I sometimes forget how lucky I am to be a bisexual woman in the 21st century. You might be wondering what I could be talking about since there is still so much suppression and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
However, I just spent my Friday night watching the Netflix documentary, “ The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.” For those of you that don’t know Marsha P. Johnson was a prominent activist for the gay and transgender community and who mysteriously died when she was 46. As I watched this documentary I could slowly feel my heart begin to drop into my chest. These men and women put their lives at risk daily so that I could be privileged enough to sit here and write this article.
Marsha and her friends were constantly targeted by police and members of the LGBT community who did not support transgender individuals. The documentary discussed how Marsha always took everyone in – she always made everyone feel loved and wanted regardless of who they were. This struck me.
Marsha was a black trans woman during the 80s and 90s – I cannot even imagine how difficult it must have been to black and trans during that time. During that time it was illegal to do drag and Marsha would go out in drag in broad daylight. But in all of the footage, she was smiling, laughing, or cracking a joke. She had something about her that seemed to draw people in.
Marsha was also very close friends with Sylvia Rivera – another leader of the gay liberation and transgender movement. Sylvia and Marsha were inseparable and they stood up for everyone who was forgotten by ‘mainstream’ society.
As I watched this documentary I realized how truly privileged I am. I’m able to walk down the street and hold a woman’s hand and more likely than not, my life will not be in immediate danger. Marsha and Sylvia dedicated their lives to activism so that people like me wouldn’t be scared to walk outside and love whoever I want. I feel an immense sense of gratitude to them. I’m not sure if I could have done what they did.
This documentary also discusses current violence crimes to trans women of color. According to the documentary they are the most targeted members of the LGBT community – and I believe it. The documentary showed news clips of all the trans women that had been killed in the past 34 days – eight trans women had been killed.
Do you know what that means? Nearly every four days a trans women was killed.
The documentary was interviewing someone and they said something that struck me. They explained that so many people supported marriage equality and during that time everybody was a pro-LGBT community. However, after marriage equality was achieved, supporters seemed to forget about the T in LGBT because the transgender community is still not getting the representation that they deserve.
This part of the documentary made me angry – mainly because this gentleman was right. I remember when the fight for marriage equality was taking place. I would constantly hear people talking about how equality was needed for the LGBT community – even from people I wouldn’t usually suspect to support the LGBT community. Then suddenly after marriage equality was achieved everything went silent. It seems that people don’t like to think about things that make them uncomfortable.
I understand that hearing about a transgender person can be confusing and uncomfortable IF the only education they have ever gotten about transgender people has been from the media. The media does a great job of skewing information about transgender people and their deaths. But let me tell you something, transgender people are people just like you and me. They have aspirations, hobbies, loved ones, career goals, flaws, a favorite sports team, a favorite holiday, a favorite animal etc. I think that the media has done a disgustingly beautiful job dehumanizing the transgender community.
As a society, we cannot say we want equality and then limit that equality to certain groups. That is not what Marsha and Sylvia fought for. They fought so that every person, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender identity would have equal rights – and this includes equal rights in the prosecution of murder. Many of the people who have killed black transgender women use the panic defense.
This defense is rooted in the belief that the murderer was overwhelmed with such a state of panic and confusion that they killed the women. Honestly, this is the most ridiculous and embarrassing defense I have ever heard of. I am sure there are plenty of people who have felt panicked in a variety of situations and never killed anyone.
This documentary taught me to be proud of my bisexuality – to be thankful for all the activists that came before me – to be thankful for all the people that sacrificed their lives so I can feel free – and most importantly, it reminded me that I need to be a better advocate. Yes, I am out and yes I am proud, but that is not enough. Innocent people of my community are being killed simply for being who they are.
I’m not sure how I will do more or what exactly needs to be done. But I know that the story of Marsha and Sylvia has inspired me – and it should inspire you too.