WASHINGTON, July 20, 2014 — As a child I watched curiously as my mother and her sisters got their hair done, words of wisdom and gossip buzzed over my head. Women emerged proudly from their chairs greeted with smiles by their “sisters” for how well they looked now that their hair was freshly styled.
This place, called a hair salon, was a safe space, and if you looked closely, you saw that the power of women was the dominant norm. I remember seeing black women with all different hair types. As time changed, the hairstyles they celebrated changed as well, straight hair, wavy hair, tight curls, loose curls, an Afro, a buzz cut all became styles I saw at one time or another on someone in my family.
I also remember sitting at home and seeing my mother gather the hot combs and do my niece’s hair as she giggled chatting with my sister and me about one thing or another. I thought to myself, this is a ritual, this is a ceremony, a rite of passage that some day, I wanted to experience.
Recently, I was given that experience. I sat at my sisters feet as she braided my hair and my sister, my mama and I spoke about family business and how exciting it was. I nearly wept realizing this was a ritual of affirmation not only for myself but for those who bore witness. This, in their eyes, was a part of the makings of what it meant to be a woman.
Recently, I read a few articles that discusses Trans Folk and Transition. One misconception and obsession by non-trans people is this invasive and sensationalist question of Transition and surgery. There is a group of people, some who call themselves health care professionals, who denounce trans reality and the idea of bodily transition. They discuss the minds of trans people like a modern phenomena and call it a sickness despite the fact that language has purposefully been changed regarding trans people because western modern medicine itself has yet to understand the realities of gender and sexuality.
Trans people have always existed and our ancestors created ceremonies around celebrating and affirming trans roles and identity within the psyche of the trans person, the culture of the society and the religions of the culture. As long as we have had tranness, we have had transition.
When we did not have surgery or hormones or therapist attempting to use western science to explain our own minds to us, we had ceremony and ritual; we had physical manifestations of psychological realities, and the acceptance came from not just the trans person’s inner life but by society.
We in a modern context have so many rituals and ceremonies. Some of them we think of as mundane, but all become tools in how we condition our children and in turn the participation in or exclusive from a mundane activity becomes a ritualization of affirmation to the adult we attempt to craft.
A feminine binary trans girl who wishes her feminine womanhood to be affirmed may benefit from a “ritual of the hair” in which she is taken to the salon and able to get her hair washed and blow dried and braided while absorbing the company of other women. And like them, when she rises from the chair, she is celebrated for her beauty.
Another mundane activity that can also be seen as a ritual of affirmation is correct pronoun usage. Although more akin to a mantra and not only for the benefit of the trans individual, understanding correct pronoun usage as a ritualized, thought out way of interacting can create direct lines of affirmation which empowers the entire psychology of the community and teaches the way misgendering has been used historical to harm trans people.
When I began looking at the practices of our ancestors that surrounded transition, defined as the spiritual and physical process of a trans person affirming their true gender, there were rituals not only within what we would call spiritual temples, circles or “houses” but also rituals done with the communities. Many of these rituals over time would have faded if it had not been for the written word. We have proof of things like cuneiform from the Sumerian period that confirms trans identity existed and was celebrated historically in spaces of the world we now know as hot spot for anti-trans violence. Even in America, we have a history of some two spirits who would in fact be considered trans persons within a modern context.
Recently, I read an article by a doctor at Johns Hopkins who denounced our celebration for the right to have gender confirmation surgery and I scoffed at it. He was writing for an audience that had no ability to understand anything other than identifying with sex they were assigned at birth, or cisgender. This white male, closed perspective is responsible for colonization which in turn was responsible for slavery and the continued oppression of marginalized people around the world. This perspective is the same thing that inspired European colonist to disrespect Native Americans, beat them, steal their land and attempt an indoctrination of European standards of “truth”. This same perspective is what made European colonist take Trans Native American women, beat them and force them to wear the clothes of the assigned gender given to them by their European Colonizers. This same perspective creates a society that takes away the rituals, spiritual practices and affirmations which communities use to celebrate one another and replaces it with an image of a God that respresents, dictates and affirms the colonizers way of life then leave the colonized in a constant battle against ruin and erasure.
Transition looks different to all Trans people. I am a binary trans woman of color; and my transition looks to me that way I choose it to. Transness is about living your truth and deconstructing the colonizers power of telling all of us we must be who they say we are.
For some trans people going through surgery marks the end of their transition. For others, there is no end. There is a constant flux and flood of self-identity.
I celebrate everyone’s choice of transition because I do not see transition as simply something trans people must do to feel comfortable; I see it as a set of rites of passages to get a trans person to embrace the totality of their truth and that begins the minute they acknowledge who they are internally.
I see Transition as a tradition I am in. I see the mundane as magical and I see the crafting of any surgery as a ceremony and all of these is in alignment with the barest essential of the greatest truth which is I determine who I am. And I can choose which rites of passage to participate in that are fit for me because I am a trans woman with a long history of indigenous truth and I will no longer allow colonization to erase the magic in every act of affirmation no matter how mundane it may seem.