All Trans People Are Legends: Roundtable with Marquise Vilsón Balenciaga, Chase Strangio, Ianne Fields Stewart, Joela Rivera and Ceyenne Doroshow
For Trans Week of Awareness, we spoke to five activists and leaders about how they're spending Transgender Day of Remembrance, what music or audiobooks are on repeat, and how allies can better support trans people.
These last couple months of the year always seem to rush by, but this week we are slowing down to celebrate and remember the beautiful trans people who are here and who have passed. For Transgender Week of Awareness, we spoke to five activists and leaders who've fought tooth and nail to stay here and to advocate for us all. As much as we honor those who we've lost to violence we must also recognize, uplift, and give the mic to those who are still with us today. If we aren't celebrating for ourselves, how the hell is the rest of society going to celebrate us?
Ceyenne Doroshow, founder of G.L.I.T.S. made history when she purchased a $2 million 12-unit residential building in Queens, NY last year, making her the first Black trans woman to own and run a housing complex in New York City. Chase Strangio is a lawyer working for the ACLU who continues to win landmark cases against right-wing politicians who are hell-bent on taking away the rights of transgender people. Ianne Fields Steward and Joela Rivera have been on the ground at the frontline of protests advocating for the dignity that we deserve as a community. And Marquise Vilsón Balenciaga, a storyteller like Joel, has used his platform as an actor to bring awareness to the lives of trans people in society outside of tropes and tokenized characters.
We asked these folks about who they admire, what brings them joy, and how they're celebrating Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Q: Who is a trans legend or icon that you look up to and admire?
Marquise: There are a few trans legends/icons whom I admire: Trace Africa Norman, Louis Mitchell, Kylar Broadus, Janet Mock, and Yance Ford.
Chase: In some ways, I think all trans people are legends because we dare to disrupt the foundational assumptions about how people can and should occupy our bodies and space. Among the iconic trans people, I look up to and admire so many people. I think about how Pauli Murray shaped my life and work, how Tourmaline has supported me personally over the past decade, how Miss Major has been a force for inspiration in my life, how all of the trans youth that I work with have shown me the power of self-assurance in the face of systemic violence.
Joela: A trans legend or icon that I look up to and admire would be my close friend Jordan. Jordan is an amazing representation that transness is way more than just the binary. They have taught me that there is not one trans experience and that we need to understand what makes us Trans is not a look but who we are.
Ceyenne: One Black trans famous icon that I look up to and admire is Ms. Major and the second is Sharyon Grayson. I thank them for their stern mentoring that kept my focus on teaching—what those two ladies taught me made me who I am today.
Q: What brings you joy?
Marquise: In this moment, being able to bare witness to the journey for TGNCNB communities and myself over the last two + decades brings me joy, not just in media/pop culture but also in society at large. The way this generation of queer bodies takes up space makes me proud, especially those that are BIPOC.
Chase: I find joy in the small moments of quiet when I remember how much goodness there is around me even when things feel incredibly bleak. My kid, my kitten, my community all bring me incredible amounts of joy. So does bad television.
Ianne: 1. Black Trans people. 2. Sickening art. 3. Love. In that order.
Joela: My family, my friends, my people, my culture, trans spaces, and tearing down the system every day.
Ceyenne: What brings me joy is the feeling of being held and supported by the people who really care about me. Honesty brings me joy. Another black trans girl getting a college degree brings me joy. Our community having equity brings me joy.
Q: Where is a place that holds special meaning to you?
Marquise: The Village/Christopher Street. This place is a reminder of not only my childhood but of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. The Village is a place I like to visit often because it simply feels good to my spirit.
Chase: One place that holds special meaning to me is the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park. It was one of Flawless Sabrina’s favorite places to visit and sometimes I still go there to connect with her when I am feeling lost. One day about a year before she died, Zackary Drucker, Diana Tourjee, and I helped Flawless out of her apartment and brought her to the sculpture for one last visit and we all cuddled together and felt the love of our trans family.
Ianne: The Cahaba River. Growing up in the south, I was a bit of a tomboy and much of my childhood was spent on the banks of the Cahaba River. Whether I was canoeing, swimming, or just playing around in the woods, I was always at home in nature and in those waters. For all the fire I have in my chart, it’s shocking how at peace I am in water.
Joela: The Bronx, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico.
Ceyenne: One place that holds a special meaning to me is my building I recently purchased for the community. It holds a special meaning to me because it allows me to give other leaders the access that I desperately needed back then. However, now that I have access, I want to give back and allow others to live in a safe community, where they could go out without fearing someone is going to break in. The building is also very close to one of the state parks in NY which gives off an aura of self-care.
Q: What’s on repeat in your headphones (podcast, audiobook, album, song, etc.)?
Marquise: Motivational videos/words and music. I listen to Les Brown, Jay-Z, Nipsey Hustle (R.I.P.), Eric Adams, Steve Harvey, really anyone who's stories share similarities with mine. Stories of people who have made it from the ground up, with no access, no privilege, no education, just sheer belief in themselves. Being an active participant in my life hasn’t always been easy and sometimes a little motivation can go a long way. As an example, when I listen to Jay-Z’s videos/words/songs, I am reminded of the power that is in me, no matter where I come from or what I’ve walked through. Hearing the testimonies of others can really inspire a person and propel them forward. It’s definitely helped me.
Chase: Right now Alabama Shakes’ "Sound & Color" is on repeat.
Ianne: I'm listening to Heux Tales by Jazmine Sullivan, “She Got It” by Jai’Len Josey, “Relocate” by Durand Bernarr, and “Goin Up Yonder” by Walter Hawkins (for balance).
Joela: The album I've got on repeat is The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I'm reading "Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture" by Angela Davis, "We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom" by Bettina L. Love, and "Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition" by Ruth Wilson Gilmore. "Gangsta’s Paradise" by Coolio.
Ceyenne: What’s always on repeat on my headphones is "I Shall Wear a Crown" by Yolanda DeBerry.
Q: What is a piece of advice that you have for how to practice self-care on TDOR?
Marquise: Listen to yourself. Some years, I’ve gone to vigils, and others, I’ve silently cried at home. There’s no one way to take care of yourself, so I simply listen to how I’m feeling in order to determine what I need.
Chase: I am not ever really sure that I understand how to think about self-care especially since it can become such an overused framework that I fear it loses meaning. And of course space for “care” and “safety” are not always available. I am learning how to call upon my community for support and to think about new ways of slowing down and breathing. It feels like a lifelong practice that I am only just beginning to understand at almost 40.
Ianne: For trans people: as best as you can, try not to carry the weight of the world and all of our losses on your spirit. I understand how deep the grief runs and how difficult it can be to carry. Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself with the love and care those we have lost deserved. And when you are able, keep them hands ready for the fight. For everyone else: remember this is not your day to remember us. This is your day to know us so that we don’t have to be remembered. We can live and be known.
Joela: Be around your trans siblings and understand that even in immense pain it is still important to celebrate life, that’s how the healing begins.
Ceynne: Remember your ancestors. Do something for them on TDOR that inspires and encourages someone else to live safely peacefully within the rounds of identity and self-approval.
Q: How do you spend TDOR?
Marquise: This year, I chose to be alone, reflect and send out an offering to my transcestors who are no longer here but with me in spirit. To them, I want to say thank you.
Chase: Truthfully, I usually spend the day working. I try to remember trans loss and resilience every day as a general practice. On this TDOR I hope to really ground myself in community and hold space for all of the people we have lost due to both interpersonal violence and systemic violence.
Ianne: In service.
Joela: Now I spend my TDOR holding actions, memorials, and celebratory balls to commemorate our siblings' lives and continue to uplift our TRANScestors.
Q: What is one learning you want allies to walk away with this week for how they can support trans people?
Marquise: That allyship is highly performative and what TGNCNB folks could truly benefit from is having “accomplices” and/or “co-conspirators”. Making donations and posting actions is fine and well AND so is actively seeking out and hiring TGNCNB community members, naming transphobia in cis spaces, challenging schools around the policies that directly impact and affect TGNCNB students every day, just to name a few ways support can be active rather than passive.
Chase: I hope allies walk away with the sense that allyship is a practice that requires daily work, engagement, and reflection. We are all implicated in systems and structures of gender and I hope that cis people continue to interrogate their role in building notions of gender that exert violence on and limit possibilities for all of us.
Joela: Kill the cop in your head. Lead with compassion and understanding. Comprehend that there’s no higher government or power that’s going to help us in these moments. WE KEEP US SAFE!
Ceyenne: I want people to walk away from this day learning about our losses and how to encourage their selves and their friends and their loved ones to donate, volunteer, and be a part of the solution, not the problem.