This article contains discussions of suicidal ideation, transphobia, queerphobia and sexual violence that may be troubling to some readers.
The day after the Gender Equity and Justice Summit (GEJS) 2021, presented by the Stanford Women’s Community Center and organized by Jenna Jung ’22, I was in a cognitive daze, singing in the shower, thinking about Kanye lyrics. Specifically, I was crying in the shower, imagining keynote speaker Dominique Jackson blissfully singing Kanye lyrics as light glinted off her eyes and lipstick: We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25 — Joke’s on you, we still alive. Throw your hands up in the sky and say, “We don’t care what people say.” This might as well have been the anthem for the GEJS summit.
The pain always comes in somewhere. Maybe it’s Mother Mary coming to me, a sinner and an atheist, in the Okada bathroom. Maybe it’s seeing Carlos Motta’s video arts piece, “The Crossing” (2017), at Cantor Arts Center — watching Faysal, a Pakistani refugee, cry while disclosing that his father was killed in order to preserve his family’s honor after Faysal came out as queer. (Watching Faysal say, through misty eyes, that he wishes he were straight so his father would still be alive.) Maybe it comes in deep depressive states. But then, Jackson says it again: We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25 — Joke’s on you, we still alive. Throw your hands up in the sky and say, “We don’t care what people say.”
Yes. I’m still alive and kicking. And I’m not going anywhere. I’m not 25 yet, but I am 21, and as a mentally ill trans and non-binary person, I’m not sure I was ever meant to make it past 19, when I tried to hang myself in HumHo my sophomore year. I’ve been domestically abused because of my mental illness and my queerness, and I’ve been sexually assaulted and harassed for all sorts of reasons, all of which escape me most moments. The trauma is inescapable at certain moments, and remembering all of this sometimes leaves me weeping in hidden corners and valleys of the world. If the GEJS was in-person this year, I’m sure I would have wept at the WCC, too, like I did during Friday’s Zoom proceedings. Many other people did, too. The GEJS and the WCC were and are refuges for us, the abandoned and forgotten; we see ourselves in each other and celebrate it through watery eyes. And so, activists, genderf*ck companions and friends alike gathered to support each other and lift ourselves up as a communal event, a ritual, a blessing.
At 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Stanford students who registered for the GEJS community lunch event gathered on Zoom to speak to one another over DoorDash-delivered food (we were provided gift cards for the event) for camaraderie, discussion and fun alongside WCC staff. After a check-in, the conversation turned to the series “POSE” and the questions people had for Jackson, the keynote speaker, who stars on the FX series (depicting NYC drag ball culture, focusing on a large cast of transgender female characters) as Elektra Wintour, a fierce and brutal trans woman and mother of various “Houses” of queer folk throughout the series.
I had personally never heard of the series before registering for the summit, but I was immediately taken by the conversation — not by the names and episodes referenced, but by the intimate connection to personal experiences that everyone began to reveal, things that many people of oppressed gender identity understand and recall. One participant broke down while discussing one character’s tragic arc, and we all looked on in support of the sheer emotion bared to us, companions in the queer kingdom. I asked how much of the show I should watch before writing this article; I was told the first episode would be enough to hook me in.
So I watched the first episode before the GEJS panel at 3 p.m., and needless to say, I was crying at the hard-to-watch depictions of violence against queer people and discussions of trans people abandoned by their families, and I was snapping and cheering when those very same queer people showed up to the ball in bombastic style, winning all the awards, getting all the attention and affirmation they had been deprived of their entire lives. The pilot episode opens with the House of Abundance robbing a museum of its royal gowns and clothes and wearing them to the ball. I remembered that these strong trans and queer people have had everything taken from them at many points in their lives. Why not take everything back for themselves? Who are we to deprive them of the royal permission they were never given? And who are we to judge the crimes that people must commit to survive, to live as themselves, as they must? I heard Jackson herself express this sentiment at her presentation later in the day.
The activist panel came next. Little did I know, this would be the most impactful part of the summit for me. Elba Morales from Centro Legal de la Raza, Juniper Yun from the San Francisco Transgender District, Isabella Zizi from Idle Say No More/SF Bay, and Jenny Wun from AAPI Women Lead spoke at the panel, moderated by WCC intern Amelia Spring ’24. It became clear to me that these were the crucial leaders of the movements that are so essential in marginalized people’s lives, such as my own. Crucial discussions of roadblocks within activist communities — such as toxicity that manifests within personal lives but then stretches into harming other activists — and how to combat them followed, and when the panelists were asked what advice they would give to young activists wishing to lead, Zizi burst into tears upon relaying a mentor’s advice to her when she was younger: “Speak from the heart, and tell the truth.” I never thought this relatively pithy statement would drive me to tears, but it did. The emergence of a generation that wishes to tell the truth and speak from the heart: I have yet to be optimistic about such a populace taking the streets back anytime soon, but Zizi gave me some more hope.
Then, Jackson spoke at 5 p.m., with event organizer Jung as interlocutor. As I heard Jackson’s life story told to me in hand waves, dramatic gesticulations and heavy snaps, I felt the event culminate in my mind into a frenzy of emotion. “Giving up is easy, but selling yourself short has consequences, too,” Jackson told Jung in a serious half-frown. I will never sell myself short again. I could barely compose myself as she told us of an unwavering confidence and willingness to never sell herself short, to never accept dictums and aphorisms from white malehood that instructed her to stay silent and perish. I will never forget the once and future queen of trans royalty, the very best gift that we could ask for, the symbol of our own resilience, the charismatic, beautiful and badass Dominique Jackson.