I was invited to attend the Saving Ourselves Symposium in Memphis, Tennessee this past weekend from June 4-7. I made a promise to myself that before I wrote about the experience, I would calm down first. To begin, the symposium was the brainchild of The Red Door Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood. The Director of RDF invited me to speak on a plenary about the issues trans women of color face on a daily basis. I will say that still at this point I am confused as to the relevance of myself and the other two trans women of color on the panel in being there. As I looked around the conference, I didn't see anyone who looked like me, meaning trans. This conference was focused on HIV in African American cisgender men who have sex with men (MSM). The picture I am painting is to illustrate the fact that I, a transwoman, was invited into a space held for and by African-American MSM.
I felt so out of place there and that's a feeling I hadn't felt in a long time. I have grown quite comfortable in my own skin. Had it not been for the fact that I invited my significant other along to the conference, I would have been alone all weekend. When I am asked to speak on subject matter that holds true to me, I do my best to make sure it is articulated and heartfelt. I was compelled to mention the fact that I was invited into a space based solely on the fact that I am transgender and for the sake of having a transgender woman of color counted. I want to believe that these organizations are working in a direction that is inclusive of transgender people even in the decision making. I say this because the things that people want to know about transgender people is irrelevant compared to what is truly going on inside the transgender community.
There have been no less than nine murders of transgender women of color and the number of trans teen suicides is on the rise as well. These are the things that need to be brought to light. It is so disheartening to know that the only thing some people want to know is how I feel about Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover. I am a part of a community in which HIV is on the rise. I don't have the desire to discuss her transition or anything that goes on with her. She is not representative of my life's struggles. She will never know the hunger I've felt, the fear I've lived nor the hurt from being rejected by some people whom I thought were friends. I have not been afforded such luxuries. It is vital to my entire existence and being that I stay adherent to my medication so that I may live to see Caitlyn's age.
I was truly excited to see so much good happening for the African-American gay man living with HIV in the conference. At the same time, it was upsetting to know that the most marginalized of the marginalized was completely overlooked. I will not say we (the transgender women of color) were left out, because we were there to discuss our issues. It was still disconcerting that with all the trans people whom I know personally are doing work in the field of HIV/AIDS and healthcare, that not one of them was even mentioned. All in all, this was not a conference for transgender women of color. Moreover, transgender men were not represented. There is another demographic in which the three organizations missed the mark. While speaking on the plenary, I couldn't help but remember how it felt to be left out at AIDS Watch 2015, so I spoke on in not knowing that I was really saying the same thing about the Saving Ourselves Symposium. Someone heard me loud and clear and offered me the opportunity to host a workshop next year if I so choose to participate. I was approached because there were more questions than the time allotted. Regardless of how I felt, I will return so that the conversation may continue. I'm not looking for accolades, nor recognition. I only want the information to be available to everyone. I truly feel that any organization geared towards the eradication of HIV should remember to include transgender women of color because we are out here and need help.