A few weeks back I was honored with the opportunity to attend the first annual Cincinnati Pride Awards ceremony as a plus one to a trans friend who was receiving an award that night. He and I talked on the phone earlier that day before to discuss schedules, and the formal dress code noted on the invitation amongst other topics. My friend picked me up and we arrived at the Contemporary Arts Center thirty minutes late but we missed nothing, everyone was still in cocktail hour and the program was running a few minutes behind. We stepped off of the elevator, him in a fancy three piece suit and bow tie, me in a floor length black mermaid gown and pearl necklace. When the doors opened we were both taken aback. In front of us was a room full of people, some in basic cocktail attire, some looking as if they just stepped out of the office from work and others simply feeling relaxed in their jeans. Feeling over dressed and maneuvering through the room in the ten layers of tulle I was wearing I took my seat as the room prepped for dinner opened up and ended the cocktail hour.
I saw a familiar face who came and took a seat next to me. She is also a queer identified black woman who was invited as a plus one by another guest. We were the only two black faces during the entire evening which prompted me to post a picture with the caption “Glad to be black at this all white party”
The evening went on with dinner and as conversations took place one of the major chair persons, a wealthy cis gay white man, made his rounds greeting guests and making small talk while avoiding our table, which consisted of the black trans woman, the queer black woman, the working class white trans man, and the retired white trans woman.
As the ceremony began as a black trans woman I could feel the privilege and ignorance of lives that weren’t their own. It was suffocating to a point where I almost wanted to roar in laughter.
Fortunately there were about four awardees who were trans identified, unfortunately none of them were black. There were comments about sex workers made that everyone in the room seemed to find uncontrollably hilarious with the exception of our table.
After the ceremony I tried to be satisfied and bask in the glory of at least a few trans people being recognized, those feels of satisfaction quickly disappeared when the caterer as well as the dj and manager of the venue received awards as a “thank you” for their help with the ceremony. Who gets awarded at an awards ceremony for helping with the awards ceremony they were hired to help with? Not to mention the chair person (the cis gay white man) who as in charge of choosing awardees also got an award! It completely invalidated the actual earned and well deserved awards that were given to people who have served their communities tirelessly for years, for those who have sacrificed their own personal gain and financial stability to provide resources and services to the LGBTQ community.
In spite of the clear lack of racial and social awareness of the event I walked away from the evening thankful. Thankful for the free dinner, thankful for the time spent with a friend and thankful it was over. I was so taken aback by the night, I couldn’t believe how out of touch the LGBTQ community in my own city proved to be.
It’s not uncommon to find LGBTQ spaces dominated by wealthy cis gay white men, who believe that their oppression as a gay man is the measuring tool for all oppressed people; if they can make it so can you. It’s not that they are purposely excluding other identities of the LGBTQ community but often they just simply overlook these other identities. Because of their affluence of wealth and the cis white male identity they represent their paths will often never lead them to the same circles that trans women of color walk in, therefore those opposite identities are rarely understood or connected. I want to be clear in saying there is nothing wrong with the cis white male identity. If you happen to hold that identity be proud of who you are and embrace your identity as we all should, but it is also important to understand persons who do not hold these identities and specifically those whose identities are opposite of cis white men being trans women of color ( Black, Latino, Hispanic etc.) face a disproportionate number of challenges in everyday life. Our patriarchal history as a society has set cis white men as our leaders and subconsciously the majority of us contribute and feed into those ways of thinking which further induces those behaviors. Until we as a society educate ourselves on the varying intersectionalities that our unique individual identities hold we will continue to operate in a patriarchal cycle.
Putting yourself in to the shoes of the “sex workers” who were made fun of during the awards show lets take a moment to imagine that persons world. Envision yourself as the black trans woman who was shot in her face right here in our community just a few weeks before this awards ceremony. And let’s conjecture she was attacked while working, performing survival sex work. The only work which may have been available to her because in the state of Ohio it is legal not to be hired because of your gender identity. The only method of survival possibly available to her because her identity has exiled her from her family. Let’s presume somehow she was invited to this awards ceremony as someone’s plus one and her only method of survival, the actions that almost cost her life and left shattered pieces of bullet in her check were made fun of in her face. Her life and survival as a black trans female sex worker is the reason the room is filled with laughter by people who don’t hold or understand her identity and circumstances. Now close your eyes and imagine being this woman.
Excusing and promoting comments such as comments about sex workers are just as barbaric and hurtful as those who are against gay marriage because they say it will lead to the people wanting to marry animals and pets. If someone was to stand up at the same awards ceremony and jokingly say the government should rethink allowing gay people to adopt because we know they’re all a bit sexually perverted, every mouth in that room would’ve dropped and there would’ve been complete silence and disgust. So why is it okay to joke about someone’s form of survival?
My experience at the Cincinnati Pride awards was not surprising. It was entirely reflective of my interactions with Cincinnati and navigating the LGTBQ community as a trans woman of color. I am alone, almost alone, in a small clique that doesn’t represent the “projected image” of what the community is aiming for. I am a black face where they prefer white, which was reflected in the number of people of color invited. I am a working class trans woman where they preferred wealthy cis men which was also reflected in the identities invited. I wasn’t worthy of kindness and respect which was reflected in the lack of people who even took the time to speak and say hello and welcome (including those who organized the event). I am consistently out of the loop which was reflected in me being overdressed while the majority in unison seemed to be on the same page and comfortably clothed. And my identity is mocked which is reflected in the jokes made around sex work, something I’d considered doing for my own survival, but thankfully have not yet been pushed to that point.
That’s why I named this post the Queer Socialite Awards, because it seemed more about the self glorification of the wealthy gay community rather than the true meaning of Pride.
My community right here is fractured and dismantled. Where do I begin repairing and education my own city let alone the world?