Trans people have the right to forgive transphobia on our own terms
We cannot hold transgender women of color to strict standards of righteousness.
On December 21, Bronx-born rapper Cardi B released the music video for her recently released track “Money”. Arguably her best visuals to date, it features a tribute to the iconic “Lil’ Kim Pose” at 00:34, beautiful footage of the rapper breastfeeding her baby, and a showroom of her most dynamic looks. Social media flooded with praise of the video as soon as it dropped.
Indya Moore, a Black trans actress and activist who plays transgender sex worker and House of Evangelista member, Angel Evangelista, on the Golden Globe nominated Pose on FX, was among the thousands of Twitter users who took to the site to praise Cardi for these visuals. Moore tweeted: “Ugh. My goodness. Bx stand tf up. Lawd. This woman. Is the Queen @iamcardib you go head sister. God bless you & your fam” along with a one-minute clip of the video.
Almost immediately, Moore was met with a burst of tweets expressing anger, confusion, betrayal, disappointment at Moore’s support for Cardi despite her very public and well-documented history of queermisia and transmisogyny.
Last year, a video showed the rapper hurling a trans-antagonistic slur and, to paraphrase, threatening to facilitate a sexual assault of her partner by a transgender woman if they ever cheated. Understandably, this angered fans and non-fans, especially transgender women and others within the trans community. Her comments echo the violent, transmisogyny of the abusers and killers of trans women, especially trans women of color, across the US and the rest of the globe.
Soon after this video resurfaced, Cardi was forced to issue an apology. She explained during her livestream, “Like I didn’t know that that was a word that you cannot use, especially because my trans friends use it and growing up, my parents never told me that that was a bad word…” But Cardi soon found herself in hot water again when she came to the defense of her husband, Offset of Milo’s, after a song featuring his line “I do not vibe with queers” was released. She eventually released a statement about this as well. Some time after, transmisogynistic language appeared in her Facebook page, but Cardi assured fans that it wasn’t her who had posted it since she often has assistants running her page. To a lot of people, it looked like Cardi hadn’t grown much, or at all.
This perceived lack of growth on Cardi’s part is what has particularly sealed her coffin with many trans folks, especially trans women and woman-aligned people of color. It is difficult to believe that Cardi simply did not know any better, that she did not mean any harm, or that she genuinely did not understand the impact of her words. Understandably, talk is really fucking cheap when your life expectancy in the United States of America is less than 35 years old – and that’s being generous.
For a lot of transgender and gender non-conforming folks of color, including myself, it has been extremely difficult to forgive her and taxing to explain why. It is retraumatizing for many of us to constantly engage in these dialogues about extending forgiveness to our respective racial and ethnic communities for their transmisia and queermisia, given that this oppressive treatment from our own community is typically the first time we are first exposed to it.
On the other hand, there are some of us, like Indya Moore, who want to forgive the transgressions of people like Cardi B. For Indya Moore, Cardi B’s messy apologies were apparently enough.
Moore tweeted: “Indya Moore forgives cardi, indya moore has seen her growth. Indya moore is a fan Indya moore can appreciate her talent. I dont need to like what you like, or think like you do. Or forgive on your terms or move how you want me to. We can disagree, but u not gona [come] here & attack me.”
Indya Moore is a visible trans woman of color in media. The role she has taken on Pose offers a complex, multifaceted representation of a slew of experiences common within the transgender community — from navigating desirability politics to daily survival for those of us participating in sex work. Moore, through entertainment, is fulfilling her role as a representative as it pertains to existing in public spaces on her own terms.
When Moore chose to publicly celebrate Cardi B and to publicly state that she forgives the rapper, people became uncomfortable because her position did not feel representative of themselves. However, in Moore’s decision to make her personal politics regarding forgiveness and growth so public, she actually shed additional light on the multitudes of transgender womanhood — how transgender women and transgender woman-aligned people can heal from and choose to reconcile with transmisogyny.
When the visible representations of an underrepresented, marginalized community differs in opinion from a large sect of that community, it is easy for some members to no longer feel represented — to feel shoved even deeper into the shadows or to feel a loss of ground once gained.
Because there are so few visible transgender women of color, there is the overwhelming fear that the words and actions of those who are visible then become the entire community’s words in the public eye. If Moore forgives, then it will be assumed we all must forgive.
This fear of the most visible defining the most invisible is not an irrational one. We see it used to legitimize dominant fears of marginalized people all the time, particularly those who are racialized and queer. But we cannot project our fears onto Indya Moore or other visible transgender women of color.
We cannot hold transgender women of color to strict standards of righteousness. And it is not because Moore and other visible transgender and gender nonconforming people of color are not obligated to pour love, time, and other resources back into their community (because they are), but because these standards are a perversion of identity politics that hold visible queer and trans people of color hostage.
These standards further thrust our community into non-consensual politicization and then hang us out to dry if we don’t meet expectations. These standards require that one sacrifice their humanity by attempting infallibility. We need to abandon these standards, especially since enthusiastic cisgender folx have directed ugly abuse at Indya Moore in the name of following our lead.
What we need to tell them is to mind their own fucking business, that when someone apologizes for behavior that has devastating and frequently deadly consequences for a specific community, only the individuals that comprise that community get to decide whether or not they personally wish to forgive perpetrators of these behaviors. No one else. We should be telling them that this is a dialogue for trans and gender non-conforming people. No one else.
Indya Moore is among the most visible trans women of color in media right now and is utilizing the space she takes up to advocate for queer and trans people of color. She pours resources that have helped her be successful back into our community every opportunity she gets. She made a choice to forgive on her own terms and has not demanded that anyone must align with her personal position because she understands that we also deserve to extend forgiveness on our own terms.
There is no shame in choosing to extend forgiveness, in choosing to believe in the redeemability of those who have hurt you, and in choosing to educate those who put you at risk for violence. Likewise, there is no shame in putting ourselves and our safety before any one’s opportunity to grow or in being more selective regarding our forgiveness and our compassion. There’s room for varying degrees of compassion, education, and growth. We, of all people, should understand that nothing is binary.
Indigo, who uses both they, them and he, him gender pronouns, is a Black Puerto Rican lesbian essayist and recovering community organizer. While pursuing their undergraduate degree, Indigo served as the inaugural president of their campus’ Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, organizing educational program on social, economic, and political issues impacting primarily Black and Latinx queer and/or trans persons. Currently, Indigo is pursuing a juris doctorate degree at CUNY School of Law.