As Black Americans rise up against their persecution by police, the threat faced by Black trans people appears injuriously acceptable to the masses.
In a recent video, three Black trans women of color were robbed, stalked and attacked by men who saw a home for violence in their bodies. A chorus of laughter and misgendered insults narrated the attack, as bystanders chose to film the assault rather than intervene.
Still, in the face of violence and dehumanization, co-editors of The Black Trans Prayer Book (TBTPB ) remember the legacy of divinity and magic founding the history of trans peoples.
Lady Dane Figuero Edidi, the performance artist, playwright and priestess, is the co-editor of TBTPB, an interfaith compilation of poems, prayers and incantations authored by trans and non-binary believers. The book is a curated denouncement of transphobia and religious-based violence.
J. Mase III, 36, is a theologian, poet, educator and now, co-editor of TBTPB. In the face of centuries-old persecution, he implores faith leaders to rise to the challenge of their commitment.
In the book, the duo sought to remind believers of trans people’s revered place in ancestral history.
“Of course, 'trans' is a modern term, but we understand that the divinity of trans people is linked to an ancient legacy found in indigenous populations around the globe. Pre-colonization, these were incredible societies where trans people were holders of spiritual power and prominence,” Edidi, 37, told Blavity. “Our legacy of being beyond the binary, being free from its limitations, is directly linked to the ancestors. Hashtag trans people exist because our ancestors did, and so we know the ancestors have dreamt us into being.”
Native American history supports Edidi’s account of the integral roles trans people played in indigenous communities. According to Indian Country Today, people existing outside of the binary, often called “two spirited,” acted as medicine people, shamans, marriage counselors, artisans, keepers of oral history and fearless warriors.
But this isn’t Mase and Edidi’s first collaborative effort. In 2019, they launched the hashtag #TransphobiaIsASin in subversion of the violence enabled by transitional faith leaders. The hashtag is populated with online users pictured with signs reading phrases such as “trans people existed because our ancestors existed" and “trans people are divine." The campaign was launched just after the Catholic church endorsed anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry.
In their 2019 statement, “Male and Female He Created Them,” The Vatican rejected the notion that believers may identify with the gender of their choosing , USA Today reports. This took place just two days after two gay men and a trans woman were killed in Detroit.
Despite the Vatican’s binary view, Edidi declares that it is the trans community's capacity to manifest their imaginings that stands chief among their gifts.
In the enduring fight against religious based transphobia and violence, the authors of TBTPB, the co-editors find, are determined to define themselves and their spirituality, despite the demonization they face within traditional faith spaces.
In his book Misguided Love: Christians and the Rupture of LGBTQI2+ People, theologian and author Charles Fensham examines the historical persecution of LGBTQ+ people by the Christian and Catholic church, Maclean’s, a Canadian outlet, reports. Fensham finds that the legacy of live burnings and public acts of castration, drowning and torture inflicted upon LGBTQ+ people continue to haunt the institution and its queer believers.
The Canadian author notes that Christian believers have intentionally misinterpreted biblical text as a justification for their anti-gay hatred, Maclean's reports.
In the face of centuries-old persecution, Mase implores faith leaders to rise to the challenge of their commitment.
“We give people a chance to be who they say they are,” Mase explains. “There are very few religions that I’ve been a part of that haven't said something to the effect of ‘we are more than our human bodies,’ no one embodies that more than Black and Brown trans people. The church may light a few candles for the Black trans people who are being murdered, but they never have us in the pulpit, leading service, or in any place where we aren’t indebted to cis people. Cis people need to know they can’t continue speaking about or over our narratives. We are leaders. You are blocking us from work we were meant to do.”
The Philadelphia native identifies transphobia as a deterrent to Black liberation and hopes that TBTPB will speak directly to the souls of Black folk.
“Primarily, this book is a tool to help the Black trans and non-binary folks heal from religious based trauma,” Mase asserts. “In this world that is so anti-black and so transphobic, we have a right to name the harm that has been done to us in disservice to the Black community. It’s time that Black folks realize anything that teaches us to demonize each other is not for us, can never be for us, and will never free us.”
Edidi has had to blaze her own trail on the path to this realization. She hails from Baltimore, where she was born to a Christian mother with Cuban and Indigenous American lineage and a Muslim father who immigrated from Nigeria. The marriage of both religious worlds, she explains, set her out in search of her own truth.
“I grew up understanding the expansiveness of God. Of course, you can’t talk about either the Muslim or Christian religion and not mention the ways we’ve held on to so many of the practices that our ancestors passed down," she recalls. "Even in the church, catching the holy ghost has its ties directly to spirit possession. But as I was growing up, I would hear certain things that religious leaders were saying that felt like they were preaching a message in conflict with that. A message of violence, of harm. They wanted to create shackles for people as opposed to liberation. It’s important for me to use the tools my ancestors present to me."
Today, she explains, her spiritual reality is a reflection of her own manifestations.
“I’ve gone on this journey of awakening awareness to Black liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, and anti-racist feminism. My Black Gods were there all the time, waiting on me to discover me," Edidi says. "Through that discovery, I was awakened to the clarity of loving all of who I am. It is no secret that one of the religions I practice is Lucumi, it directly connects me to my roots in Cuba and Nigeria.”
Like his co-editor, Mase was raised in a Muslim and Christian home. He says the church has failed to serve the most vulnerable among its flock. In response, he and Edidi are working together to establish a more inclusive theological framework: liberation theology.
“There haven't been a lot of religions that speak to the Black trans people I work with, many of whom are jobless, unhoused, incarcerated, all these different things. As a way to bring the theological narrative further, I think it’s vital for the trans community that LGBTQ affirming congregations, which are currently more cis-generalized and white, adopt Liberation Theology and center our experiences," Mase asserts. "As Black people, we must let go of our religious based trauma. We need to understand these lies they tell about us, and on us, using religious texts.”
While transphobic bigotry bottoms to new lows, the violence remains at a lethal high. Black trans women represent 91% of the reported killings of trans people in 2019, according to the Human Rights Campaign, as Blavity previously reported.
Mase and Edidi contend that Black trans folks are foundational to a world free of oppression. Still, they further assert, the creation of this realm will take incredible imagination — and evades verbal description.
“Freedom, affirmation, a nurturing of imagination, a sweetening of perspective. This would be the impact of liberating Black trans people in faith spaces,” Edidi explains. “But in the English language, a colonizer’s tongue, there are not really words to describe the feeling of euphoria that occurs when we are affirmed in our freedom, our divinity, and can understand our god or gods, free of the white gaze and white respectability, free from all of it. That space is a birthing place for a world free of oppression.”
In the existential battle between good and evil, love and hate and liberation over enslavement, the co-editors say the book is a start. And with its publication, Edidi and Mase have prepared a work that, they hope, will read like an affirming hymnal incanted by the ancestors.
TBTPB is available now and can be ordered here.