Pay Us or Leave Us Alone
by Reevs O'Neal @swampgoop #PayUsOrLeaveUsAlone
Sounds a little harsh, right? I know.
Consider being constantly exploited with no compensation. EVER. That’s what it’s like to be a transgender artist, especially black, transgender and femme identified. As a “white passing”, sometimes “cis-passing”, trans, masculine identified person, I can’t even begin to tell you their experiences. Here’s just a little bit of mine.
I woke up one morning still reeling from the energy of La-Ti-Do’s Annual Trans Celebration, an all trans artist show celebrating the works of Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC). It was fantastic. The spectacular display of artistry was curated by the brilliance of Goddess Dane Edidi, the Director of the Healing and Restorative Justice Institute at TWOCC (TWOCC Leadership Team), a trans woman of color, and the dynamic cast consisted of only transgender artists from all over the country, most of which were trans women of color. Tickets were $15 each and proceeds benefited the works of TWOCC. I had never experienced something so magnificent in my life.
We all went on the stage and poured our hearts out. Dane Figueroa Edidi and Lourdes Ashley Hunter took us to church multiple times. We healed together. We laughed, cried and celebrated together. After the show, we all left with CASH in our pockets for the WORK we had put into helping make the night a huge success. I learned how you hold a beneficial show giving new artists a chance to put their foot in the door of this industry while helping to pay the bills. My mentor, Goddess Lourdes always talks about how critical it is to leverage our access to resources to create opportunities for others to thrive. TWOCC continues to do just that.
Shortly after starting my day, I received an email from a fellow white, definitely “cis-passing”, transgender man. I remember reading the phrases “Capital Trans Pride” and “looking for more applications from (trans) spoken word artists – you should apply.” I had a show the previous night and was about to book another one. I can’t tell you how much I was feeling myself, OK!
Capital Trans Pride was being held at Busboys and Poets. This is a closed show that one needs to apply for. It’s being held at an establishment that more often than not charges a cover for events. It was curated by the DC Center entertainment team, which I’ve heard severely lacks diversity. I let out a sigh and replied, “Do you know if they’re paying the artist?” They’re obviously looking for quality art, right? The answer was no! It “just wasn’t in the budget.” However, I would “gain visibility.”
Exposure? They want my art, my hard work, the emotional labor -- all for free?
You cannot ask a transgender person for a service and not compensate them in return. Lourdes Ashley Hunter taught me “work equals payment.” We do not live off of visibility. We cannot pay our bills with exposure. Trust me -- for many of us, those bills pile up. A lot of us have faced poverty, homelessness, and other obstacles cisgender people watch documentaries about. When you ask us for our time, our work and don’t pay us, you’re asking for time that could be spent elsewhere making money so we can fucking eat!
Honestly, the visibility they offer Trans artists gets some of us killed. Trans women of color are dying at the hands of society at a rapid rate for the simply because they are seen. Making cisgender society more aware of our existence will not stop that. People tend to think cis people are not hip to the fact trans people exist, but they know. They just don’t humanize us. We’re reduced to slurs and shameful skits. You asking us to entertain you for free is just more evidence of that. We’re they’re entertainment. As Goddess Dane taught us that night at La-Ti-Do’s celebration, “stop begging for scraps when you have cooked the meal”.
By writing this article and sharing my outrage, I’m slightly eager to think I’ve gotten through to at least a few of you. This doesn’t stop here. We have beautiful, immense voices amongst our community fighting day and night to end. They fight tirelessly because we have to. Listen, it is exhausting. We’re only human.
If you intend on profiting from the lives or work of a transgender person, pay us or leave us alone. If you are holding a panel and need us there for the sake of inclusion -- first off that’s fucked up. Secondly, pay us or leave us alone! If you’re feeling some cisgender guilt right now, I’ll leave some links below. Pay us or leave us alone!
Casa Ruby Casa Ruby is the only Bilingual Multicultural LGBT Organization providing lifesaving services and programs to the most vulnerable in the LGBT community. A large number of our clients have incomes of less than $15,000.00 per year. Our Mission is to create success life stories among Transgender, Genderqueer and Gender Non-Conforming Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people.
TWOCC Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC) is a global organizing collective led by trans and gender non-conforming people of color created to uplift the narratives, leadership, and lived experiences of trans and gender non-conforming people of color. Historically, we have been the catalyst of change for social justice movements. TWOCC works to empower our community and comrades to create and sustain revolutionary change!
Invest in our livelihood here. Then click the donate button.