After Mister Cee: In wake of his recent revelations, black transgender people deserve community acceptance

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A little over a month ago, legendary hip-hop DJ Mister Cee found himself in another sex prostitution scandal, his fourth in just three years. This most recent encounter was with transgender person, YouTube personality and self-described drag queen and cross dresser, Bimbo Winehouse.  Winehouse released a secretly-taped video of Cee soliciting sex from Winehouse as they drove around in Cee’s car negotiating prices. No deal was struck and Winehouse was dropped off.

According to Winehouse’s timeline, the video was shot in late August, just a few months after Cee was busted for soliciting sex from a male undercover police officer.

Even though the controversy has passed on from the leading media headlines, the issues that were brought up are still in need of a deeper discussion in the black community.

A transgender person speaks out

Captured in much of the response to the scandal are glimpses into the repression our community still has around sexuality, and the ignorance that abounds about transgender people.

I offer my voice in an effort to offset some of those problems, because too often the voices of non-gender conforming individuals like myself never come to light in mainstream narratives.

I am a member of the transgender community, identifying specifically as a gender nonconformist. I display feminine gender traits in appearance and behavior that are not typically associated with my biologically male sex.

I have studied gender and sexuality at the academic level while a student at Brown University, and have a well of lived experience and knowledge that make my contribution to this conversation valuable.

The complexities of sexuality

Mister Cee’s sex scandal highlights just how complicated human sexuality is beyond the gay-versus-straight model. All over the blogosphere, people have been weighing in on whether he is one or the other, because they see the issue as so clearly black and white.

It is not. I have gone on record stating that Mister Cee likely has a legitimate love for women, and cannot simply be pegged as gay. Nor is he straight. Cee is simply at times attracted to those who appear to be women, yet are in some aspects biologically men.

Sure, this sounds confounding. Yet, this scenario gives us an opportunity to add transgender awareness into a conversation that still too often describes sex and gender as one, when it is clear that for many people, this is not the case. For Cee, and some of the people he has slept with, this is not an either-or issue.

This is the seat of transgender experience, and it is time for this experience to come out of the closet.

Whether the hip-hop and black communities are open to being reeducated on the lives and needs of transgender people is a big question. We now have the opportunity to have that more expanded conversation.

Hip-hop: Going gay-positive, still transphobic

Hip-hop’s general take on sexuality is well known for its homophobia and misogyny based on the lyrics of many popular tracks.

But that’s being challenged now as more male pillars of the community are coming out in support of gay rights. Men like Russell Simmons, Kanye West, Jay Z, Snoop Lion, A$AP Rocky, and now 2013’s breakout star Macklemore are leaders in this regard. Even Frank Ocean admitted to once loving a man, and was nationally lauded for his announcement.

This is indeed progress. But the focus of this new support has often centered on openly gay, gender normative people, otherwise called gay cisgendered people. “Cisgender” refers to people who identify as a traditionally-expressed, specific gender, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

Yes, gay acceptance is good. Most people view this evolution as a complete LGBT victory. Unfortunately, that is only true for some people in this community, because the “T” for transgender is still left out of society’s accepting embrace.

Bringing transgender experiences to light

But there is hope. Although the public is plagued by ignorance about our lives, the transgender experience is gaining exposure due to the scandal of Mister Cee.

Mister Cee feared being blacklisted or bringing shame upon his hip-hop radio family when his trysts with transgender women came to light, a rational fear. Yet, Hot 97 refused to let Mister Cee resign from his post. The choice of this institution to stand behind him is revolutionary. In these days when sex scandals torpedo careers, Mister Cee likely sees Hot 97’s support as a blessing.  But beyond that, Cee now must be accountable for his past actions and take responsibility for educating himself and his public about transgender women.

As a man of immense popularity and influence, it’s time for him to step up to the plate and take accountability for once perpetuating the sexual exploitation of transgender women and gender nonconformists, like myself, who appear as the feminine gender. This is not just because he has admitted to sex with transgender prostitutes, although this plays a part.

As someone close to our community, Mister Cee has a moral and social responsibility to use his platform to help end misinformation about transgenders who face bias affecting all aspects of their lives. This might even include expanding his own limited knowledge of our group.

The good work Cee has done

Yet, he has taken some steps. In what may be considered good PR maneuvering, Mister Cee has partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to deliver a message rarely heard in hip-hop.  In the public service announcement released on Hot 97’s YouTube Channel, Cee candidly speaks about how publicly coming clean about his sexuality has definitely been “the most difficult thing that I have ever had to do in my life,” because “in this hip-hop community of ours, it’s not cool to be gay.”

Now tired of hiding, he is now promoting the message that, “We have the right to a sexual life free of shame and disease,” as long you are careful, protect yourself and get tested.

Talking about the devastating effects of HIV and other STDs that disproportionately impact people of color is a good start at rebuilding public relations. But it’s not enough.  Absent from Cee’s PSA are the alarming statistics about the social disenfranchisement of transgender people, predominantly those of color, such as those he was linked to.

In case you need some help with this work, Mister Cee, here is your first lesson.

Breaking barriers to black transgender acceptance

I’d be the first to admit that the makeup of the transgender community is complex. We do not all fit in one box. We are cross-dressers, transsexuals, gender nonconformists, and a variety of other identities regarding gender expression.

For example, a trans woman is someone who is assigned a male identity at birth, and identifies along a feminine spectrum. Some opt for hormonal and/or surgical treatment to bring their bodies into alignment with their feminine identities. The converse is the case for a trans man. A good source on the distinctions within and perspectives of the transgender community is the nonprofit organization Community Kinship Life.

I can understand why being transgender is complicated for people as a concept, particularly to the hip-hop community, which I believe is particularly conditioned by a set of rigid gender expectations.

This does not excuse the willful ignorance and hatemongering found in the rap world, in real world black communities, and online, especially when you come to understand the abuses endured by transgender people.

Harsh realities caused by exclusion

On a daily basis, transgender people are bullied to suicide, abandoned as youths, physically assaulted, murdered, and face employment discrimination, thus being forced into illegal work, especially selling drugs and sex work, as a means of survival.

The statistics are most devastating for transgender people of color. According to the findings of a 2009 study conducted by the National Black Justice Coalition in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force, “the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural and individual racism was especially devastating for Black transgender people and other people of color.”

The report finds that this results in black transgender people living in extreme poverty at a rate four times that of the general black population. That is no surprise with the study finding a 26 percent unemployment rate among black transgender people, twice that of the general black population unemployment rate of 13 percent.

It is bias that renders transgender people unemployable. Due to this kind of bias, 50 percent of black transgender people said they had been compelled to sell drugs, or do sex work at some point in their lives. Nearly half of the study’s respondents reported having attempted suicide.

Dangers faced are lethal

It is the social stigma of being transgender and the lack of legislative protections for transgender people, particularly transgender women, which lead them into the most precarious of situations.

But it is deemed our fault when we end up in those situations because who and what we are is considered a “choice” that warrants us being shunned by family and friends, unemployable and attacked. In the black community, we are an embarrassment because, like being gay, transgender expressions are supposedly a “white thing.”

Was it my fault when I walked the streets of Spanish Harlem in the middle of the day in the summer of 2006 and a black man referred to me not as “he” or “she,” but as “faggot” and hurled a bottle at me that thankfully shattered at my feet?  Walking the streets in the middle of the day should not be a precarious situation for anyone, yet that is what it can be for transgender people.

Ignorant people feel they can do, or say, whatever they want to us. Many who desire us, want us only in secret. But just like Mister Cee, those suitors are there and are fairly numerous.

Black leaders ignore chilling murders

The physical threat to our safety and disrespect to our identities in the media has been especially heavy on our minds this past summer with the brutal murders of four transgender women of color: Diamond Williams of Philadelphia in July, Domonique Newburn of California and Islan Nettles of New York in August, and most recently of Eyricka Morgan of New Jersey on September 24.

These murders are bias-related hate crimes, yet our most vocal black leaders are nowhere to be seen or heard from. The silence of those leaders sends a message that we, transgender people of color, are disposable. Black leaders should be making some sort of public appeal, especially when, after months of investigation, no one has been charged with the death of 21-year-old Nettles.

According to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, transgender women were the victims in 53 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2012. Seventy-three percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color.

Black transgender women, or feminine gender nonconformists, such as those Mister Cee has been linked to, are the biggest targets of anti-LGBTQ violence.

If he really wants to make a powerful statement, Cee should speak up dircetly to fight the crushing life experiences faced by those he is attracted to.

Transgender women: Not just playthings

Also, as a gender-nonconforming, transgender person, I ask this of you, Mister Cee.

In your PSA you say you are free to express your sexual freedom while choosing not to discuss what that means in terms of true intimacy. We all know intimacy and sex are different.

Even though you are not married, you’ve gotten flack in the blogosphere for being an adulterer by embarrassing your alleged wife through sex with transgender women. This shows how misinformation breeds misinformation, and I just want to set the record straight — so to speak. You are certainly not an adulterer, and people should know this.

Even if you were married, those incidences would have been between you and your wife. What I’m interested in knowing is whether your definition of sexual freedom opens the door for you to experience true intimacy with transgender women, or will we be used merely to fulfill your physical needs?

If transgender women and gender nonconformists are merely tools for your sexual pleasure, you do a huge disservice to the transgender community in your statements about sexual freedom. Like all women, we are not disposable toys. We are the most vulnerable in society, as studies show. Sexual freedom that involves the ability to use us and throw us away reinforces the idea that we are somehow subhuman, the root cause of our inhumane treatment.

Do not perpetuate the stereotypes abounding about us in this way.  Learn about us, defend us, experience true intimacy with us, or leave us alone.

Overcoming bias to increase our humanity

Beyond Mister Cee, our black community as a whole should try to overcome the bias preventing us from opening our hearts to the hurt and struggle of the most exposed members in our community.

Too often I come across black transgender youths who have been cast away on the streets from their homes to fend for themselves. This is not right. Transgender people are not some elusive enemy, or trickster people trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. We are real people deserving of love and lives in which we have the opportunity to advance ourselves. We deserve it as rightful citizens.

Furthermore, those who love us should not be made to feel shame, because that love is as legitimate as any other. Hate and miseducation give rise to closeted lives and related harmful effects.

Transgender people are here, and have always been here. We will continue to be here, and we demand the same freedoms as everyone else.

Follow André St. Clair on Twitter.