Dear Radical Mentors and Role Models,
For someone who literally writes for a living, words sometimes are difficult for me to find. Ironic, isn’t it? I practice writing, I grade writing, and I read writing. A lot. And yet, sometimes I find writing to be one of the hardest things to do. Who am I kidding – it is often the hardest thing, and I know you feel me on this point, right?
I share this to say…this letter has been a long time in the making. And even still, I worry it will come off as trite, silly, or just the midnight musings of a quasi-sappy trans* femme in her feelings because it is the end of term. While part of that is true (I am a quasi-sappy trans* femme), the reality is, quite simply, I wouldn’t be here without you.
Let me repeat that: I wouldn’t be here without you.
All of my success, I owe to you. Every word, every manuscript acceptance, every pedagogical innovation, every positive conversation I have with a student, and every bit of publicly engaged scholarship I do. It is all because of you.
This year has been good for me in many ways. My first book dropped, I just signed a contract for another one, and in many ways, I feel better about the work I am doing in the classroom and on campus. I also feel healthier than I did 12 months ago, and I mean that in a variety of ways. In January, I made a commitment to center my health and wellbeing. I scheduled meetings with all sorts of doctors, met with financial advisors, bought a house, and gave my everything in my counseling meetings (which I started this past fall) to divest from the toxic people, relationships, and dispositions that have been holding me back for far too long. For months, I felt like all I did was schedule and attend appointments. Oftentimes, I wanted to cancel these appointments, but I remembered my commitment and kept them all.
Much of this meant sifting through pain. The pain caused by people no longer in my life, and remembering that I am better off without them; the pain of trans* oppression, which has made me so intensely fearful of attending doctors; the pain of my working to confront and overcome my own internalized ish around issues of lack of self-worth; the pain of feeling like I was working through all this stuff in secret, because all other folks saw was a supposedly charmed life (i.e., refer back to the previous paragraph).
As I have been working through this pain, however, I have noticed I feel far freer than I ever have felt in my life. I have been using my voice more and more to speak truth to power, have pushed students hard in the classroom to dig deeper and think more critically, and am trying to stretch myself on my own learning edges. I have reworked syllabi, done deep self-reflection on my own pedagogical style, and have stayed true to my values of centering all my efforts alongside my kin who are the most vulnerable, and who have continued to put their bodies on the line because, in the end, there is not any other choice but to do so.
I feel as though the past year has been a bit of a rebirth for me. I have been able to honor the work I have been doing for years, realize I have different spheres of influence now, and am trying to think about how to leverage those spaces to continue the fight for justice.
And I have you to thank.
You have been there for me when I couldn’t be there for myself, and you’ve been there for me when I refused to be there for myself.
You have been patient with me, and have kicked my ass in gear when I have needed it.
You have reminded me that good work is not easy, and that framing my work through radical justice lenses, whilst necessary, will be—in the words of Angela Davis—a constant struggle.
You have never let me go. In fact, you have only gripped on tighter, all while managing the intense commitments you have at your home institution, with your family, with your own life.
You have reminded me I am beautiful and worthy of love when I least believed it.
You never gave up on me, even though at times I may have made it easy to contemplate that.
You reminded me that I matter, and that I am who I say I am, despite living in a world that continues to deny my existence.
You never tokenized me, despite living in a world where people continue to fetishize and objectify my existence, my knowledge, my body, and my abilities.
You were real with me, you gave your time to me, and you let me into your life in various ways.
You gave me a sanctuary in which we could be free and unbothered together.
You reminded me what liberation sounds, feels, smells, tastes, and looks like.
You have let me crumple in a heap of tears, and have picked me so gently after.
You have cheered me on from the sidelines, opened doors for me, and reminded me I am powerful and strong.
Because of you, I am.
Because of us, I can keep going on.
Thank you, my mentors and role models. I promise I will never take you for granted, and I promise I will pay forward all you have given me. I promise to be alongside others as you continue to be alongside me. Because in the end, we are all we have, right? And I am only free when we are all free. And my liberation is wrapped up in yours is wrapped up in all ours.
So I promise to keep lifting while I climb, to be bold and fearless, to scream at the top of my lungs for the justice this world needs and craves, and to find new ways to be in-but-not-of the institution. I promise to divest from the negative messaging I have feasted on for so long about not being enough, and to remind you how meaningful you are in my life, both personally and professionally. I promise to reflect the beauty, fierceness, and brilliance you shine out onto this world.
Words are failing me. I am fighting back tears as I write this, because who you are, and what you have done for me, and the chances you have taken for and alongside me are so awe-inspiring. You took a chance on me very early on, and I don’t know what sparked you to do so, but I am so thankful you did.
Words are failing me, and these two seem not to be enough to portray all you mean to me, but thank you. A million times over thank you.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.