Raquel Willis


Before we get into this week's episode I WANNA. Let you know that it evolves themes around suicide in self harm. If you're worried about yourself or somebody that you love please please please reach out to the national suicide prevention hotline that number is one, eight, hundred, two, seven, three, eight, two, five, five South Carolina everything. This is going through it a show about women who found themselves in situations where they said no no thanks. I'll have nine and they made a decision to make a change in turn something around. I'm your host, Tracy, Clayton? They're all of these like successful algae. Hugh plus folks Thank it gets better. It gets amazing. All these different things and the truth is for a lot of people that doesn't get better. That's Racquel Willis. Today Racquel is a writer editor and transgender rights activist. She's done organizing work at the transgender law center and she was executive editor for out magazine. Big things big things happen. But at this point of her story, she was just trying to get a footing. So my relationship to Queer and Trans Activism prior to Leila Alcorn stuff. was kind of non existent I also had been in the closet. Gender identity working, and almost the middle of Georgia. My first job as a newspaper reporter picture of. The year is twenty fourteen. You cannot get rails happy out of your head and you also cannot stay off tumbler because tumbler was it. It was the place to be. It was so revolutionary because people there were using their own voices to talk about themselves learn about their own realities and there was a fourteen year old trans girl from. Lee alcorn that Raquel became aware of who did just that she used the platform to discuss and process her life. So Leela alcorn with a Yang Trans girl who really had learned so much about her identity she was active online as of millennials she became known in our community when she wrote a suicide letter that was set to publish on Tumbler after she had died by suicide Leila had battling both depression and parents that she felt were really unsupportive. It was kind of that bizarre instance of using technology to kind of say you know what you were. Going through and then to also have this translates youth telling the world that she was GonNa die because she couldn't a future for herself. When I sat with Racquel, she read the part of Leila's suicide note that resonated with her the most when I was fourteen I learned what transgender meant and I cried of happiness after ten years of confusion I finally understood who I was I'm mmediately told my mom and she reacted extremely negatively telling me that it was a phase that I would never truly be a girl that God doesn't make mistakes that I am wrong. If you're reading this parents, please don't tell us here kids even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don't ever say that to someone especially your kid. There was so much of Leila that Racquel on herself even reading this now I'm like, yeah, this was like me at the age came out of fourteen out gay I didn't have the language of transgender and I grew up in a very catholic environment. So the idea of like charts turning back on you and your parents choosing their faith of our farming you was was an imminent threat I. Always when we're cal I read Leila's note she felt so many fill in all at once I bar since it's here's just as I read more and more about her and I don't something just compelled me to do something different and not care about being. Silent anymore and I stagger these boxes on my like little rinky-dink coffee table and I put my laptop up they are and I recorded myself and I I made this short video where I'm dislike crying you know about this that feeling of helplessness like as a Black Trans Woman and the South I knew what that felt like Racquel hill posted a video to youtube not sure what kind of response she was going to get it got picked up by. BBC They saw it and they asked me to be on this radio show Racquel knew that this opportunity with the BBC could really open up the conversation about Black Trans Women that nobody at the time was having. She had just one little problem. I wasn't out at this now, second job that I was I was like, what's the point of being out? You know let me just like navigate as seamlessly as possible like I did in my last job but killed knew that in order to speak on Trans Women issues in the importance of their voices, she had to use her as I. I really only had like a day to kind of thinking through and I told my immediate boss was woman. Yeah was trans and that I was going to be talking about my experiences on BBC and then she talked to her boss who is like the the of like entire company. Who was a straight man? And I was Oh, how could this go but he also was like very supportive of and they were like you should do it by your voice is necessary inside did speaking on the BBC was a huge turning point racquel found her voice and now she was not afraid to use it. Soon she grew huge following on twitter and before you know it, she became somebody that folks looks who regarding issues facing the Trans Community I think the situations around Leela and subsequently being on the BBC just made me felt like I could be a mirror for other. Trans People. Now I sit down with Kale right as the pandemic it but it was also before the tragic murder of George Floyd. So we didn't get into questions around the protests that followed that. It was also before the historic historic March for black translates in Brooklyn at sixteen thousand folks showed up in the middle of pandemic mind you were cal was there she spoke and when I tell you that everybody felt it then and we still feel it today. Amazing. And Black France. Tower. Is going through. Before you stepped into your full role as an activism, Mike realizes the importance. Did you ever have moments of fresh when you were like? Oh, I just wish that there was somebody around that I knew of I look to or somebody who could speak for me or somebody like in the media that I just like look to forgotten about all the shit this happening around me lake. It's so interesting but I think before. Reading that letter from Leila. I had gotten so used to not sing myself and media and seeing myself around me. And I didn't know other Black Trans people before I. Left College. That's also the really sad thing is that I I literally grew up pretty much isolated from other transpeople. I wasn't in a big city so. It's not like I knew people who were out or I would even see people out in the bow. So that idea of having possibility model. Wasn't even fathomable to me. I will say that I did always know that I had a story I knew that as the as a child that I had a story that I was different. And then I was going to have to say something one day and it might not go well but that the clock was ticking and I needed to make sure that I was strong enough to make it through. Why did this become the beginning of your activism work? Like what was it about this moment? Honestly I think that Leila's death and the media rounded coincided with a time of my life where I finally was finding community. That looked like me with finding black. Hugh Fox in Atlanta and that I felt a little bit freer to say the things I really felt and advocate for the things that I knew our community deserved because I wasn't end small town Georgia anymore. I just had such a fear before moving to Atlanta for my life and my safety for my survival that I will lose my job and then have to go back to Augusta and I sure as hell not trying to. Do that no. So you to Augusta and this just all kind of coincide together because it wasn't the first and sense of Anti Trans Violence that I knew about I knew about what happens Ilan nettles and twenty thirteen I knew about the story of Gwen Arrojo mostly through the lifetime movie you know because my mom watched lifetime so I saw that movie but this was a time where it just foul. So concrete in terms of me. Visualizing what I was capable of doing now that I had a certain amount of safety myself So you decide okay music my voice things are happening this impactful. I'm going to step up my game. What's the first step? Where do you start? How did you learn like what is in the activist starter pack or what was in yours? It's funny. You ask that because I feel like a lot of happen organically I will say, I think the starter pack is. First of all, figuring out your own story. Okay. You know what are what are the things that you need to hill from? What are the of your story that are empowering? What are the parts of the story that you think can be used empower others? And then I think it's about finding. Community finding other people who may share similar stories right figuring out what they are ways of working through their own traumas as as a relates to what binds you together are a and then I think it's about putting it all into action right so a big part of the word activist is the word act what we're like your actual actions like did you go to rallies? Did you tweet about it more? Did you? stage. One person protests Dow mainstream like what was the What was your particular action? So it was a lot of things. I definitely tweeted a lot about what was going on and the Movement for black lives what was happening around the lives of Black Trans, women and Trans Women of Color I was doing work canvassing and doing survey. Data collection with Solution Punishments Collaborative Snap Co, and I also had a moment that was very powerful to me was our transliteration Tuesday action and Atlanta. So I really kind of spearheaded that brought folks together for that, and so it was a huge community effort we gathered. Upwards of one hundred plus folks would I think at that point if it hasn't been eclipse now was one of the biggest rallies specifically around Trans lives in Atlanta you are a journalist and activist and know that capital J. Journalism at least supposed to be objective like you have to like write the story facts only like leave yourself out of it but activism requires a lot of feeling how do you reconcile the two and does it ever create any tension there? Do those two identities ever bump heads so honing the identity of journalists and then also the identity of activists doesn't cost tension for me anymore. Early on yeah because I did go to journalism school. So I, remember you know those lessons around objectivity. No editorializing exactly. But the problem with that is that. There's no one's arrogation of the fact that the people who have overwhelmingly made those rules, the people that it was so easy for them to see themselves outside of the rest of the world. Had the most privilege on then were white cisgender heterosexual man with a certain amount of class privilege. Probably Christian all of these different things and Alba Black Trans woman from the South I. learned that I didn't really have that luxury to see myself outside of the story, right especially as the Movement for black lives was popping off. It just felt ridiculous to me. It's to pretend like. I was talking about something that didn't. Play a role and how I navigate the world. Yeah. Now like when I'm talking about Black Trans woman being murdered, I have those stories the right billing like my life with endanger. Yeah. When I'm talking about interactions with the police, I have those stories or my let me on the other way because this could go down in a number of different outcome. Yeah and you can't like leave that part of yourself out of it because it impacts the way that you see everything that you come across in the world. That's a really good point and also I would imagine that once people who are not. And started getting hired. They didn't want to hear how we felt about certain things because it was probably this is racist sexist. This is trash. So there's like an added stake in the NBA like you know what? Leave your thousand feelings out of it just the facts Ma'am just the facts exactly and it it Selah Romania. I, mean, there are so many different types of journalists So yeah. If you're doing straight reporting and doing a news hit you, you're just gonNA scribble down the facts. Right? We also forget that objectivity and a lot of instances it's kind of impossible. I mean there's bias and even what we choose a subject that is deemed worthy of being covered. There's bias and what we're going to present to an editor and what they care about. Absolutely. No there's by dealt with the bias of working at a newspaper that wouldn't let me frame arguments. The way I wanted to in my opinion columns because it was too progressive for the community. Unity I'll. Yeah. I I will get even for the things that I would write I would get hate mail about being too naive or needed to watch my back all that kind of stuff I got an email once saying that I needed to watch my back because the KKK was alive and well in this area. Wow. What area in Georgia. Georgia I thought you meant in New York. City for a second now was just like number one I'm not surprised. We can't see because they don't have them there. I can't imagine. The weight of all the work that you do, which is so important but very heavy, very, very heavy. Please them. You got a good their fist. How are you taking care of yourself do you? Bet Vase means. A look I am in truth. And This is safe face. I. Actually feel like I'm going through a really bad therapists breakups. Nine now way but I had a phenomenal. They are pissed when I was still living in Oakland about a year and a half ago. Best, they're pissing my life like I know the one that got away. All no black and queer and a woman and Corn exactly and then I moved here. Any even I felt like I definitely need they're more you know living in New York list. I just was so drained because I had finally found her found the one, and now I just don't even want to play the. Phil. Go through that Labor because overwhelmingly my therapist experiences have not been great like I think a lot of folks right and I'll be very clear I. don't want another white therapists Y- nor should you have to have would I want a male therapist and if they can't be Queer I guess we'll work it out but I wouldn't prefer not have a straight therapist. So that's what's difficult for me. I also have much about healthcare when I was in California to be so frank, this sounds like a forgivable situation I got. A good their fifth straight now but I mean like, how do you take care of yourself like what things do you do to keep yourself from just being Mike? The world. Awful. There's no hope lake is all just trash whereas the media until the hurry up when I had that other therapist, I was able to kind of carve out what care looked like to me. Okay. So self care from me believe it or not as like planting. Planting plan plans. Thought I have like a bunch of plants in my players. I particularly have a fondness for Sake Lance. They forced me to open my. Cartons and let sunshine. Wash. So that's the thing I also say now a Lotta Times you know I kind of put it simplistically that my sisters are my self care. but it extends much more than that. So I try to make Sharma no regular schedules talking to my mom. It's not like oh it's Thursday. Let me talk to her. It's like a just a feeling. I haven't talked to my mom east I feel like a little Liz around. Right. and. I I try to talk to my friends more I go in and out like how I am of like, I'll be talking to them like all the time and then I fall off anything sometimes you just don't get it it is. So. I have a question. This is not about me says about my friend. Stacy the first question So. We're going to start the interview now. Question number. One So I have this friend named Stacy and stacy in spite of being kind Mouth sort of in like she knows how to use her voice, but she is very paranoid about sometimes because she's she's also a black woman and. She was just what a train you know that like. Women who's begun black women in particular. The like it's just a thing that you should do because didn't your your needy, your high maintenance, your annoying. You're winding. You're making a big deal out of nothing you're reliability nobody's going to hire you. Go through her head right but she knows what is right and what's wrong. She knows that the things that she speaks up about are worth speaking up about it's just like this paranoia about how she'll be perceived I guess. Do you. have any advice for my good friend Stacy who has not me at all? Well stay saying. What is there was do we like? Everybody. You know I always think the most important thing in any in answering any kind of question like this to make sure that you let people know that how they're feeling as valid because a lot of times. Especially I'm black community. If you'd be like all, don't be worrying about bad all that kind of seven and it's like, Whoa, no, I'm already worrying about it. So it's too late day nowadays, you know it's like if I can't speak up for myself and certain moment I, I don't beat myself up over it. I just try and look at what the conditions were giving myself benefit of the Dow. And then just try an pomace myself to to do better. Next time you know every day is different our energy levels fluctuate all the time but it's about US standing that we're a dynamic where human homeo-, stasis is the thing for a reason. Oh my gosh, I'm going. And like we have to understand that we're not going to always feel empowered. But it's about having faith you can feel empowered again. So as about being nice to yourself as sounds like, yeah being always the answer to all of these deep sold virgin. Be Nicey, appointees you know. Having grazed having these conversation we process as we're talking to other foul, absolutely all the gas in the world you just know somebody like. This is real right like is this is a big and you have you have helped my friend stacy tremendous out. Is actually going to be. Okay. I. Loved it. I just wake up. Like. I don't know I don't know it. I WANNA take it back a little bit where we started with. Leela and her letter in twenty fourteen. She gave a call to action on how to make the world a better place for Trans People. How do you think she would react to the world today? Wow I hope that she would seem. More ourself in the media and the world. Now, we obviously have posed and a lot of brilliant folks on they aren't. Folks like India more folks like Angelic Hurrah. Them say Rogatory guys Dominate Jacksonville Florida you know folks who are. Not, only living these fabulous lives, right. But continuing to champion their stories individually I think about the Janet mock who are creating more spaces and opportunities for folks. To elevate their stories and and obviously you know the Lombardo Kochta's. But I also think about you know the Andrea Jenkins. You know the people who are running for public office. A black. Trans. Woman on the first Black Trans woman to be elected to city council and so the work she does I think about my friends are doing so much. Work Ahead. Tell. Tell Him. And Snow doing powerful work. She's now the solutions not punishments collaborative. Side. Think about all of that. You know I think about the voice of that. We have now and it doesn't feel like. We're so isolated anymore like in those days in two thousand fourteen and I also will say no more and more folks are understanding the complexity of gender in the babies the bay and are leading day. Are I think about? And I think that's true where we're already on the path, we've just got to lean into it. Talking with Racquel really put so many things in perspective for me and you know I just had to ask my girls what they thought. So because of social distancing in the time of the coronavirus me and my girls got together and had a virtual dinner party to talk about what activism looks like me. Are we activists. Cheers everybody here. Technology. I think would struggle to consider myself an activist. But in the same vein, I feel like everyone has the opportunity to be one think for me. Often. I. Get caught up in it looking like things that I post on twitter instagram and like being aware of other prominent activists on social media. But really I think it's Smaller than. Chris. Sure. I sent struggle is calling myself an activist as well, and then I was like wait that's what their presser wants me to do. They want me Lake Creole small and feel like. Power at all absolutely I think like for me. Obviously, I'm a black person and like I feel like naturally that is like just an activism like Jimmy being a black person in a lot of white spaces being a black woman like there's just so much against you. So naturally, there's that yeah I've had like old roommates or friends you know. White people in my past like message me on facebook years later and be like. Oh, my God I learned so much from you which on the one hand is like. You know but also like a Lotta Times I don't even remember what they're talking about and so it seems like what you're saying it's just like Oh. You just realize that I was a person and in that was. Helpful to you in some way. It's weird too because like I feel like sometimes I have to advocate for high blackness even in block circles leuze more. Like In a way that. People will say things that are inherently anti-black that they don't realize like making fun of someone with Nappy here might making fun of someone like Bell Pepper knows whatever their somebody's name yeah or someone's name and it's like. Even in your circles, you have to be like so dedicated to what you're the mission which is seeing that everyone is equal everyone has valid and everyone deserves to have space here on earth. There are so many times that like even with dealing with like other black men apt to be like. What you're saying right now is so anti-black. What you're saying right now is so black woman. You can't really call your. So an activist for black people when you're continually talking bad about black woman. I feel like I mean humans instinctively want to be like homies tasteless we want to be in a warm. Environment that's comfortable and it just sucks sometimes when you go outside your home and the people that look like you're not providing knock. You gotta like problem like this is. Like check your saw him. I write family and friends. Thank you so much for tuning in. Yet again, going through it is an original podcast created in partnership with Malcolm Pineapple Street Studios, executive producers for going through. It are Geno wise Berman Max, Linski and Garish a great shout out to the producers of going through it. Our lead producer is Josh Gwynne production by just Jupiter Emmanuel HAP- system now Anderson and production support by. Alexis. More. There she is editor and her name is Leila. Day. Also, thanks to the voices of the folks you heard sound off in this episode you know what I need I need to hear those. Makila. I'm Maya Original Music. Is Bad. Anthony. Our engineer is Hannah's Brown special. Thanks to Eleanor Kagan for being the Alpha MB originator of this hope. Stay intact family on instagram effort party. We sell all your friends about the show enemies to make sure rating subscribes with going through apple podcasts spotify. PODCASTS I sold. Out Gel, that's it come back next week I'll be so sad.

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