HealthSex & Gender

a transwoman of color’s guide to survival – self-care is key

July 7, 2017

By Ashlee Marie Preston / WYV Mag*, AFROPUNK contributor

Imagine what it would be like to not spend every waking moment guarding your life. Picture a world in which you weren’t always pressured to explain or defend your identity, your humanity or your right to hold space. What would it feel like to experience deep intimacy without fear of your lover spilling your blood because they’re incapable of spilling their truth about their attraction to trans women? Consider what it would be like to navigate a world in which you weren’t criminalized for merely surviving the best way you knew how.

Trans women of color aren’t often afforded the opportunity to experience those realities because we buy into societal cues that suggest we aren’t worthy of happiness. We’re pathologized, treated as defectives and made to feel broken.

The media is flooded with visuals of trans women mourning the deaths of our sisters. We’re berated, humiliated, and brutally beaten while bystanders pull out their phones to record the attacks while doing absolutely nothing to help us. In TV shows we’re either incarcerated, outlined in chalk, or hyper-sexualized in ways that pander to cis-hetero men and their sexual appetites when they aren’t making us objects of their sophomoric humor.

Trans women of color have been conditioned to see ourselves through the eyes of our oppressors. We struggle not to adopt society’s low opinions of us as our own. It’s difficult to always hold our heads high when there are systems in place designed to break down every ounce of our being.

The denial of equity, economic access, and social support make our survival nearly impossible. Weary and worn down, we succumb to the normalization of our oppression and inevitably slip away into erasure. This apparatus of torture rapidly claims the lives of trans women of color from all over the world at alarming rates. Everything they were and could have been becomes canceled out. Our sisters are being reduced to nothing more than a lit candle and a name within a hashtag.

However, we will not be conquered.

We were, are, and will always be here, unapologetically holding space. Our visibility not only inspires other trans women to live in their truth, but an entire generation of those unwilling to conform to social norms that deprive us of authentic experiences.

Surviving these tumultuous times requires us to move beyond survival. We are no longer willing to cower, hide, and wait our turn to die. Our foremothers Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera challenged that fate when they lead the Stonewall Riots over 48 years ago. Their revolution disrupted the heavy criminalization of LGBTQ+ individuals.

While our foremothers took to the streets for our right to hold space, it is up to us to continue fighting to expand that space. The battle for our freedom of expression is still being fought. We deserve a world in which we can prosper and thrive free of the dangerous ideology that claims lives.

What good is exhausting ourselves with the labor of survival if it doesn’t yield results? It’s time for trans women of color to consider how we’re going to surthrive instead of survive.

We’re now shifting toward an existence that knows no boundaries. We are no longer accepting censorship over our identities. The process of erasure begins in the mind and works its way outward. It guts us of our potential, dreams, and our sense of self. We can combat it by imagining ourselves in places other than an open casket.

As trans women we must continue showing up to spaces we weren’t invited until our presence is expected and respected. The more we insist on hiding, the longer it will take for the world to get the message that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.

There is so much more to life than survival and we deserve to enjoy ourselves without living in constant fear.

Why should we starve ourselves of rich experiences that feed our souls? When a person is hungry and they smell food, their mouth produces saliva which carries enzymes that help them break down the meal. When trans women of color are hungry for justice, life, love, and liberation, our passion produce hope which carries just enough strength to break down the barriers that stand in the way of our progress. While our appetite for social justice is healthy and a vital part of our liberation, we must make sure we don’t bite off more than we’re able to chew. When we do, the fullness overwhelms us, and the weight of carrying it all becomes burdensome and detrimental.


Here are 5 self-care tips that will help trans women of color surthrive in 2017:


1) Go where the love is:

There are judgmental people in the world who are going to challenge your identity and discredit your narrative. You don’t owe them an explanation nor should you ever abandon your truth to make others comfortable.

Surround yourself with those who respect your expression and won’t police your feelings. Your feelings and experiences are valid. Be sure to also surround yourself with those who share similar lived experiences.

Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the oppression Olympics which were designed to divide and conquer us. Cisgender and Transgender women are not in competition with one another. We all hunger for the same liberation and must protect each other at any cost.

2) Uncover your uniqueness:

– Instead of conforming to social norms that make sense for others, embrace the reality that you were born to stand out. Express yourself through fashion, music, writing, art, whatever makes you feel centered. Live out loud and don’t hold back. Not only is this therapeutic and self-affirming, but it gives others an opportunity to celebrate you in all your magnificence. You are unique, one of a kind and the world would be bland without your flavor

3) Know when to unplug:

It’s perfectly ok to disengage when you feel overwhelmed. Turn off the news and sign on to Netflix or Hulu. Listen to music, go to dinner and a funny movie with a friend, or go for a walk. Whatever you do, know that you don’t have to subject yourself to discomfort.

Learn to listen to your body and pay close attention to your limits. Eat well, sleep well, and if things get too heavy, it’s perfectly okay to see a therapist or mental health professional.

Do whatever you must in order to support your wellness. Above all else, make sure to put yourself first.

4) Create a vision board:

Use online pictures or magazine clippings to make a collage with images that represent aspects of the life you wish to live. Make sure to include your future home, lover, friends, and that dream job.

Don’t just visualize it; look for internships or opportunities to volunteer within the field you wish to enter. Take steps toward the goals you want to accomplish and don’t settle for less than what you’re worth.

5) Become a trailblazer:

Challenge yourself by thinking outside the box. Instead of waiting for another trans woman to enter unchartered territory and “bless it,” find the courage to become that woman yourself. Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves or you’ll be waiting forever. You don’t need an invitation from an industry expressing interest in trans people. Go in and make them feel foolish not to enlist you.

Remember that this is about surthrival, not survival. Thrive and be the best version of yourself you can be. Live as if the world weren’t hung up on your race or gender identity. There’s more to who you are than meets the eye.

It’s time for trans women of color to stand in our passion, power, and purpose while setting our sights on life beyond survival!