The first time I arrived at Trans Pride as a young trans person, I was profoundly moved to see thousands of people just like me, proud of who they were, experiencing joy and mobilizing around issues that matter. It was 2015, and, after five years of identifying as genderqueer in secret, I had come out to all my friends and family as nonbinary merely weeks before (with varying responses). I arrived alone; I didn’t know any other trans people. My eyes simultaneously widened and teared up as I saw the more than 5,000 attendees: people like me and people who loved people like me. I saw people who looked happy, comfortable, in love and fulfilled. For the first time, I saw that being trans could be a joyful, beautiful thing.
At a time when I needed to find community and to see that transness was more than being constantly misgendered and facing disproportionate rates of violence, Trans Pride helped me see my transness as a blessing and source of strength. On this day in 2015, Trans Pride became my favorite day of the year (surpassing the most trans of all holidays: Halloween).
For years prior, I pushed away from the idea of being trans: I thought that at best it would doom me to a life of alienation, or, at worst, a life of victimhood and violence. In those years, I lacked a strong analysis of the privileges and safeties of transitioning into being perceived as a white man. Although being any flavor of trans opens you up to potential safety risks, the reality is that my whiteness and newfound manhood provided me privileges and protective factors not extended to Black and Brown trans women and femmes.
Being a white trans man in the nonprofit industrial complex (NIC) and in social justice work, I have experienced the tension between needing the abolition of systems that keep our communities from liberation and seeing and giving capacity to the ways the NIC survives on our communities’ oppressions. Practicing anti-racism, in particular, has not always made me very popular with white peers and higher-ups. (That is not to say that I always get it right.) However, it has drawn me closer to people whom I truly admire, whose leadership I hope to learn from — including but not limited to the Black and Brown trans women and femmes who inspired the annual celebration of Pride in the first place by protesting against police brutality.
As a community member, friend, lover and “professional,” I have witnessed and supported countless community members in navigating, surviving and dying amid intersecting and compounding systems of oppression — and I am tired of giving capacity to systems that do not truly center our wellbeing. I want to be part of the legacy of trans communities supporting our self-determination and achieving our collective liberation through abolitionist mutual aid efforts by and for trans people. I want to see oppressive systems torn down and replaced with community-centered solutions that truly support our wellbeing and safety and center those of us who are most marginalized with the lived experience to lead us to our collective liberation.
I think it is possible to acknowledge the tension between working within the NIC and the fulfillment I get from and importance of supporting Gender Justice League’s (GJL) policy advocacy, direct service and community-building work which makes real impacts in trans peoples’ lives every day. As the communications manager for GJL, I have the opportunity to help plan Trans Pride this year for the first time. Despite the frustrations inherent to the NIC, working for GJL has given me the opportunity to work alongside and learn from strong trans leaders and to use my strengths to help create spaces that will touch more trans youth, elders and everyone in between.
Amid the onslaught of anti-trans bills and politicking as well as COVID, spaces like Trans Pride are more necessary than ever. For those of us who only recently had the opportunity to explore ourselves and our genders during lockdown, and for all of us affected by whatever draconian policies will arise next to erase and kill us: we need spaces to be together and breathe.
Three years since our last in-person Trans Pride, we will be back again in September. We are planning for various harm reduction strategies to increase safety amid still-high COVID cases and deaths disproportionately affecting our Disabled and immunocompromised community members and the ever-present risk of interactions with anti-trans organizers.
Trans Pride continues to shape my evolving relationships with my gender, my body and my life. Through Trans Pride, we celebrate ourselves, our bodies and our basic human right to live safely, openly and freely. We remind the world, and each other, that we are powerful.
Kai Aprill-Tomlin (he/him) is a queer trans man, social worker, artist, and many other things based in Seattle. Follow him online at @scarytranssexual. Trans Pride Seattle will be held Sept. 2, 2022. You can find more information at transprideseattle.org
Read more of the Jun 8-14, 2022 issue.