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Finding Home at the Table: Allyship Between Black Cis Women and Black Trans Women

The alliance between Black trans women and Black cis women emerges as a vital force, transcending barriers and forging a path towards collective liberation.

By Ebony Ava Harper, Founder of California TRANScends

As the leader of California TRANScends, an organization dedicated to empowering and advocating for the rights of transgender folks and allies, I am compelled to address an issue close to my heart: the urgent need for allyship between Black trans women and Black cis women. In a world mired in systemic oppression, it is crucial for us to come together, united in our collective struggles and shared experiences. Our alliance holds the potential to dismantle barriers, challenge societal norms, foster empowerment and bring healing to communities that are often weaponized against each other.

Historically, Black women have been at the forefront of revolutionary movements, fighting for justice and equality. From Sojourner Truth's powerful declaration, "Ain't I a woman?" to the relentless activism of civil rights leaders, Black women have continuously challenged oppressive systems. Today, this fight must include the unique challenges faced by Black trans women. I have to say, my biggest allies, the people who have loved me to healing, are Black cis women. I'm here to hold them up and love them to healing as well; That's called allyship!

Sacramento's Black Women March 2018

As a Black trans woman, I have encountered rejection and discrimination most of my life, from within my Black community (and more profound than that), from within my little tribe of Jamaican folks. I knew who I was from a young age, but my little journey was ensnared in resistance and incomprehension. My earliest connection with a Black woman was my mother, who struggled to accept me. She was "praying for my deliverance" until her dying day (she passed from COVID-19 last year). I felt sorry for her. She had this idea of how I was supposed to be and denied herself a loving relationship with a fantastic human.

Mom Circa 1983

I endured many years of physical abuse, neglect, and the pressure to conform to societal expectations. It wasn't all based on my trans identity. I had behavioral issues because I was in a chaotic, outright mad environment. Constant chaos, 24/7. My experiences, unfortunately, aren't unique to me; many Black trans women that grew up in the hood know my life well because it's been their life.

Growing up in the Black church, I faced further condemnation, being told to stop acting like a girl and "that gay spirit needs to be prayed OUT of you" by the women at church. All those prayer lines and pillows stained with my tears, pleading for God to change me from this "feminine spirit," never changed a thing; I was who I was. For the better part of 35 years, my relationship with Black cis women remained complicated.

In 2016, my journey of camaraderie with Black cisgender women embarked on a new course. It all began with a phone call from Imani, extending an invitation to collaborate on Sacramento's debut Black Women's March. I was all in. At our initial meet-up, I sat removed from the main group, until Elika - who soon evolved into a kindred spirit and sister in my world - questioned my distance. She invited me to join them at the table, a gesture that embodied so much more. As I moved my seat closer and finally positioned myself amongst the circle of Black women, Elika queried my sentiments. A rush of belonging hit me, giving me goosebumps. It felt as if I'd arrived at a place I could call home. This was the spark that ignited enduring years of allyship between Black cisgender women and myself. The collective Black Women United proved crucial in navigating my healing process from past trauma, affirming my Black identity and feminine spirit. My love for them is profound and true. Our journey hasn't been a cakewalk, and there's a constant learning curve in becoming better allies. But we're in it together, growing, learning, and lifting each other up.

As we continue on our collective journey, remember this: there might be an Ebony out there yearning for your love and support, and equally, there might be an Elika out there who needs to experience the unconditional love and nurturing that only Black trans women can offer. Together, we must stand firm, united against the oppressive forces of patriarchy and white supremacy. Our strength lies in our unity, our diversity, our understanding, and our shared commitment to this essential endeavor. In this interconnected dance of allyship, we are not merely paving the path for one another; we are redefining it. Together, let us continue to strive for a world where every Black woman - cis or trans - can thrive, loved, supported, and celebrated for exactly who they are.

Elika and I at the White House 2022



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