... the other Black experience

INTERVIEW: A conversation with transgender actor Kingston Farady

Black lives matter. ALL black lives matter and it’s imperative that the discourse around justice include ALL black lives. Black queer lives matter. Black children. Black men. Black women. Black elders. Black disabled bodies. This inclusionary message is one Kingston Farady, an activist, among other things, believes in and wholeheartedly exercises through his outreach. Kingston and I chatted some weeks ago and boy did he speak some truths.

Andrea Dwyer, AFROPUNK Contributor

Andrea: So thanks for chatting. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the work you do?

Kingston: Absolutely. My name is Kingston Farady. I’m a writer, actor, transgender advocate and self-proclaimed Love Revolutionary. I’m based out of Oakland, California and recently played the role of Black in legendary queer director Cheryl Dunye’s short film, “Black is Blue.”

Andrea: What made you gravitate toward the name Kingston when you transitioned?

Kingston: My birth father was from Kingston, Jamaica. When I was young, he was actually incarcerated and deported, so I wanted to honor that part of my lineage.

Andrea: If we may get into your transitioning and coming out process a bit, what invaluable lesson did you learn during that entire process?

Kingston: There’s this pressure to package one’s trans* identity in a short amount of time. An unsaid rule of sorts, to figure out who you are, why you’re doing it [transitioning] and the truth of the matter is, it’s such a long process. I learned that I had to go slow. I had to allow space for learning the complexities of my identity, loving the complexities of my identity and confronting my own internalized phobias. Not only did I have to give myself time to discover my own identity, but I had to allow room for my friends, family and community to transition alongside me. They had to confront their own learning curves and work through their fears and phobias too. Self discovery is a lifelong process and everybody has to figure that out for themselves, whether trans* or cis gender.

Andrea: And what were some of those internalized phobias you had to overcome?

Kingston: One of the biggest ones was my own transphobia. A two-fold fear, really. Both having to do with the fear of coming out and being visible, first asking—who is going to love me now? I’m trans*. I mean in hindsight, what a sad thing to think! Then there’s the security issue, and that’s so real because people continue to target trans* folks. Ultimately, I was afraid of my own identity; thinking there was something wrong with who I was. Recognizing those issues took a long time but I can honestly say I’m finally at a place where I’m very proud and love who I am completely. I can also say that I still have my moments where those insecurities come up.

Andrea: I want to touch on a something Mia Mckenzie, of Black Girl Dangerous said in a vlog. She talked about the fetishism of black trans* men and how black masculinity in our queer and trans* communities of color are often fetishized. Do you agree and have you had any experiences with that issue specifically?

Kingston: First, I respect Mia McKenzie’s work a lot, and wish I could have heard more of her thoughts on this topic. Personally, I don’t think we can quite say that black trans* men are fetishized within either community. Fetishizing is about a desire that stems from some form of visibility. So, I hesitate to accept that opinion because it overlooks the fact that black trans* men are often invisible within both communities. There’s an ingrained misogyny that promotes the visibility (and therefore, desire) of masculinity in general, and the fetishization of black masculinity in particular; but the lens doesn’t capture black trans* men. At least, not in function.

It’s interesting, I was actually just reading Bell Hooks’ critique [] of Ellis Cose’s book, “The Envy of The World,” where Hooks dissects Cose’s atrocious claim that black masculinity is envied by all. Hooks poses the question of whether that is truly love, and ultimately concludes that it’s not. She essentially says that though seductive in its use of the word love, what’s really being described is desire, or the fetishization of black masculinity. So yes, I agree a similar fetishism of black masculinity extends into the queer and trans* community. However, due to transphobia within the queer community and racism within the trans* community, black trans* men often go unseen. This invisibility doesn’t allow for the objectification of our bodies in terms of desire. The objectification is more often a repudiation of our identity.

Andrea: Let’s talk about that. How are black transmen erased in queer spaces?

Kingston: Black trans* men are overshadowed, and therefore erased, by the visibility of white trans* men within the trans* community and the binary gender structure that exists within the queer community. Even as gender fluidity becomes more embraced within the queer community, black trans* men continue to be rejected. This is actually one of the reasons why Cheryl Dunye decided to create “Black is Blue.” She observed a major gap in the representation of black trans* men by black trans* men within both independent and mainstream media. She also wanted to learn more about our plight, because it wasn’t being discussed. I think the last major black trans* masculine specific film was Still Black, by Kortney Ziegler [].

Andrea: And a valid way to combat this erasure in general is through media and other forms of visual images.

Kingston: Absolutely. Visual images are how our culture begin to recognize different identities and if that image isn’t there, then that identity or marginalized group goes unrecognized.

Andrea: In what ways can we engage with the trans* community?

Kingston: There are so many ways. I would say first, do the work to understand what trans* identity is. Learn the basics like—the importance of pronouns and the spectrum of trans* identities. Next be inclusive and stop policing bodies. Particularly within the queer community — where even I’ve been refused entrance to public events under the misconception that I’m a straight black cis man. Integrate trans* people into larger liberation movements [LGBT and otherwise]. Especially now, as #BlackLivesMatter advances, we must include the voices and experiences of black trans* women and men. Make sure we’re on your panels and at the forefront of organizations alongside you. Not tokenized, but integrated. Many don’t realize that the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter itself was created by three black queer women, after the Trayvon Martin case []. Of whom have been reaching out to trans* organizations throughout this movement. Like us, they’ve been erased by many media outlets. Ultimately though, I say we do some collective and self evaluating—it’s time to clear out the assumptions, judgements, and criticisms we hold towards people who aren’t like us.

Andrea: I’ve touched on the issue of privilege and privilege checking somewhat before. It’s really easy to get caught up in your own privilege. How do we check that privilege?

Kingston: That’s a hard one, but it’s about being honest with oneself and responsible for what we have. I always start by looking at myself first, and asking, who am I in this moment? It’s always easy for us to check other people’s privilege—call them out and read them. But when it comes to our own, we excuse it. Mainly because we harbor shame, fear abandonment and betrayal; which are legitimate wounds, but ones that we need to overcome if we want to be as mindful and advanced as we claim. For me, being read as a cis man within a patriarchal society automatically assigns me with a certain type of privilege. I have to be cognizant of my advantages, and even more aware of the ways misogyny dictates many social environments.

With that, you have to then be an outspoken ally, but more importantly, take the steps necessary to undue that oppression. I was once told a story about this white woman who considered herself a black ally and was an outspoken proponent of reparations. She had this theory that reparations should be paid from the inheritances that white people receive from generation-to-generation. She discussed how inheritances maintain the racially biased economy. Then she unexpectedly received a large inheritance, and her truth tested. She ultimately gave away her entire inheritance. I don’t want to applaud her for giving back what was made on the backs of black people, but I use this example to illustrate how a single person can resist and affect the system.

Andrea: Even with improved visibility, violence against trans* bodies, particularly trans* women of color continues to be a problem. Why do you think acts of violence in the trans* community remain so under reported by the mainstream media?

Kingston: Because our lives don’t matter to mainstream media; that’s really it. Mainstream media directs their information to a very specific audience, right, which is mostly middle-class white America. And to today’s middle-class and white America, the lives of black and brown people, trans* and otherwise aren’t a priority within their realm of things that are important. Whether we live or die doesn’t impact their day to day lives; it’s just not on their radar nor does it have to be. That’s their privilege. And the violence against us, particularly trans* women of color will remain underreported until we are recognized as humans.

Andrea: I had the chance to attend a Lamda Legal event (Trans* Day of Resilience) in Atlanta that you were involved in some weeks back. Tell us why a day like Transgender Day of Remembrance is so important?

Kingston: Sure. TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance) has been recognized around the country because of anti-transgender hate. It’s a moment where the trans* community brings awareness to those valuable lives that have been lost to violence. It’s important for three different reasons: first, it’s simply to honor those people who have been lost due to anti-trans* hatred—to honor their lives, their resilience. Second, it provides a platform for trans* people to commune—come together, recognize, and love each other. Third, visibility. The remembrance day was started in ‘98 and it’s now a nationally recognized event. Even though there isn’t a complete cultural shift in attitudes towards transgender people, it’s still nationally recognized and that’s important.

Andrea: Trans* visibility has increased tremendously, thanks to a lot of brave folks like yourself doing work around education and activism but of course there are still more folks to educate and more work that needs to be done. Where would you like to see the movement five, ten years from now?

Kingston: Even looking at TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance) five, ten years from now, I hope that we’re not having a day that remembers the heinous murders of people because of hatred for their identity. I hope that TDOR becomes TDOC, a Trans* Day of Celebration. I also look forward to a complete ideological shift globally. We’re seeing some policy change in trans* healthcare, anti-hate crime laws are being expanded throughout different states and we’re also witnessing some fierce representations in mainstream media (like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox) and these are great strides. However, policy change and mainstream recognition are only good if the culture and ideology shifts alongside it. Ultimately, I hope to see trans* people humanized within our world moving forward.

Andrea: Without giving away too much, tell us about the film “Black is Blue.”

Kingston: Of course. “Black is Blue” is a short film directed by legendary filmmaker Cheryl Dunye, produced by academy award nominated producer Marc Smolowitz. It’s a short narrative that tells the story of a transgender male name Black, who works as a security guard in Oakland, California. There’s this underlying story, a tragic love story of sorts that’s playing out as well. The film looks at a few of the issues that the trans community experiences when it comes to discrimination.

Andrea: What was the filmmaking process like?

Kingston: It was awesome [laughs]. It was also hard and scary. Mainly because there’s a tendency for dominant culture to look at a single person as a representative of an entire subjugated community. So for me, there was this internal conversation of wanting to cover everything, to be perfect, because I knew that there would be critiques. I remember having to remind myself that there isn’t one trans* story, and this trans* story is just as important to the collective narrative as any other. I also had reservations around making myself so visible. Those deeply ingrained narratives surrounding security and safety definitely surfaced. I had to process through this overarching question of what it meant for me as a black transgender man to put myself out there as a black transgender man bringing visibility to black transgender men. Ah! You wonder how you’ll be perceived and what kind of backlash will result from being visible. Will colleagues at work find out and treat me differently? Will my family be negatively impacted? Am I going to become a target? All of those issues were very real for me.

On the flip-side, it was incredibly inspiring to work with Cheryl Dunye (Watermelon Woman, The Owls). She’s such a creative mind, just an awesome person in general. Being able to witness her artistic process so closely transformed my own process into something much greater. Plus, I felt comfortable with Cheryl. She is someone who has been around for a long time; she really addresses a lot of stigmatized issues in her films that tend to be overlooked by the mainstream. Her brilliance lies in the way in which she addresses these issues. She does it with such finesse. Never exploitive; so just seeing her do that was phenomenal. On top of that she allowed me a space to integrate my firsthand knowledge of the trans* experience on set around her script and writing. She was so open in the collaborative process and open to my ideas and I really appreciated that. Looking back I realize I had one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

Andrea: And the project was funded through a Kickstarter right?

Kingston: Yeah, we raised $15,000. Everything was so community based. The production crew—that was volunteer based, even the equipment we received was donated. It was really special to see people rally around and support an issue that is so often overlooked and erased.

Andrea: In the film, the character you play says: “People always look at me with suspicion, like I’m gonna hurt them, like I’m gonna do something wrong.” As a cis presenting black man, is this part of your day to day reality?

Kingston: Yeah, it was such a shock. Well it [being feared as a black man] was something I understood intellectually but to walk in those shoes was confusing, sad, and infuriating. Suddenly, people jumped if they weren’t paying attention and walked up on me too closely. I’ve had women actually scream as if I had hurt them. If you’re a black man in this country, it’s a daily reality to be viewed as a threat and experience hostility. And, you’re not even just a threat to white America but you’re a threat to everybody, even people that look like you. And that’s not only sad and hard but it’s isolating. I’ve spoken with so many other black men (trans* and cis) and the emotional isolation is so prevalent. I speak of this reality as the nuances of discrimination, that subtle prejudice, which is actually something “Black is Blue” communicates very well throughout the film. But yes, that’s very much part of my reality now.

Andrea: They are killing black bodies left and right in the streets. But this is unfortunately nothing new. What are your thoughts on the recent unjust events, specifically not indicting former officer Darren Wilson as well as the officer who killed Eric Garner.

Kingston: Black lives are systemically and intentionally targeted for termination. As jarring and heinous as the recent events are, they sadly, aren’t new. The recent events are, however, catalysts for a new time. I believe that. There has been a global transformation occurring, and the recent failures to indict officers of the peace who murdered civilians have taken this shift to a new level. There’s an immediacy in the air, and people are waking up, moving. I find myself returning to MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail [].” In that he talks about the importance of action. And right now, we’re seeing that action. I always want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the causes. That shift in perspective is how oppressive systems tend to distract people from the actual issues at hand.

Andrea: The institutionalized racism. The policies that need to be changed and implemented.

Kingston: Exactly. Right now we’re in this place where our communities can’t be quiet, they can’t be submissive and that’s what we’re seeing people out there doing. People are shutting down business as usual, creating images, writing, discussing, fundraising, throwing events, praying. People are putting pressure on so that this oppressive system has no choice but to begin to take legitimate steps towards change.

Andrea: You’ve stated that writing is your first passion. When did you realize you had that gift and who are some of your favorite writers?

Kingston: I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I can remember writing poetry at eight, maybe nine years old. I was born in a small town near Boston called Lowell. As not only a black person, but as a black queer person and then also as a biracial person, a person who was a part of the foster care system, and adopted out of that system, then losing my adopted mom to cancer, there are just so many intersecting identities that I hold that left me isolated as a child. Writing was always one of those places that helped to keep me grounded. It helped to keep me sane. It was a way to have a conversation about the things I was experiencing when there was no person to have those conversations with...It [writing] has been much like a companion that’s kept me company all my life.

My favorite writer is Maya Angelou. That’s an easy one [laughs]. She was someone I wanted to meet so bad and I’m very sad we lost her but I’m so thankful she blessed us with everything she left through her work. There were so many times when her words comforted me. She could always explain things to me, hard things, in a way that made them acceptable. The first book I read of hers was I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings. I also really love Letter to My Daughter, so much truth in that book, a collection of little gems. I lost the mother who raised me from breast cancer when I was twenty-two, so that book allowed me to go to a place where I could connect to my mother in spirit through Maya’s words. She was able to evoke so much emotion through her writing, evoke spiritual connection. She was a gift.

Andrea: Tell us about the book, Divinity, that you’re currently working on.

Kingston: It’s my first novel. Fiction with nonfictional elements. Black sci-fi with hints of magical realism. Incredible characters that look and feel and sound like us. It explores a cataclysmic crash to the global economy — the result of a world war that breaks out in 2024. De jure segregation based on unimaginable identity markers have been mandated. Apocalyptic social conditions have ensued, and then there’s my protagonist, Liberty Rose, a black trans* man living amongst it all. Of course, Liberty embarks on a transformative journey and meets incredible people along the way. It’s nothing we can quite fathom, but it will absolutely feel eerily familiar.

Andrea: Do you have a date set for the release of the book?

Kingston: We’re hoping for 2016. I’m beginning to work with an organization and coach who will be guiding me towards getting this book picked-up and published.

Andrea: What’s on the agenda for other projects?

Kingston: The main project remains to be myself. That is, always working on how-to increase my health, consciousness, clarity, and drive to continue acting as a vehicle for change. For acting, I’m currently in negotiations with a company about an Off-Broadway play. And am still touring with “Black is Blue,” advocating on behalf of trans* people. However, I’m putting a lot of my focus right on completing my book, Divinity.

Thank you, Kingston!

For more on the Kingston go here.

* Andrea Dwyer is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She’s a writer at Superselected and you can follow her on Twitter @musingandrea.

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