Christian Carmen Olivia Jane is the legal name I chose for myself. Four first names to fit the four very different personalities that make me who I am.
Jane is the preppy bougie white woman in me. This is the girl that wants to exist and be happy. Most people don’t see her in me because she’s the one who’s not necessarily supposed to be seen, but rather subtly felt. She’s sort of basic. She’s the one that keeps me qualified as normal to the rest of society. Jane is the Sex and the City girl who loves cosmos and rolls her eyes when people sit too close to her on the subway. Jane and Olivia are the ones who expect the car doors to be opened for them. Jane because she thinks she’s rich and opening the door for her should be common sense, and Olivia because she’s that bad.
Olivia is the “bad bitch” herself. The fixer. The get it done girl. The professional whose wardrobe is as enviable as her work ethic. This is the serious woman within me. The girl who wants it all and expects it all. She’s perhaps the most confident of the four girls. Kanye West taught her that confidence, because we all know nobody loves Kanye like Kanye. Beyoncé was talking about Olivia when she said, “She don’t got to give it up cause she’s professional.” She’s put together and knows how to save face. She’s the one that smiles and laughs when it feels like someone is ripping out her insides. Her presidential (sometimes fake) smile is what everyone recognizes about her. Though each woman has a defined sense of style visible to all around them, much of what I wear is influenced by her and Carmen. The famous Christian “strut,” “prance,” “runway walk” that makes everyone on the streets, in subways, in airports, and department stores stop and admiration was stolen from Olivia. A walk that sends sound waves across the room when her stiletto hits the ground with precision. Olivia is able to glide through a room so gracefully and with such confidence and power, it grants her respect. When people stop to compliment her walk or humorously ask for walking lessons, she’s always sort of taken aback because that walk was so ingrained into her identity she no longer notices it.
Carmen is the fiery flamboyant life of the party. Carmen is a bit stubborn. She’s humorous, beautiful, and sexy. She is also fairly confident (not as confident as Olivia, but close). My loud quirky uncontrolled laugh belongs to her. This is the girl who isn’t afraid to speak what’s on her mind and she’ll say pretty much anything to anyone. Much of what I wear is influenced by her and Olivia. She is the flirtatious one of the bunch and could be caught in curve hugging silhouettes that showed off her legs and hugged her butt. She dresses this way without even realizing it. Carmen is confident, perhaps delusionally confident. But, when you’ve had a life like mine, delusional confidence is the key to survival.
Christian is similar to a reincarnated real-life Carrie Bradshaw… but black, and trans, and a size 6 – not a 2. she’s a combination of Jane, Olivia, and Carmen. A little love sick, a bit stuck up, stubborn, and guarded. She’s afraid and fearless at the same. One of her theme songs is “Love Me” by Lil Wayne, because Carmen, Olivia, and Jane were everything she could ever ask for. “I don’t know what I would do without ya’ll. Imma ball til the day I fall, as long as my bitches love me.” She’s the most insecure and unsure of all of the girls. Christian is the only one that feels pain. She’s the messy, clumsy, off kilter combination of the other three girls. The most uncoordinated and hardest to define – which I guess makes her the most human.
Set to Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer,” I had this reoccurring dream; I’d wake up to the these four individual girls Christian, Carmen, Olivia and Jane, having the time of their lives driving down strip in Vegas. Las Vegas was a land of magic and wonder… A place where anything goes and secrets stayed secrets. It was the only place I’d ever fantasized about all four women together living their fullest selves – exactly who they were and wanted to be in their fullest existence. “Die for each other.” Their identities masked by the night, but thrived in the bright lights that lit the iconic skyline. These are the only moments where the imagery of each girl was clear to me. They were able to run free and be seen in the city of freedom and pleasure.
I used to wonder if I was a little mad. How could anyone who experienced what I’ve experienced at only twenty four not be a little mad or mentally unstable? It reminds me of a concept I learned in psychology back in college: Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID, as it is referred to for short, is a disorder characterized by the presence of multiple distinct personalities, two or more. The aspect of dissociation is thought to be a coping mechanism where a person literally dissociates themselves from a situation or experience far too violent traumatic or painful to assimilate with the conscious self. Being black, a woman, and transgender in today’s world is definitely violent, traumatic and painful. Is my subconscious trying to find a way to cope? Could I be a victim of this disorder?
I existed without a family who supported me or even attempted to understand me. I had no partner supporting me and a small friend circle that I was always unsure about. I never want to be in love because I have no interest in dealing with the feelings and emotions love brings. It’s hard to admit I fear people… it’s hard to admit I always want to be alone… because through “aloneness,” my feelings are reduced and I don’t have to deal with the impact of people. I was alone. I am alone. I was and am everything I have. I’d always been told that my being is the only thing I had control over – and I realize the truth in that statement. It’s maybe the reason I am so obsessed with my appearance and my personal physical transition, because when we are powerless we tend to get crazy with the things we do control.
My name was one piece of my identity that honored my personality(s) and my physical transition was another. Medical transition is such a vital piece of my personal journey – one that balances my mood by psychologically working like an antidepressant, but overtime producing physical results. During this time, everyone I ever loved left me. Everyone I ever needed left me. So I learned to exist by myself. Correction: I’m learning. I have yet completely perfected the craft, but I am well on my way. I lived through it all: “Every fear, every nightmare anyone has ever had” (Beyonce via Warsan Shire). I taught myself crying was foul. It was something reserved for weak bitches. “Suicide before you see these tears fall down my eyes… we gon’ be alright we gon’ live a good life” (Beyonce). I don’t have time to get lost in my feelings because I have to survive. I have to be bionic – something other than human, because this is the only way I’m able deal with things humans shouldn’t be subject to dealing with. I worked to translate the pain into anger, and the anger into productivity.
I’m sure that’s how my obsession with fashion came about through a need to distract and control and love. Through fashion, I was able to do all of those things. I fondly remember going into high end department stores alone and trying expensive designer looks. Flipping through pages of Vogue as a preteen listening to Gaga’s “Fashion” from the Confessions of Shopaholic soundtrack:
“I am, I’m too fabulous I’m so, fierce it’s so nuts I live, to be model thin dress me, I’m your mannequin,
J’adore, vivienne, haillez-moi, Gucci, Fendi et Prada valentino Armani too Merde, I love them Jimmy Choo
Fashion put it all on me, don’t you want to see these clothes on me, fashion I am anyone you want me to be”
It lifted my spirit. It set me free. It allowed me to escape the trauma temporarily, but none the less it was an escape. For those moments in which I allowed fashion to take over my life, I was whoever I wanted to be. Fashion was how I had control and kept balance and as I grew older I realized it was how I expressed and validated my gender. A validation I needed because the world worked to make sure it didn’t validate me.
Kanye was always there to coach me (or rather coach Carmen) in the field of confidence, providing me with songs and lyrics that touched my soul – because we all know Kanye is the guy to learn confidence from:
“Middle America packed in came to see me black skin” – my life as a black trans female activist (a quote I previously used in The Cis Jungle).
“This is that goon shit, fuck up ya whole afternoon shit” – how I feel whenever people finish reading my writing.
“It’s amazing I’m the reason everybody fired up this evening.
I’m exhausted, barely breathing, holding onto what I believe in.
No matter what you’ll never take that from me.
My reign is as far as your eyes can see.
I’m a monster, I’m a killer I’m know I’m wrong, yeah.
I’m a problem that’ll never ever be solved.
And no matter what you’ll never take that from me” – the fucked up song I played on repeat when I was 17 because the lyrics were my exact life at 17
“You see it’s leaders and its followers, but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” – When Olivia was power hungry (though she’s too professional to ever publicly quote something like this)
And probably my favorite:
“They said I was the abomination of Obama’s nation
That’s pretty bad way to start the conversation.
At the end of they day goddammit I’m killin this shit.
I know damn well ya’ll feelin this shit.
I don’t need your pussy bitch I’m on my own dick” – a literal word for word translation of how I feel. An unapologetic declaration of my transness, in gender, identity and physicality and confidence without need for validation.
As a senior in high school, I was obsessed with the Pussycat Dolls. Carmen loves the Pussycat Dolls, specifically their hit single “When I Grow Up.” The music video depicted a group of leggy bombshells in full burlesque walking down the streets of Hollywood, dancing on top of cars and climbing up construction structures to perform these elaborate dance numbers because, afterall, they were dancers. A whimsical, playful sound, an almost childish and cheery beat:
“Boys call you sexy and you don’t care what they say you see everytime you come around they be screaming yo name,
Now I’ve got a confession ha ha ha ha
When I was young I wanted attention ha ha ha ha
And I promised my self that I’d do anything ha ha ha ha
Anything at all for them to notice me ha ha ha ha
But I ain’t complaining
We all wanna be famous
So go ahead and say what you wanna say
You don’t know what it’s like to be nameless
Want em to know what your name is…….
Cause see when I was younger I would say
I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star, I wanna be in movies
When I grow up
I wanna see the world, drive nice cars, I wanna have groups
When I grow up
Be on tv, people know me, be in magazines
When I grow up
Fresh and clean, number one chick when I step out on the scene”
Indulge me for a while and picture it with me; my name in lights: CHRISTIAN CARMEN OLIVIA JANE. You walk past newsstands and there I am on the cover of multiple magazines. My name on billboards, buses, benches, Christian Carmen Olivia Jane is all you see. My PR team celebrating with me singing, “Cause the whole world loves it when you don’t get down… and the whole world loves it when you’re in the news…” (Outkast). It sounds like narcissism, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as almost a sort of reparations for such a traumatic and undeserving past. I lived through the hurt the pain the misfortune and this is the way for the universe to balance everything out. The reality was I living.
One friend always made fun of me, reminded, and sometimes shamed me for referring to the relationship between me and my onlookers as a celebrity and the paparazzi. While a certain level of vanity perhaps did play into that response, it was a way I managed to cope with being objectified, gawked at, and in some cases chased down in admiration. It was a humorous reminder of those memes you see on social media “me” (always someone fabulous doing something fabulous) and “you” (always some laborer, peasant, foolish, or desperate looking person).I fondly remember dancing around my apartment in my most fabulous dress to gaga singing “A-P-P-L-A-U-S-E”
“Give me that feeling that I love, I’ll turn the lights out put your hands together make ‘em touch touch, I live for the applause applause applause I live for the applause-plause live for the applause-plause live for the way that you cheer and scream for me live for the applause applause applause.”
I tried to channel myself in this place of fame and fortune. The reality was I am living for the applause, the thought of millions of people chanting my name, the fame the clothes, my suite in the plaza hotel I called home, it is what gives me the energy to continue on. The fantasy aids me.
I used to say I am becoming the woman I always wanted to be. But I was wrong. I am becoming the person I always wanted to be – beyond my womanhood, beyond my blackness, beyond my queerness. I am growing in mind and body and, while I would never have had the courage to wish some of the lessons I have learned on myself, I am able to recognize like Kanye “that don’t kill me can only make me stronger.” I don’t know what the final chapter is because I am hoping this is not all life has to offer me. When people asked me “How do you do it all?”, for years I didn’t know the answer – simply because I didn’t have the luxury of taking time to ponder how I managed to do it all. But after demanding and allowing time for myself to understand and reflect on whom I am today, I know with certainty the only way I am able to do it all is with Christian, Carmen, Olivia, and Jane.
“It’s just me myself and I solo ride until I die cause I got me for life. I don’t need a hand to hold even when that night is cold I’ve got that fire in my soul. I don’t need anything to get me through the night cause that beat that’s in my heart yeah it’s keepin me alive. I don’t need anything to make me satisfied cause the music does me good and it gets me every time, my heart is too cold to break” (G- Eazy)