Iâve just asked writer/performer/activist Imani Henryâthe trans man behind the critically-acclaimed theatre piece B4T (Before Testosterone)âhow he thinks race impacts our experience of gender.
Heâs replied with silence.
âCan I ask you one question?â Imani finally responds. âBesides my show, do you know anything else about me?â
I admit Iâve done some research.
âAlright,â Imani concedes. Heâd rather talk about his politics than his art. âI think a lot of folks are like âYou wrote a show about F2Ms? Thatâs great! I donât care about the war; lets talk about your show!â
That show, B4T (www.geocities.com/Imani_Henry), is a multi-media theater piece that explores race, sexuality and gender expression through the lives of three Black, masculine, female-bodied people (all embodied by Henry). Henry describes B4T as a living document: âThe show has evolved. The piece itself keeps going in different ways.â
Henry, a first generation American of Jamaican decent grew up in Boston and calls himself a desegregation baby.
âI was bussed and had rocks thrown at me. That [propelled] me into activism. We lost five black men one summer to police brutality. Being called the N word on my front porch, spit on. Thatâs how I grew up.â
A consummate activist, Henry has been with the International Action Center since 1993, organizing LGBT people and communities of color in social justice campaigns. His activism, Henry says, is central to his identity.
Iâm an anti-capitalist activist or an anti-globalist activist or an anti-war activist or an anti-police brutality activistâwho just happens to be trans,â Henry says.
Henry founded Rainbow Flags for Mumiaâa coalition of LGBT people demanding the freedom of political prisoner, journalist Mumia Abu Jamalâalong with Leslie Feinberg and Minnie Bruce Pratt in 1999, just before he transitioned from lesbian to man.
âThere has always been LGBT forces in the anti-police brutality and anti death penalty movement,â Henry argues. âStonewall was a struggle against police brutality.â
Henry believes his transgender identity impacts his search for solidarity and unity. âI definitely feel that what I love and am really proud of about being transâI guess itâs really that our being does determine consciousness. Even folks that may come from a different class background from me, in some ways, will find some solidarityâor its easier for them to comprehendâbecause to be frank, being trans is pretty much the bottom of the barrel in society.â
Henry says when LGBT people ask him how the war impacts gay people, he is quick to respond: âGay people are having bombs dropped on them too.â Henry argues that lesbian gay and transgender people exist in every culture, even if they donât always use those terms to describe themselves.
âI never like to compartmentalize for this reason, because US imperialism [doesnât distinguish].â He mocks U.S. policy makers, âYou call yourself this? You call yourself that? I call you a commodity. I call you expendable. I call you slave labor.â
In his way of always bringing the conversation back to solidarity, Henry, says, âIâm always thinking, how many people can we get on our side? Of course, [respecting] all of our differences. Maybe some of us need to be at the front of the bus and some of us need to step backâŠso that transwomen of color can meet. Maybe the white straight guy could be making the sandwiches, so the sisters can organize demonstrations.â
More than anything, right now, Henry wants everyone to come together and oppose the war in Iraq (and prevent another one in Iran).
âI think itâs a heavy, heavy moment. âŠIt is just outrageous that we are commemorating the third anniversary of the war. Itâs unbelievable to me that at this moment they are, just day in and day out, creeping closer and closer to provoking something where thereâs military intervention in Iran. Itâs just ridiculous to me.â
âJust stop,â Henry begs to no one in particular. âJust stop and just bring the troops home.â
Trans writer Jacob Anderson-Minshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org