On April 12th I joined hundreds of women (and a few men) in Myrtle Beach, S.C. We were there to attend PWN-USA's 3rd Speak Up Summit. Speak Up is a summit by us and for us, the "us" are women living with HIV. It was going to be a special time for me being a new member of The Well Project's Community Advisory Board. It was also the 10th anniversary of PWN-USA and a celebration was planned. Yes, the turn up was going to be real. I was so ready to connect with old sister-friends and looking forward to making new sister-friends. You can imagine my excitement at being with a group of fierce women.
I arrived in Myrtle Beach fairly early, made it to the hotel and checked into my room. I decided to rest before going over to the conference center. Once I arrived at the conference center, I was happy to see a large group of Women of Trans experience. To me, that signified we were doing a good job of being inclusive. We weren't just talking about it, but we were also being about it. There were hugs all around and a genuine feeling of sisterhood.
It was not until Friday at lunch that I was made aware that some of the Cisgender women were having issues with the Transgender women being there. My first thought was, 'why would anyone complain about a woman being at a summit for women?' Sometimes I forget people are not in the same place as I am. The women of Trans experience were hurt, and in my opinion, rightly so, and decided to address the situation head on. Of course it did not end well. Sometimes it's just hard to hear a message when you're angry. The energy in the room became toxic to me during the confrontation and I found myself wanting to just check out. I would present when and where I was supposed to, but removing myself for the rest. Being the person that I am, I decided to stay engaged and have one-on-one conversations with my sister-friends, both Cis and Trans.
In speaking to them, I realized we all have a lot of healing to do. Women of Trans experience have experienced trauma from Cisgender women and some of those feelings have never been addressed. Likewise, Cisgender women have their own historical trauma. A common theme from the Women of Trans experience was a sense of distrust. More than one woman shared with me some painful experiences where they were made to feel unsafe, unloved, and unwanted by women who looked like the women in that room. A common theme from the Cisgender women had a lot to do with religion. They felt like being Transgender goes against their religious teachings. In talking to the two groups, I didn't try to fix it because I recognize this is much bigger than me.
The bottom line is that both Cisgender and Transgender women need to heal and I really don't know if the healing needs to happen separately or together, all I know is the healing MUST happen. For me, I must be inclusive. I cannot talk about women without including ALL women. I speak for both Cisgender and Transgender women. Never thinking I can talk for my sister-friends of Trans experience, but I can bring them into any space where they may be missing, continue reaching out to see how I can assist the Trans community, and screaming from every mountaintop that I AM MY SISTERS' KEEPER!