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The Right to Dream: Jenna Talackova's Miss Universal Slight

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Do transgender people have the right to dream? This is what comes up for me most predominantly when I think about the recent disqualification of Jenna Talackova from competing in Miss Universe Canada because she is, in their words, not a "natural born female." She is transgender. Initially when I heard about this, I was like, "Well, yeah, that's been the rule for a really long time. That's just the way it is, and it's just a beauty pageant. Who cares?" What makes me sad about my initial response is that it demonstrates how used to my second-class citizenship I have become, that I, this supposedly empowered person, was willing to say, "Well, that's just the way it is."

But after a text message debate with an attorney acquaintance of mine about the legalities of the situation and his cavalier dismissal of her case, my true feelings surfaced: my anger toward him and, ultimately, toward myself. I was furious that this man, who secretly has sex with trans women, is completely uninterested in our systemic discrimination. I was also mad at myself for having dated men like him, men who use trans women for sex but are complicit in our systemic oppression; mad at myself that the lies that I told myself that allowed me to date men like him linger in my subconscious, lies like, "Because I am a trans woman, I can't do any better, so I should be grateful for whatever I can get, especially from a man who is considered attractive and successful," or lies like, "I should settle for being treated badly, because there just aren't that many options for me." Of course, intellectually I have known for a long time that I deserve more, but subconsciously I have believed that I am less-than because I am black and trans. I internalized racist and transphobic thinking. Though those feelings of being less-than subconsciously linger and find themselves creeping up in unexpected ways, today I practice worthiness so that those old tapes of internalized racist and transphobic shame will eventually be forever erased. I am worthy to dream, because I am human.

By acknowledging my internalized racism and transphobia, I believe I can begin to move beyond them so that I can be useful in the fight for equality. It is my belief that the trans community is plagued by internalized transphobia. That internalized transphobia keeps many of us in the closet and at odds with ourselves and other members of our community. Old internalized patterns can creep up when we least expect them and take us out of the fight. That's what they are designed to do. Racism and transphobia are systemic. Adopting the slogan "black is beautiful" during the African-American civil rights struggle on the 1960s and '70s was a reminder to black folks that if we didn't think we were worthy, if we didn't think we were beautiful (no matter what anyone said), we wouldn't be available to show up to fight for our equal rights. So today, in the tradition of "black is beautiful," I say, "Being transgender is beautiful" -- passing, not passing, all races and ages, and all stages of transition. Being transgender is beautiful.

I recently tweeted that the revolution doesn't happen alone. Reading Janet Mock's moving piece about the Jenna Talackova dismissal reminded me that all of us have power if we choose to accept it. The mission is not impossible if we can move past our own insecurities to work together. We need not settle for crumbs. We need no longer hide for fear of the discrimination Jenna experienced. We can say no more. We can say being transgender is beautiful, and we have the right to dream. The revolution doesn't happen alone.

After Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States in 2008, many African-American parents remarked that they could now say without a disclaimer to their black children that if they work hard enough and never give up, they could be whatever they want to be. Parents should be able to say this to their transgender children, as well, without disclaimers: "If you, my transgender child, work hard enough and never give up, you can be whatever you want to be -- President of the United States, Miss Universe, anything."

Let's all dream big and make our dreams a reality. Yes we can!

Sign the petition to have Jenna Talackova reinstated. Also, join Janet Mock's Twitter campaign to raise awareness about Jenna and girls like us by using hashtag #girlslikeus.