Call to Action: Randy Ford + J Mase III

In honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, we spoke with activists Randy Ford and J Mase III about what this day means to them, ideas for ways to observe, and how they stay motivated in the fight for trans rights.

Tell us a bit about yourself and some of the projects you're working on right now?

Randy: My name is Randy. I go by she/her and I am a choreographer, dancer, actor, and dance educator. I’m from Seattle, WA and I’ve been performing professionally since 2013. You can find me in the new Homo For The Holidays: Jingle All The Gay—a really fun Christmas drag show by Kitten N’ Lou—throughout December. I’m also collaborating with artist Jono Vaughan on a TEDX talk for Project 42, which memorializes the trans womxn that have been murdered in the US. And between all that and teaching, I’m also working on my own project, QUEEN STREET, which will be a show that I’ll reveal in the near future.

Mase: My name is J Mase III, I use he/him/his pronouns and I do many things. I am most known for being a poet and the founder of awQward, a trans and queer people of color talent agency. Currently, two of my biggest projects include being of co-editor of the #BlackTransPrayerBook and releasing the short film "Bad Theology" along with Randy Ford and our director, Samira Shifteh.

The #BlackTransPrayerBook is an interfaith tool that will address white supremacy's impacts on faith practices and provide healing rituals and theology for Black trans people and those in solidarity with us. Bad Theology is a film that features a poem and dance that details the experiences of being a Black trans person dealing with domestic violence. As a person who grew up in a Muslim and Christian household, reclaiming my spiritual practice is important to my healing as a Black trans body who demands to take space. It is imperative that we as trans folks have an opportunity to heal from violence we encounter. Both of these projects do that for me.

When someone meets you for the first time, what do you hope they see?

Randy: I hope they see someone that is proud of who they are. I hope they see how much joy I have for life. I hope they find me funny because I’m known to be quite the character. And ultimately I hope they see that I’m just an average normal person that doesn’t have it all together.

Mase: I don't know that I hope they see anything, I hope to encounter people who are worthy of Black trans people.

What does Trans Day of Remembrance mean to you?

Randy: It means we have a lot more work to do when it comes to protecting trans people specifically trans womxn of color. As an artist I have to remind myself that there were others before me who endured worse. It’s a reminder that I need to continue to do the work a be a step towards equality being a reality. TDOR is also a way for me to remind myself that I need to be kind to myself and find my joy through it all.

Mase: For me, Trans Day of Remembrance is one day where the world centers the lives of trans people lost to violence. It can be a somber day, it can also be a call to action to demand acknowledgment for those of us still living and those in our community who are consistently targeted in regards to violence and discrimination.

How would you suggest to someone to properly observe this day?

Randy: For trans and nonbinary people of color, love on yourself. For white allies, donate to a black trans womxn’s venmo.

Mase: Trans folks, especially Black and Brown trans folks, should do whatever we need to get through the day. For some of us, being surrounded by loss is a daily experience and it can be mad triggering to be in spaces filled with cis folks that only think about us when someone in the community has died.

Cis folks should ask themselves how often they center trans folks, they should go on gofundme and donate to individuals and groups of Black and Brown trans folks, undocumented trans folks, trans folks creating spaces to center healing for trans folks, trans folks with disabilities...TDOR should be one day of many where cis folks intentionally redistribute resources to trans people who are consistently being told we do not exist.

Can you share any words of comfort to someone who’s dealt with a difficult day of transphobia?

Randy: Affirm, affirm, AFFIRM. You are the most beautifully complex human being. You are enough. You are beautiful. You are life. I love you. Stay true to who you are. I saw a beautiful quote today by Vanessa Grandberry, a beautiful black womxn, that said, “Don’t look to others for permission to live your life.”

Mase: To me there is something magical about being trans in the sense that we are far more powerful than the majority of folks we encounter. We are able to see and envision ourselves beyond what others have defined for us. Most people aren't that sure of themselves. This also means, that our very presence invokes the insecurity of others. We walk into a room and change it, sometimes instantaneously. Know that there is a beauty in your transness and that you have a right to be acknowledged for the gifts you give others by waking up every day in your truth.

Are there are marginalized groups of trans folx that we should bring more attention to?

Randy: Trans sex workers. I think one of the biggest things we tend to brush over is classism. As a queer, black, non-binary transfemme that has never had to resort to sex work I’m reminded of my privilege and I too need to be better at amplifying those voices.

Mase: TDOR exists because we live in a reality in which Black trans women and femmes are being murdered, Black and Brown trans folks are being deported, shot by police, criminalized, incarcerated and murdered by a white supremacist state and colonialism all over the world. We must acknowledge the links between colonization and transphobia. We must talk about it as a white supremacy problem. We must always center Black trans women and femmes, Black and Brown trans people, Indigenous trans people and anyone whose transness was attempted to be erased by imperialism.

How do you motivate yourself and others to keep fighting for trans rights?

Mase: Many of us don’t choose to fight. We exist in this world at this time that our experiences are constantly challenged. As Black trans folks, we come from a legacy of healers, activists and beings of great power. I pay homage to all the elders, youth, and leaders of all generations that pour into our survival.

Randy: I motivate myself by sharing space with like-minded individuals. And that’s hard depending on your situation. But I remind myself that there’s more out there to learn. And because I love learning and being challenged—that’s enough motivation for me to keep going. There’s always something to learn. We’re never finished and the fight is not over.

• • •

You can follow Randy Ford and keep up with all of her upcoming projects on Twitter and Instagram at @randybaby11.

J Mase III is hosting an online watch party for Bad Theology on Fri, Nov 30. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jmaseiii.

Photo by Samira Shifteh.