Monika MHz’s Keynote Essay: Forging the Future

Monika MHz’s Keynote Essay: Forging the Future

When we were putting together the inaugural Trans 100 publication, we wanted a keynote essay, one that would set the tone for the entire effort. For me, there was one clear choice, a woman whose voice I trust wholly and deeply, not because she says what I want or expect to hear, but because she always both meets me where I’m at and then takes me further. She surprises me by laying bare both my own assumptions and a capacity for love, forgiveness, and hope that I didn’t realize was there.

The essay is below, and the video above is a talk based on a modified version of it.

Jen Richards


Forging the Future by Monika MHz


15 years ago being trans in America felt so different to me. While I can hardly fathom that its been that long, it has still been a relatively short time in the context of social justice and civil rights. It’s not at the threats to our economic, social, and living freedom are absent or mitigated now — especially against trans women of color or with disabilities. No, those experiences are lived daily. It’s not that historical oppression and marginalization is a thing of the past, or that police brutality, rape, gendered violence, and hate crimes are gone — even from my own life. Those experiences are the reason why men and women just like myself have begun inviting the world into our lives and hoping to create change in our lives and in the most marginalized lives among us.

What is different, in 2013, is that we are on the precipice of great changes in our movement, great changes that finally are beginning to uplift our voices more than ever before. This change that we’ve seen in the last three years is no accident, this change is created by each and every one of us who have found the bravery to call out and be counted as part of the trans caucus. To call out and say, “yes I am trans” has begun as a rallying cry and has made it harder and harder to ignore us categorically as a class.

But with these moments comes a choice, because our voice is being heard not just as a squeak in the dark, but as a whisper. And that whisper — justifiably so — is angry over years, decades, and centuries of marginalization through institutional, economic, and social means. We’re unhappy about having our voices, our faces, our bodies, our movement, our votes, and our truth co-opted, colonized, and bargained with for the sake of incremental “justice.” And we are tired of decades of lip service, for the sake of political self-aggrandizement.

We’re tired of the past, and it can be so so easy for us to drown in our own oppression, and marginalization. It can be so easy to ache in pain over our present. And it can be so hard to ask for a future.

I ask that we make the hard choice in this moment. I ask that we never forget the past — because in the past we find the context for which our present is and upon which our future will be built. The past, where trans women of color like Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson fought tooth and nail for gay and trans rights and liberation screaming “Gay Power” from the rooftops. I ask that we work in the present — because now is the time and there are lives to be saved today. The present, where a woman like CeCe McDonald is incarcerated for defending her life against a white supremacist and anti-trans hate crime. The present where countless men and women fight for their lives literally and metaphorically, even here on our American streets. But I also ask that we live and dream for the future.

I live for a future where the HIV/AIDS epidemic is over, and not one where 28% of American trans women are positive (higher than any other population). I live for a future where rape is a horror of the past, and not one where 60% (3 in 5) trans women are victims in their lifetimes#. I live for a future where every single “LGBT” advocacy organization has a trans woman of color in a leadership position, not one where there are zero. I live for a future in which economic, medical, institutional, prison and social justice are a birthright and not just a dream of a future.

We can do better. And I choose to hope for that better future. I choose to work and live for that better future.

I live for a future where we use our fantastic might, spirit, and love of life to create our own change. I live for a future where we don’t suffocate in our own oppression and we rise up above the clouds to claim a spot along with all our brothers and sisters in the land of freedom and plenty. The future is positive, affirmative, and love. And only we can do this ourselves. We cannot wait for the rest of society to hand us the key to our social justice. We must forge the key ourselves with love — forged in our states, and cities, neighborhoods, and homes. We must advocate for ourselves affirmatively — not through making a negative case against those who do it incorrectly — and bring about our positive vision for a nation with liberty and justice for all.

It is in that spirit that I firmly support the efforts of our local trans resource and advocacy organizations organizations all across the country. Because it is in our neighborhoods, it is in our cities, and in our states that we give our community the tools to advocate for our own rights. It is in that spirit I support efforts like these, like the trans 100, that seek to uplift the voices and actions of those who center this at their great works.

Because the most radical thing we can do as a community is to forge the future, together.