This year’s Mother’s Day and Transgender Day of Visibility falling on the same Sunday will be particularly poignant for Jessica Chantae Stough, whose daughter Kelly Stough was murdered in Detroit, just before Christmas last year. A 46-year-old preacher is currently on trial after having been charged with her murder. Jessica in an interview with NBC News said:
“I want people to know, that because she was a transgender woman, doesn’t mean she was not loved, that she was not cared for. She has a family who care about her, who loved her and I want them to know that transgender ladies – expressly those of colour – they’re not just throwaways, people care about them.”
I miss my mother. I called her “mummy” until the end. Dementia snatched her mind in the night, shaving away her personality, as if her brain were cheese to be sliced, for some ravenous night fairy, who fed on her dreams.
My defiance, coming out as queer at the age of 17, ruptured our relationship, but not irrevocably. I became homeless necessarily, and met my first trans girlfriends in a West London hostel. I fought for my A-levels at my second home, Camden School for Girls Sixth Form.
With Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin as my guardian angels, it was no surprise that I spirited away to Paris with the dizzily zealous ambition to become both bohemian and literary. The allure wore off as my money dwindled.
London welcomed me back to her steamy bosom at the teet of the old Waterloo Eurostar terminal. A black cab carried me up to my mate’s house in Muswell Hill. I jumped out to go to the cash point just before we got to our final destination. There, on the broadway, who should I bump into, but my mum ferrying a large bag of donations to the charity shop from the boot of our sky blue Nissan Cherry. The same colour as my nails today. Perhaps that’s coincidental.
On that sunny January afternoon, she stood there in wide-eyed surprise. Neither of us could have imagined that our estrangement could create a circumstance where I was “bumping into” my mum so randomly. She had nurtured me into a shaky adulthood as delicate as stork’s legs. I had flown in order to bloom. I had returned colourful, knowledgable and traumatised, but ready to love her in a more open and mature way.
Dementia wrenched us into a cruel role reversal less than a decade later. I flossed her teeth and put her socks on for her, as she had done for me as a child. I lay down on her bed to read beside her. I cried for all that “should have been”, the dreams deferred and all that love had come to mean. She caressed my Afro, told me I was “very pretty” and that “It’s all gonna be ok…”
I shan’t see my mother again. She gets round the clock care in Zimbabwe, and is surrounded by the love of my father’s family. I’m too visible as a transsexual woman to visit Zimbabwe, the birthplace of my Father, or her birthplace in Jamaica, safely. My visibility required that sacrifice.
You ask “Has it been worth it?” I can’t offer you a simple answer. What I can tell you is that my mother was with me this week when I sat on a panel at a Black Girls Book Club event at the Penguin Pop Up in Shoreditch, discussing the novella “Passing” by Nella Larsen. I felt her as we laughed raucously at the pop cultural references we wove into our discourse. I felt her as I became tearful with gratitude, because the women there made me feel safe enough to be vulnerable. What I can tell you is that my mother modelled what loving solidarity with black women felt and looked like. I feel that same loving solidarity in the Gal Dem reading group I belong to. I can tell you that the literature of black women writers sustains my soul in the onslaught of disgusting attacks that seek to splatter me with hate on a daily basis.
When trolls want to dehumanise me and my trans sisters they call us “it”. I think they might feel that because we don’t conform to what they deem as a natural way of being that we are not quite as human as they are. In order to fulfil our reproductive role as citizens and humans the absence of masculinity in our feminine bodies for them is an aberration. On the assembly line of their human factory, our difference is perceived as gravely defective. However, we are not objects, products or robots. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience. As trans women we are committed to manifesting the divine feminine. Our agenda is a spiritual one. The world is actually gasping for #girlslikeus. The radical nature of maternal energy is evident in the families we create when we survive the destruction of the bonds with the families we are born into.
In Pose, a drama about the black latinx queer trans ballroom scene in ’80s New York, currently being screened on BBC2; mothers like Blanca Evangelista and Pray Tell command us to “RISE UP! TRIUMPH!” I am most definitely thriving and living my best life triumphantly in spite of the dangers associated with my visibility. As a motherless child my grief waxes and wanes from dull to acute and back again. Nevertheless, I know I am loved, for I am and always will be, my mother’s child.