#JusticeForPrissy, or how we’ve failed our trans sisters
Deonna Mason, a Black transwoman, has been on my mind for over three months. Early in the morning on Friday, October 9th, 22-year old Deonna Mason was reportedly struck by a state trooper while crossing an interstate on foot in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was pronounced dead on the scene and few people outside of North Carolina have heard her name.
Deonna Mason’s life mattered. Black trans lives matter. But as a cisman, I often only learn the names of my trans sisters after their deaths rather than during their lives. We, especially cisgender folks, need to #SayHerName and commit it to memory, the way we should have with India Clarke, Mya Hall, or the over 20 trans women of color killed last year.
Reading these facts is often so sobering that people sometimes reach a saturation point of Black death. However, nightmares like Laquan McDonald’s prove that due diligence is the only way these stories even surface. Evidence of Laquan’s murder was wiped clean and it took over a year for it to come forward. McDonald’s murder and the following city-wide coverup became national news through the work of the people on the ground, mainstream media, and activists utilizing twitter. However, Mason’s death flew under the radar of many activists, including those who focus on Black trans lives. So what happens when the messengers don’t know about another Black person robbed of life?
We cannot rally around an injustice we are not aware of, and this is what happened with Deonna Mason’s death. Finding comprehensive information on Mason is difficult, as all local news reports misgendered her. One article even referred to Mason by her birth name and claimed she was “dressed as” a woman, despite her actual presentation as a woman. Misgendering is a disgustingly common practice that is an act of violence many transwomen deal with every day. Not even in death can transwomen express their gender without the resurgence of their “dead names” or incorrect pronouns.
In creating the beloved community necessary for this work, I reached out to Deonna Mason’s cousin, Kea Poole, on twitter. She reached back out on Nov. 30, 2015:
“Deonna “Prissy” Mason was a loved and loveable person. To know her was to love her. She left a lot of loved ones behind: her mother Mica Belin, her father & step father Derek Mason and William Belin, along with brother Jason Poole, William Belin Jr & sister Essence Belin. Her death will not be in vain.”
Deonna Mason was fortunate to have a family who loved her and who has not let her presence disappear. Poole informed me that Mason’s family plans to help others like Deonna by creating “House of Prissy,” a safe haven for LGBTQ folk. In service of Mason’s family, I write this today to bring attention to her death but also to remind us that we must show our trans sisters love while they are living. Men allow hypermasculinity to drive them so far that they kill transwomen because they feel like they were “tricked” (#ZellaZiona). No one is “tricking” anyone. If a man has an issue with transwoman then he has an issue with all women. We cannot claim to be pro-Black if our fight for Black lives does not include transwomen. Our liberation is intrinsically tied to the most marginalized people within our own communities, and the sooner we realize it, the stronger we’ll be.
Black Girl Dangerous tells us how to support trans women now. Autostraddle has a list of 24 actions to help transwomen of color survive. GLAAD even has tips for how to be a better ally to transfolk. But, for me, the common theme among these pieces is simple. Let’s start treating transwomen like the humans that they are. Let’s stop being so defensive when someone calls us transphobic, because our language and actions often are transphobic. We cannot do this alone, either; let’s call out our friends and family when we see transphobic actions or hear transphobic rhetoric.
We must remember that we live in a world that assigns us a gender at birth on the basis of our genitals, so many of us police gender variance, but this is not a valid excuse to continue. We must deprogram the notion that the gender we are assigned at birth determines our whole lives. We justify the murder of transwomen when we deem transfolk as less deserving of less than cisfolk. The mere existence of transgender and gender non-conforming folk does not make cisgender folk more or less “man,” or “woman.”
If we really want justice for Prissy and the other trans women of color killed this year, let’s start with ourselves and our circles. We must do better for our trans sisters. Our freedom depends on it.
Anthony Williams is Editor-in-Chief of the Afrikan Black Coalition blog. You can follow him on twitter @anthoknees