When we met Phëlix back in late October 2022 at a Monkey Business Academy session in Kentucky, we INSTANTLY bonded with her. So much in fact that we spent a majority of that day into the night chatting about everything ranging from the meaningful importance of silly dance moves in our social media content to identifying as “that bitch” (yes, it can be used to identify a person if they so choose) to being transgender in the bar industry. Well on that note, we didn’t chat … she spoke and I listened with gratitude. And on this Transgender Day of Visibility 2023, I once again will do that and hope you join me in listening, standing with, advocating for and supporting our beautiful transgender community in whatever being visible as their most authentic true self means to them. – Tara Fougner
Phëlix, Tastemaker | Founder & CEO of BOSS x YCSTR, Cute Ass Bar based in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn
Something I feel is always important to acknowledge before leading into any discourse around social justice is that as a Black person my life has always been a protest, and as a trans person my life has always been in danger. So having those two dynamics intersecting my identity simultaneously is something I unfortunately am not afforded the privilege to take lightly. In 1962, Malcolm X famously proclaimed that the most disrespected, the most unprotected, & the most neglected person in America is the Black woman. Honestly it’s sad to think that over 60 years later Black women are still finding ourselves at these same intersections where our lived experiences & identities force us into systemic vulnerability due to the ramifications of White supremacy. I’d even be as bold to take that sentiment a step further & say that nobody knows oppression like Black trans women.
From the vilification of our hair, to the oversexualization of our bodies, to the commodification of our features & appropriation of our vernacular (Ebonics), it’s damn impossible for me to avoid feeling under constant surveillance, for simply existing as a multiplicitous being, in an anti-Black transphobic world. Yet still I rise… in the spirit of solidarity. Whether it be taking the brunt of misogynoir, femmephobia, racism, colorism, sexism, homo/transphobia, along with all the other ism’s & phobias – history has shown us that Black (trans) women will always not only show up from themselves, but will educate, heal, nurture, & advocate for everyone else with a marginalized identity. That is why I do nothing without intention.
Positive representation has always been a vital part of how I wanted to navigate spaces, so instead of seeking out these spaces that often didn’t exist, I decided to create them. Through my brands BOSS x CUTE ASS BAR, I get to uplift the legacy of my ancestors with my creativity, through thoughtfully curated safe spaces I’ve coined ‘Purpose Parties’. By mixing activism, with the art of storytelling & innovative flavor profiles I get to facilitate impactful conversations & moments that help to shift the industry & the culture forward. I carry myself with the confidence & passion of my ancestors, along with their audacity to be greater than even they could have ever imagined. I strive for perfection, but I also realize I am already that.
My good friend Hannah Drake (Author & Activist) always tells me “Occupying space IS the mother fucking protest!” That is why I believe it makes complete sense that I’ve found myself on the frontline & at the forefront of these conversations on how we address & subsequently overcome social issues like systemic oppression. So much of my Black & trans identities are depicted in the media by tragedy or even death. From the state sanctioned murders of Black bodies at the hands of a corrupt police system plastered all over socials, to the erasure of curriculum that studies African American history & social justice movements from our schools – this deliberate desensitization of harm contributes to what’s seemingly become this perpetual state of Black trauma.
I’ve recently found myself inundated with the current barrage of attacks on Trans folx perpetuated by lawmakers (mostly conservatives) who are enacting extreme & far-reaching attempts to police gender. With over 400 anti-trans bills introduced in at least 34 states this year alone – like bans on gender affirming healthcare, drag shows, what bathrooms folx can use, which sports folx can participate in, & even forcibly outing individuals. This political violence can impact us all & will only escalate the closer we get to the 2024 presidential election, if we don’t take a stand against these injustices that are quite literally introducing discriminatory language into the Civil Rights Act.
Now this is the part in the conversation where I’d also like to acknowledge & check my privilege. I know that might be confusing to some, but I have the privilege of passibility. For many trans femmes, being passable means we’re palatable to CISHET folx, & that oftentime is our highest form of currency. Our passibility plays directly into desirability politics, which play directly into heteronormative beauty standards – but that also comes with a certain sense of security. To know I can walk safely to the store & make it back home without someone clocking me then harassing me or even worse, is another intersection of my identity that I don’t take for granted.
This is why I respectfully don’t think any entity (person, bar, brand) can authentically call themselves an ally or claim to be educating themselves on how they should be supporting communities most directly impacted by the current social, economic & political landscape in the US – if they’re not deliberately elevating & centering the voices of Black (trans) women in their diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives because we are so highly underrepresented in this White Male dominated industry.
Now this is the part in the conversation where YOU acknowledge & check your privilege. Because whether directly or indirectly, your presence in these spaces means you’ve benefited from White supremacy, as this industry was fundamentally built upon it. So the only way to truly stand in solidarity with us is by actively helping us dismantle the very systems that do not serve our society as a whole. This has to start by white (presenting) folx in these spaces relinquishing their power!
If there aren’t Black (trans) women visible in your ecosystem, do the outreach needed to call them in. And don’t just call us in, actually listen to us. Use the right language & apologize when you misstep. No one is without error & we’re all still learning, but it’s about respect or the lack thereof that changes the narrative. STOP asking Black women to educate you for free! Create opportunities (both in real life & digitally) that not only amplify our experiences, but compensate us for the authenticity & credibility our intersectionality brings when you make room for us on your platforms. That’s right open up your wallets, tap into your grandfather’s trust funds, & break some mother fucking bread! Black (trans) women suffer disproportionately from unemployment, which pushes many into poverty, precarious housing situations, violence & limits their access to essential healthcare. So it’s truly all about providing access to resources & utilizing what you have at your disposal to eradicate the barriers that keep us divided. This can be achieved in a number of ways like supporting a fundraiser (i.e. transitions assistance & housing needs), hiring within those communities or showcasing a BOB (black owned business), there’s really no excuse to keep you from purposefully advocating for Black (trans) joy. Consciously repudiating your responsibilities by not speaking out firmly against anti-Blackness or anti-transness not only makes you a part of the problem, it makes you the enemy. There’s nothing more beautiful than a Black woman who has everything she needs to not only survive, but thrive – because when Black women win, so does everyone else!
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