The Limits of Language

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.