by Kenya Sterling
I wanted to write something authentic. So, I thought it would be important for you to know that this took me several attempts. I’m at peace with that. I’d hope you’d have a sense of care when reading this, as it’s not the easiest to say. It’s always been difficult on reflection that I’ve not had any ancestors to look at, black trans ancestors. Lots of my generation and those before will be the first. I find a sense of explicit beauty in that, but in the same way, there feels like there’s pressure surrounding it – to do the right thing. But as a future ancestor if you will, I am complicit in the idea that human beings are perfectly imperfect, and I am just doing my best.
I spend lots of my time archiving my trans experience and trans, so I wanted to start with that. Two days ago, I had top surgery. Before it happened people kept asking me how I was feeling, so I wrote a little about it. I hope you understand. Even if you don’t, that’s also okay, it’s all just part of retaining the history of black transness I guess? Fully fledged with a loose sense of form, so strap in and prepare for a somewhat unsolicited, real, no CGI type of ride.
Today I woke up and realised that…
My failure to be constantly kind to my body is partly due to the fact that this body is still becoming mine. In the sense that in 4 days’ time I’ll have autonomy over my chest, not just in a mental way as in aligning with transness, but also being able to do things like sport without a physical weight on the chest. Then my body becomes my home. After all this time, I have never been in love with this body completely, always partially or rarely. I’m ready to embrace it, the sickly nostalgia of all those guys I’d ask, ‘would you still fancy me if I was a boy’, intensely kissing him in the street at 16 and getting called faggot by passers-by. I wanted them to say it louder. So, I asked him to kiss me for longer, and it happened again. The nostalgia I can still taste from cis gay men’s sweaty skin in the bottom of VOID, their hips thrusting and grinding with mine, our lips locking. But they are part of the system that failed me, my blackness – no matter how hard part of my identity will always be. Blackness is beautiful and different. History, and today isn’t so kind to black trans humans.
52 hours until top surgery. “How’re you feeling about it?”
Nothing and everything. The nostalgia of my youth experienced through the eyes of my rebirth. At 7 weeks to wait it felt long. And now it’s here. Somehow I expected I’d be more emotional? The neurodivergence mingling with mental health, coming together at a handshake of “we don’t really, well we don’t really feel anything right now”. I do know I’m excited to binge watch Sex Education season 3 during my recovery. I’m anxious about whether I should take my plants to the new place I’m staying for recovery or not. I’m not sure Sage can handle another rough car ride, she’s a tall succulent. I digress. Anyway, So, I feel like I should be more ‘ready’ but I don’t know what that means? I think it means having the penny drop… But it hasn’t really? But instead, it’s just resting gently on the waves, being rocked by the ocean. All I really know right now is I’m ready to feel like my body can be my own home.
A little later on I thought about how ready I am to throw myself into intimacy, with no sense of inhibition. A little bit excited to know there’s the other side, outside of everything I can finally find a place within myself. I hope to radiate that and show others, the youngers that that’s okay. Hoped to have done that even before this gender affirming surgery.
This next thing is a poem called LOVELY, it’s a reaction to the first experience I had with a new friend. I felt seen and understood without much language needed to be said, and that was refreshing. In fact, I’d say it was at the heart of lots of my experiences with other trans people – words unspoken, thoughts whispered.
Movement so slow, so simulated by the air underneath you.
A mul let no less.
No one has to pretend, but there’s realness in the pride of your underqualified queerness.
Honesty in the
Pointing out dry trimming’s unusual connections to the film ‘I’m thinking of ending things.’
A petal just dropped onto the table. Pink.
Queer life has something some would call a sense of carelessness.
But I think we’d call it honesty.
We’re open about where we are.
There’s less pretence about the image we present.
If we’re gorgeously messy in that moment, we know it’s more than okay.
If we’re upset or emotionally honest.
We are anchored and further grounded, closer to ourselves or our spiritual design.
Not afraid to say – This is me.
This is where I’m at right now.
Not afraid to hide.
And as a queer community we look up to the sky and say
“Yeah and where you’re at is beautiful”.
We as trans black folks have the ability to hold incredible strength. Not by choice, but by having to uphold blackness and undo ideas around that. Ideas and challenges towards our validity, but we’ve always existed. I’m existing truly as I write this, so you can know that there’s someone like you – know that you aren’t alone. Not in the patronising sense of loneliness, but in the sense of, we both know black trans bodies mean things might get a little dangerous. Gender affirmed enough to burn down bridges of feminine and masculine, playing arts and crafts like the POC version of art attack with this playdough skin mask. Our black trans bodies have the ability to morph into whatever we need to, constantly blending or shape shifting to stay safe. Because within our existence there is resistance so things might get a little dangerous, salty even. Like the wounds inflicted on our history, trying to erase the DNA that was there. So, I’m here to recreate it. Reinstate it.
Displaying hairy legs and salmon pink socks
T shirt dress
All of it I’ll rock
Proud with a flat chest
No longer will I have to pretend
It’s not some temporary gender bend
But rather the burial of breasts
And birthing a more androgynous sense
I just realised
Things might get a little dangerous
But I’m prepared to do this for us
Already getting cat called faggot down the street
Little do they know that makes me blush
But please don’t make too much of a fuss
Cause alarm bells ring
Amber alert sings screaming there’s danger nearby
I’ve even got the receipt
This feels like a rebirth
Even for me
Cis lads and girls a like already taking a look at
But I’m just here
I’m touching wood that things stay pretty
But it isn’t all rose tints and sometimes things can get shifty
But I’m going in for the kid I could have been
If time is a construct
Then what does that make the history of me?
If we connected in a forest when no one was around, was it real? It felt it. There’s a lot of wood to touch here that could mean good luck. We exist in a space that is all of us. I think it’s time I get a little honest again. The balance between transness and blackness for me is delicate. Growing up and wanting to be in the arts was tough. Never black enough. But not white enough. I hate to say it, but I appreciate those spaces that held me for just my art, and dare I say ‘didn’t see colour’ and when my transness came to the forefront… Well, navigating that in spaces where I was mainly praised for my art was interesting. My identity came second here. But the black people that surrounded me assumed I thought I was better than them. So, I’m going to end around here. With that memory of growth. The idea that breaking down barriers isn’t always purposeful, but rather inherent to the politics of just existing. I want you to know that just existing is okay. It’s hard when you never asked for the complexities of your own existence. But you have to hold them close to you. I promise, I absolutely promise that you will be remembered, and you are seen and loved. I hope something of what I’ve said has helped or resonated. Or maybe just to know I exist in the same timeline as you. Sending all my love. A moment in the black trans timeline.
Kenya Sterling (He/They) is a proudly queer and working class creative hailing from Manchester and currently based in London. His multidisciplinary work spans various forms of performance, writing, and visual art, as well as being a published poet, podcaster, and creative queer consultant. Kenya is currently studying in their third year at Rose Bruford and has trained with the Royal Exchange young company in Manchester as well as ALT actors. Recent credits include a featured lead in Joseph Wilson’s Isn’t it a beautiful world, the upcoming short They Suck(Lison Mombellet) and the lead in TUC’s Trans Awareness film. Other select credits include roles in I AM(Ovalhouse), Rhubarb (Graeae, The Bush Theatre), Burn Baby Burn (Fuel Theatre), Doctors (BBC), and Holby City (BBC).