When Sylvia Rivera, a “Boricua” (from the Arawak “Borinquen,” name for the island pre-colonization) “trans woman,” and Marsha P. Johnson, a “Black” (from the European caste system, signifying “nadir,” “most depraved”) “trans woman,” founded “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries” (or “STAR,” 1970), they took on a word now considered offensive. They were out all night at the bars, in the street, before some scholar coined the term “transgender,” and needed nothing bestowed on them to know what ought to be done and do it. (They would later inaugurate a makeshift shelter, infamously dropping an old refrigerator from the second story window on a murder of officers attempting to evict them.) This is to say we are each a new symbol, requiring (should we long for it) its own definition: To choose “Blackness” knowing “Blackness” was chosen to keep you quiet; To worship again that which was made profane for the very fact of its holiness; To get up, to dress oneself, walk outside, all without needing a name for any of it; To be subversion’s mascot long before being its lover; To inhabit futures in a bedroom of ghosts; To acknowledge language as another “border.” What is the word for “belonging to the land?” What is the word for “ancestor moving in my throat?” (To know what one is celebrating one must also know what one is mourning.) The sign for “everything not yet imagined?” Back teeth biting down on a tongue before it formed the phrase. (I share this with you because you are even now a part of it.) Lips curled into the sound for “world after this one.” What letter can stand in for a jail cell left open, empty and ringing as a speechless mouth?
Artist Statement: Edxie Betts and Benji Hart
Our collaboration began as a phone conversation during the solar eclipse, during which we discussed our shared areas of interest. The conversation wandered from trans history to police and prison abolition, with Edxie dropping much of the one-liners that would later form Benji’s poem. Edxie then drew on lines and images from the poem to inspire their poster. The central theme that ended up tying together both pieces was the limits of language--trans people naming themselves with the tools at their disposal, while simultaneously inhabiting a world beyond this one, both imagining and actively living out alternatives to our current reality. We imagined trans liberation as tied to a world without incarceration and violence, a world for which there is not yet a name, but that we see trans people as instrumental in constructing.