Christmas on Sunday, Oct. 3, to raise money and awareness for Youth First Texas, beginning with the 11 a.m. worship service, followed by a potluck luncheon in the church social hall where handmade Christmas cards will be sold for $5 each.

All proceeds benefit Youth First Texas.

Alternative Christmas is an annual event at First Community Church, and each year handmade Christmas cards are sold to raise money for a designated ministry partner.

Each card comes with an insert stating a gift has been given in the recipient’s honor to that year’s designated beneficiary.

In addition to raising money for Youth First, the Christmas cards this year will also help raise awareness of the organization and its programs.

Sunday’s worship theme is going to be “When The End Is A New Beginning,” with services focusing on the scripture in Genesis where God’s new covenant with humanity is symbolized by the rainbow. First Community Church is an open and affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ located at 9120 Ferguson Road. For more information, go online to fccdfw.org.

Monday is deadline to register to vote in November elections

The deadline to register to be able to vote in the Nov. 2 elections is Monday, Oct. 4.

To register to vote in Texas, an individual must be a citizen of the United States, a resident in a Texas county, and at least 18 years of age by election day.

A voter’s registration remains in effect unless the voter changes his/her residence.

Texas voters can check to see if they are registered by calling their county Voter Registration Office or by going online to VoteTexas.org.

To register, go to the voter registration office in your county, or complete and mail in the voter registration form available at post offices, libraries and Department of Public Safety offices.

The application is also available for download online at VoteTexas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens