Prisoner Correspondence Project – Find a trans penpal in prison
Dr Lori Kohler (San Francisco Public Health Network) – Healthcare professional dedicated to providing gender-affirming care to prisoners.
TGI Justice Project
Transgender Law Center (TLC)
Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SLRP)
Arielle: Faith woke up one morning with a single thought weighing heavy on their mind: “I don’t even know who I am.” For years, she internalized the resounding sentiment of those around her that it was not okay to be herself – until one day, she came to a crossroads wherein she could no longer bear to live as anybody else.
Now the owner of Wish Me Luck, Chicago’s very first Black, trans, queer-owned tattoo shop, Faith demonstrates the healing power of community spaces, especially for people who have historically been erased or made to feel uncomfortable by the status quo.
Faith’s story shows us that there is nothing quite so powerful as chasing one’s truth, wherever that may lead – and that it is not the job of Black people, of queer people, or of trans people to make themselves more palatable for others.
This episode mentions conversion therapy, weaponization of religion against marginalized groups, mistreatment of trans prisoners, and suicidal ideation.
This is Faith on freedom, self-discovery, and Wish Me Luck Tattoo.
Hi there, Faith! Welcome to the show. Why don’t you kick us off by sharing a little bit about yourself?
Faith: Yeah, so, my name is Faith. I’m a tattoo artist. My pronouns are she/her and they/them. And I’m a musician. And I’m drinking a red bull.
Arielle: Haha, awesome, thank you. So, these days, you are proudly out as queer and trans. You are also a tattoo artist in my neighborhood, which is pretty special. But, at one time in your life, you survived an abusive tactic called conversion therapy at your church.
Arielle: So, this is a topic that I have spoken about a little bit in a past episode, but for listeners who don’t know, can you share a little bit about what conversion is, and also what your experience was like.
Faith: Yeah, I mean basically, the stance of the Christian church in regard to conversion therapy… you have kind of two sides of that: you have formal conversion therapy, where people actually go to a Christian counselor and try to undo their gender identity and/or sexuality, and then you have the more covert way, which is just doing life in church, where there’s admonishment and/or encouragement to not be who you are. But both of them have the same effect. And then… do you want me to jump right into my experience?
Arielle: Yeah, go for it
Faith: So, I would say maybe 2013/2014, I started going on a spiritual journey. And the things that I read about Jesus and Christianity, sans all of the really bad stuff, but just more from the perspective of who Jesus was, how he treated people, this idea of unconditional love from God. And I knew I basically figured that out, that I believed in a higher power like a creator, and the New Testament narrative of who that person was was super attractive to me because it was like, “you’re okay, right where you are.”
You know? And you can have a relationship with your creator… and I really like that. I still do. The problem is that usually comes, then, with some kind of attachment to a larger body of people. Over time, I think I was… not “think,” I was whittled down, and it comes in the name of “love,” and I say that with air quotes, of people pressuring you to change or telling you that who you are is out of line with God’s will and what God wants for your life, and that it’s sinful and it’s not true.
And the super damaging part of that is that you’re literally telling someone that who they are is actually a lie that they’ve created on their own… that the narrative or the gender identity and/or sexuality is literally not true, and so they need to change.
It certainly started in a pretty benevolent way. And then, as time went on and relationships grew in the church, and then I found myself in leadership, and Bible college, and seminary, and it just… the level of hatred, I guess I would say, that the church has for trans and gay people that comes, again in air quotes, in the name of “love,” is pretty wild.
And so yeah, that’s basically what my experience was is that I was basically ground down into nothing until I didn’t really know who I was. And even now, I still… there’s times where that guilt or that fear pops up of wanting to express myself in a certain way, and my first thought is not to just sit with that and experience the joy of that, of figuring out who I am… the first thought, sometimes, is still one of fear, or “there’s punishment coming,” or “I’m gonna lose friends,” or… yeah, it’s pretty ugly.
Arielle: Yeah, thank you for sharing all that. So, it sounds like what you’re describing is you kind of went through that first kind of conversion that you were describing, which is the more covert kind. You know, it’s not being sent to a camp, it’s not the kind that we see in movies and film, but it’s the kind where it’s insidious, it’s in just the little, snide comments, or larger snide comments, that people make at you every day. And it whittles away at your sense of self, at your sense of identity over time. And I’m curious to hear, cause a lot of folks who are in the LGBTQ+ community can find it rather difficult to reconcile that identity with also having a religious identity. But it sounds like you’ve kind of done that. So I’m curious to hear what it’s like for you to hold those two parts of yourself simultaneously.
Faith: Sure, okay. So yeah, again, I did Bible college seminary—I wanted to be a pastor—and the things I studied in particular were Ecclesiology, which is church history, and then Old Testament survey, which is pretty boring, but I’m a nerd, so…
Arielle: Nothing wrong with that.
Faith: What comes with that is that you start to develop what they would call, in seminary, a systematic theology, right? So, it’s like, when you read something on page 1, it informs everything else after that, on page 2 and beyond. And the things that are very clear inform the things that aren’t very clear. And there’s just so many places, both in the Old Testament, which is in more than one language, and then the New Testament, which was written in Coin Greek, that… the language used that the church uses in their statements to stand against trans people, or the LGBTQ+ community, they’re not accurate. I mean, even the creation narrative was how God refers to themselves… it’s not an error, the word…can I nerd out for a second, is that cool?
Arielle: Please do, I love nerding out.
Faith: So, the word Elohim which is the first way that God is described in the first book of the bible, or the Torah—which is Genesis, or the creation narrative—that word, you break it into two, and both mean “deity,” but one is male or masculine, and the other is feminine. And, in the creation narrative, it says that Elohim created them, meaning humanity—”they created them.”
And it’s kind of odd that, after that, in every other place, it’s male pronouns to describe God, when the very first word itself is both masculine and feminine. But yeah, fast forward, New Testament, things like… you know, talking about homosexuality, the word there that is used in Greek is not actually homosexual, it’s pedophile—it’s a guy that is molesting children. So it’s not an adult male and another adult male, and that’s really the only very loose reference that they have… but yeah, it doesn’t, the language doesn’t match.
Arielle: So, to clarify, that’s the section where people quote it as saying, “man shall not lie with man,” but it actually says, “man shall not lie with boy” as in “pedophilia is wrong,” is that correct?
Faith: Yeah, like pedophilia, yeah. And that’s Old Testament. But yeah, it’s… the language there is not about adult people having relations. And then, I guess a little nerdier—even if it was, Jesus comes and says that all of that is done… that it was never about rules or about your sexuality, or being perfect, or any of that. It’s about a relationship with your creator, and that’s it.
And my favorite thing, and it’s hard, it’s like…yeah, here’s this guy that comes and the word that says, “yeah, he dwelled with thieves and prostitutes,” that word is actually reclined. So he was lying down, in the middle of the room, with thieves and prostitutes and tax collectors, and not worried about it. And then, when the self-righteous people came like, “what are you doing?!,” he’s like, “I’m not actually here for you, I’m here for the people that need it… that need love, unconditional love. Apparently you have it all figured out, so you don’t need me.”
Arielle: And it’s so disheartening to see how those words have been twisted and perverted in the years since to espouse hatred towards not just LGBTQ people, but all different groups of people. You know, I mean, sex workers specifically have a lot of hatred directed towards them, often by religious folks as well… but, as you’re saying, that’s not what Jesus was trying to teach.
Faith: No, no, he was trying to show… and even in the stories that Jesus would tell, like the Good Samaritan story…Samaritans and Jewish people hated each other, they were like mortal enemies. And the story of the Good Samaritan is: you have this Samaritan guy that’s walking down the street and sees a Jewish man who’s been completely beaten up and robbed, and is beaten within an inch of his life. And he takes him way across town, and puts him up in an inn, and tells the innkeeper, “give him everything he needs. Feed him. Give him water, take care of him.”
And that was the example that Jesus gave to the Jews about how to love their enemy. That there’s no bounds on what love looks like, or unconditional love. So it’s… it’s very hard to reconcile that Jesus with the Jesus that people in the church espouse him to be. It’s not the same person.
Arielle: So, it sounds like you’ve been able to hold these two parts of yourself by sort of diving into what the bible actually says, and understanding yourself in the context of the bible’s actual teachings, not these new perversions of those teachings. And I’d be curious to hear more about what your journey has been like. You’ve mentioned to me that you’ve come out three distinct times… which I think is a reality for a lot of queer and trans people, I also had mutliple comings out, and in many ways, coming out is an everyday process. There can be the first mention of it publicly, but also, as queer and trans people, we come out all the time.
Faith: Yeah, that’s true.
Arielle: But I’d be curious to hear more about those three comings out that you refer to distinctly, and what it’s been like to navigate that across all the different areas of your life.
Faith: Yeah, I’ll start with the first. I was like 13, left home—my dad was super abusive, so I was actually taken out of the home. But even before I left home, I was experimenting with makeup secretly. But yeah, once I left and I was in foster care, my identity started to manifest more.
It really changed… I got adopted by a lesbian couple. One of my moms was a trans person, and that experience really gave me the space to explore and figure out whatever identity you can figure out when you’re 15. So, that would be the first.
And then, like a lot of experiences in the foster care system, people get moved even when they don’t want to move, and that’s what happened with me. And I went from this super safe and encouraging space to one that was just not that, so I had to go back into the closet again. And then, yeah… I really didn’t show any signs for any of that stuff. It would have been like ‘98, when I went back into the closet. Maybe 2006/2007, I came out again and started HRT, you know, estrogen, and went full, full [inaudible].
And then, the last time would be this last year, after not just leaving the church, but getting excommunicated. (laughs)
Arielle: Oh, wow.
Faith: Yeah, they wrote me a three-page, formal letter excommunicating me from the church. But the most recent is probably the most impactful, and the most healing for me, because I feel like it was… I finally came to a place where it was like, yeah, I actually can’t be anybody but myself, whatever that means, and at whatever cost, after going through what I went through with the church
Arielle: Wow, that’s quite the story. So, you said a lot of really interesting things there. And I think, I can imagine it must have been really difficult to go from a family that was so accepting, and then being moved somewhere that wasn’t.
Maybe you said this already, but after the second time you came out in ‘06/’07, why was it that you had to go back into the closet at that point?
Faith: Yeah, so, 2005, maybe? What happened was the church. What happened was that, yeah, I found Christianity, and I had my idea of what that would look like. Very manipulative, and I like to think that I’m a very strong-willed person that’s not very easy to influence, just based on my experiences in the foster care system, and experiencing homelessness off and on during those times, too, and as a young adult. I would say that I’m pretty street savvy, you know… and I can see bullshit from a mile away.
But when you’re open in that way, and it comes in the name of “love”—it came in a way that made me extremely susceptible to abuse that I actually didn’t know that that was even capable of happening, but it did. It’s literally that, where I fucking woke up one day, a couple years into that journey with the church, and was just like. “I don’t even know who I am.”
It was pretty serious, too. It wasn’t just like, “Oh, I need to make a gradual change”—it was like, brink of suicide, and telling my child’s mom, at the time, telling her at the time, “I actually can’t live like this anymore. And I don’t want to. If I can’t be who I am, there is no reason to live.” So, it was very dire.
Arielle: Yeah. So, you say that this last time coming out was really healing. Can you speak more to that? What you mean by that?
Faith: Yeah. I guess I could just tell you the raw story. Christianity took everything—I quit tattooing for two and a half years, I closeted myself, all the things that brought me joy, including music…I played for myself, but wasn’t played with people or in bands, anymore, in what the church would call the “secular world.” So, every part… all these little parts of my identity that make the whole were taken, or I relinquished them is a better way to say that.
But I got to a place in June of last year where it was so bad that I wanted to take my own life, and got right to the edge of that place, and then I couldn’t help but think about my child and what their life would look like as a result of that. And that was literally the only thing that kept me from following through with that.
I took like 20 days off of work, cause I was working a regular 9-5 because I wasn’t tattooing. And in that time, I just thought to myself like, “Yeah, I have to be a whole person. And I don’t know entirely what that looks like.” I mean, even now, today, do we… I think we’re all working towards that goal, hopefully. You know, we’re doing the work of trying to become whole people. But I knew that that was part of it, so it was a big deal for me… which, it might sound small, but it was a really big deal for me just to put “queer” in my bio on Instagram.
Faith: And I was scared to death. You go to edit profile, and I put it in there, and my finger hovered above the button, and I’m like, “Am I gonna do this?” And then I did it, and I had a minor panic attack, and then, over the last year, it’s really just been chasing my own truth, and whatever that is, and just being open-handed and just taking life with all the twists and turns, without trying to hold on too tight, or to resist it. And I’ve just really been going with what my spirit and my heart has been asking for.
I would say that great things have come… it’s community. I mean, even this, the fact that I get to sit here and talk with you, this is a gift…
Arielle: (Interjecting) Yeah.
Faith: …that we get to sit down as two trans people, and just talk, and laugh, and giggle about you swallowing a bug, whatever, it’s like….
Arielle: No, yeah yeah! I mean, it… community is such a gift.
Faith: (Overlapping) Mhmm.
Arielle: And another part of chasing that truth for you is that you are about to open the first Black, trans, queer-owned tattoo shop in Chicago…
Faith: (Overlapping) Hey! Yeah.
Arielle: Woohoo! So, it’s called Wish Me Luck, it is luckily literally right around the corner from where I live, which is super exciting. First, congratulations, wow!
Faith: Thank you.
Arielle: I’d just love to hear about what this experience was like. I mean, a couple things: first, I can imagine this is a dream come true…
Faith: (Overlapping) Mhmm.
Arielle: …and I’d imagine… you know, you said you quit tattooing for a while, so that is quite the journey to get here. I’m just curious to hear everything that led up to this point for you.
Faith: Yeah, okay, we can do that. So, let’s rewind to after the suicide attempt last year. I have two mentors—like, tattoo mentors. The first one, I’ll plug her, her name is Nickhole Arcade, and I like to say that Nickhole is the one that opened the door for me to the “professional world of tattooing,” or whatever, who gave me my first shot. She’s really like a spiritual mentor to me, too.
So, during that time off from work, I really felt like tattooing was calling me back home. And that’s the thing with tattooing… once it gets a hold of you, you can’t run from it. It will consume you… not in a bad way, it’s just like, if it’s for you, no matter what you try to do, you’re gonna end up tattooing.
So, I called her. We had sustained calls over a 30-day period, where she was coaching me and giving me all these words of healing and wisdom and encouragement. And I decided to just quite my job with no notice, and use my 401(k) to buy myself back into tattooing, which essentially just means buying equipment and what you need to get going.
And then, really the next year, obviously before COVID happened…
Arielle: (Interjecting) Ha, the before times…
Faith: Yeah, before. Before and after, now, yeah… was me experiencing my life as an artist and as a tattooer in a way, with just tremendous gratitude that I felt like, the first ten years, I kind of lost over time. I gave myself the space to be reminded daily of what a gift it is to be able to tattoo and connect to people in that way, and make a living as an artist.
I had done a lot of growing before I came back to tattooing, in that two and a half years. And the one thing that didn’t change was the environment of the cis, white male-owned, operated tattoo shop. And, I guess, being on this journey of self-discovery and freedom—this, juxtaposed with the environments that I was working in, I just couldn’t fucking deal. And then COVID happened. Nobody was going to work, as far as the tattoo industry, for a few months.
And then George Floyd was murdered. And it’s not as if, as a Black person, I’m not always aware of where I am and what that means to walk through the world as a Black person… but I think, you know, Black people are not a monolith, but I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that they all hurt, but that… George was different, in that way that it galvanized us. I actually just started, because I had taken a break from activism and organizing, too, so it really just drew me headlong back into that. And it was really the response of my coworkers—or, non-response from my coworkers—that further entrenched this idea of, “I’ve gotta get the fuck out of here, and working with people that are either overtly racist, or just silent and trying to pretend like nothing is happening. I’m not coming into work with my whole Black self, trying to pretend like everything is okay, and it’s not.”
So I started actually just calling people out—not just people I work with, but other prominent people in the tattoo industry—for their bullshit. Fuck your little black square, you know… how many Black people work at your shop? How many Black people are posted in your portfolio? Miss me with this performative bullshit.
It caused a lot of problems with my work environment. And I knew I was on my way out, I just didn’t know what that was gonna look like. And then, I was sitting on my couch, and I said to my partner, “What if I tried to crowdfund this idea?” And I sat on my couch one night, and I wrote… I did the bio thing for the Gofundme… I sound like a boomer, I’m 37 talking…
Faith: It’s alright. But I wrote it out, my partner helped me do some editing, and then I sent it out into the ether. And, 30 days later, I had $15,000.00 to find a place to make this thing happen.
Arielle: That is awesome. That’s amazing. And you’re just about to open this here. And, like you’ve shared with me, you’re not just looking to open a tattoo shop… you are looking to build and strengthen community in this space. I’d love to hear, from you, what that means to you, and what your vision is for Wish Me Luck, you know, one year, five years, ten years in the future. What does this space represent? What is it gonna be like?
Faith: Wow. Actually, hearing that question made me emotional… I almost started crying. What does it mean…
Arielle: I mean, it’s truly beautiful.
Faith: It means… I think that it represents the theme of 2020, that we’re in a reckoning of all of the work that has been done for 400+ years, 430+ years, we’re in this culmination right now, of, “Black people are not taking losses anymore, and we’re gonna be our whole Black selves, all the time. And it’s not our job to be fucking palatable for anybody.”
Taking that a step further, that’s also for trans and queer people. We don’t have to be anybody but who we are. We don’t have to be palatable for people, and we don’t have to be pre-conceived notions of what masculinity or femininity or anything in between that is, to be respected and loved and protected and cared for, either.
So, Wish Me Luck…it’s the fruit of that labor, from ancestors that are Black, trans, queer…I literally think about it in terms of, like… the work that was done by people long before me and you—Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, those folks—that’s why Wish Me Luck is here. And then, in the micro, this year… because we’re in this culmination of everything, changes, and because of COVID, it’s possible now. There’s space now. I really feel like all of, whether it’s like Black folks taking space, because that’s what we’ve really done this year is took space. But I also feel like COVID has made space, has cleared people out of the way. It has been an equalizer in that sense, of removing agency from business, which includes the place I worked at beforehand that’s a white-owned business. The power that those places were able to leverage, pre-COVID—now, they’re not really able to do that.
I don’t know if that was a good answer or not, but…
Arielle: Yeah, I’d love to hear about what this space looks like in the future. Like, what exactly are you hoping to build in Wish Me Luck?
Faith: I want to give people an opportunity to come in and grow. Wish Me Luck is a place of learning and healing. And the goal is that: sure, if folks wanna, you wanna stay there for ten years and work with me for ten years, I would love that. But what I would love even more is if you came and you used the opportunity to learn, grow, and then you left, and you did the same thing somewhere else. And that you then extended the same opportunities that were extended to you to other people until we level the playing field.
Arielle: That’s really beautiful. I’m really hopeful that that is going to happen, cause I’ve seen the work you’ve done already. I’ve heard, now, some of the work that’s gone into that. And I like that you used the word “healing” as well, cause that kind of speaks to…it’s a callback to your past, you talk about your most recent coming out as this healing experience, and now you’re going to be that sort of… I don’t know if impetus is the right word, but someone to help other people who may be in similar positions to the space that you were in, where they were tattoo artists working for primarily businesses owned by white, cisgender, heterosexual men and now have the honor of working under you, and helping to level the playing field, helping to equalize this industry, as you were saying.
Faith: Yeah. Can I add something to that?
Arielle: Please do.
Faith: Yeah, so I think, a lot of the focus there is with the staff. Beyond the staff, it’s so that folks like you, or other people that are in the community—representation matters, right?—and so, we’re here for the community. We’re here so that…I look at tattooing like it’s self-care, right? It’s also self-improvement, folks want to come in and add something to themselves and feel good about themselves when they leave, and there’s a holistic approach to that, too…it’s the entire experience, it’s the staff, it’s the vibe when you walk into a place.
So, our job on the customer side, or customer-facing side is to provide space for you so that you don’t have to go and sit through an uncomfortable space. And it’s not to say that everyone out there is a bad person, but I know how I feel, even as an artist, when I walk into… when I want to go get tattooed by someone, and I walk into a shop, and it’s six white dudes in there, and I don’t know what I’m gonna hear. I don’t know what kind of conversations I’m gonna hear, or how I’m gonna be perceived. Or if someone’s gonna take the care with my Black skin that they take with their white clients, or if they have the attitude that “Black people don’t tattoo well, so I’m gonna ‘dumb’ this tattoo down and not give this person what they really want because I have too much ego to put the time in or admit that I just don’t know how to tattoo Black people.” You know?
And so, that’s the actual… that’s the other purpose, that you can come in and you can get anything that you want, from really boutiquey, high-art stuff, or if you just want an old-school cursive name with a little rose and a banner, then you can do that here, and you don’t have to go anywhere else for that.
Arielle: Yeah, and on a personal note for me, I’ve only had bad tattooing experiences, cause a lot of the things that I want on my body are having to do with my experiences as a queer and trans person… and going into a shop that’s run by… I have also had the experience of, most of the shops I go into are primarily men, it’s kinda this boys’ club. And coming in there like, “I want this because I’m transgender, and this is what this represents to me,” and not just not being understood, but kind of feeling like I’m being laughed at, or that… I’ve never quite felt that I’ve found artists that I fully trusted to design a tattoo for me, with the understanding of why I want that thing tattooed on me.
So, to have someone who is sensitive to that, to have a shop where that will be respected and honored is such a special thing.
I want to amend my statement that I haven’t had an enjoyable tattoo experience, cause I did have a queer person tattoo me last year, and it was lovely. But before that… I mean, that was in someone’s living room, but in a shop, I haven’t had a good experience.
Faith: Yeah, and if I can build on what you just said, too…
Faith: They certainly exist, but a lot of queer spaces—and this is not a slight, because those places are sacred, right? That tattoo spaces that are queer-owned and operated, they’re all sacred—but a lot of those spaces, they’re also very niche, and also white, right? And kind of…boutiquey’s not a word, but it’s kind of like this boutique thing, where just going in and maybe picking something off the wall, or just getting a working-class tattoo, like I said, a little cursive name with a banner, is maybe something that you’ve gotta really look for, right?
And so, the other part with Wish Me Luck is, sure, that element’s there..if you want boutique, high-art, we’ve got you. But it’s also, it’s a street shop. So, you can come in and say “this is my idea” and somebody’s gonna draw that idea for you on the spot so that you can do that in a safe environment and not have to go to one of these other spaces that can do that also, but maybe the environment itself is just inherently not going to be a safe environment, because it’s a bunch of cis white dudes.
Arielle: Yeah. Yeah, and I mean, tattooing is such a personal, intimate experience, and that makes what you’re creating all the more special. And, like you said, there are other spaces, but they are niche and they are hard to find often, and they’re not accessible everywhere. And I’m just really excited, I know I’ve said this, to see what you’re building here.
Faith: Yeah. Yeah, we all are. I think the first thing I really notice is…the response is overwhelming because the need is overwhelming. And it’s not necessarily about tattoos, it’s just the need for representation and the need for these safe spaces is so needed, so that’s why people are excited. Sure, like, tattoos are cool, that’s awesome, right? But what we’re really excited about is that there’s a space for us. It’s on a main line, in a prominent space, and is making no fucking apologies about it.
Arielle: Yeah, and I don’t know if this is true of everywhere, but my experience in Chicago in relation to spaces that are represented as being “LGBTQ spaces”…they’re not “LGBTQ” spaces, they are primarily “LG” spaces, and white “LG” spaces at that. You think of—now it’s Northalstead—but Boystown is for white gay boys, primarily…
Faith: Yeah, for sure, yeah.
Arielle: …not really for trans people. I went into a club there, and you know, I’m an out trans woman, and I felt like not only was I the only woman, I had a strong sense that I was also the only trans person there.
Faith: I mean, that’s kind of the way it goes. And I think it’s really unfortunate, but, you know, I’m 37, I’ve had… I like to joke and say I’m old enough to remember when the “Q” meant “questioning”…and I’m also old enough to remember when The Center, rather than adding a “B” and a “T” on the end of their title, just changed their name to The Center. And those spaces, every one of those centers—and I’m from California, so the one in West Hollywood, the one that’s in Long Beach, the one that’s in San Francisco, or San Diego—those are white gay and lesbian spaces, right? Because the agenda there has always been one of assimilation, because they don’t want to overthrow the power and do something new, they want the power for themselves. And so, they end up marginalizing everyone that doesn’t fit into those two categories, and basically just colonizing those spaces under the guise of the “G” and the “L.” And I make no apologies about that.
Arielle: Yeah, that’s a really good point. It goes back to something I read recently, a quote that I like, which is, “Either all of us, or none of us.” We can’t try to, as you’re saying, colonize these spaces to gain power for white lesbian and gay people, while leaving all other people in the LGBTQ community behind. That’s…in addition to trans people, and Black people, and other people of color, that’s also leaving disabled people behind, leaving neurodivergent people, autistic people behind…it is leaving all these people that are not these wealthy, white, neurotypical, cisgender, gay people out of the mix.
And now you’re coming here and saying “No, we’re not gonna take that anymore. We’re gonna build a space that is representative of everybody, that is going to hold space for everybody who is seeking that space.
Faith: Yeah, I mean, they can’t even tell the Stonewall story without centering themselves, and they weren’t even fucking there!
Arielle: Yeah, oh my god, that atrocious Stonewall movie that came out, what, like two years ago?
Faith: Yeah, I mean, come on! It was literally Black and Brown, trans folks and drag queens that did that. Y’all weren’t even fucking there, and you’ve managed to center yourselves in that story, and you weren’t there.
Arielle: Yeah, that was a point that came up in the movie Disclosure, where they were talking about Stonewall… Stonewall was not… was not even a bar that generally catered to white gay people. I mean, now it does, now it is primarily white gay tourists, and straight tourists as well. I’m from New York, so I frequently avoided Stonewall, cause it was just straight white tourists. That was not their crowd, and exactly, these movies to keep centering those voices who literally weren’t there…
Faith: Yeah, I want to… I know this is…I’m okay with this tangent, but I want to…I’m about to start HRT again, and so I had to go do some bloodwork, and I was at Howard Brown up on… I want to say it’s on Clark, it’s on northside though… but I went in there. And, first of all, even Sylvia Rivera used the term “gay liberation,” right? We didn’t have as many terms as we have now to describe things. So their homage to gay liberation, they have these little cases in there with magazine clippings, and photographs—everybody’s fucking white!
First of all, this is fucking Chicago, and everybody here ain’t white. And I know that it’s like…this is a very segregated city, right? But it’s like, you literally can’t talk about the LGBTQ civil rights movements that happened in the ‘70s and early ‘80s… how they do that, and exclude Black and Brown people… it kinda blows my mind.
But yeah, their whole display that they have there, it’s all white people. There’s one or two little Black faces mixed in the crowd of white people, but no prominent Black or Brown people that were instrumental or key or involved in that movement here in Chicago or New York. And this is a space that’s, I mean, Howard Brown Health is what? This is queer health, that’s what it’s for, you know?
Arielle: Yeah. And even the spaces that tout themselves as being representative of the community are still leaving large scores of the community out from that representation.
Faith: I mean, even that, with like… I’ve had, now, The Center reach out to me to become a listed resource. But yeah, I have a list of fucking demands before that happens.
Arielle: Yeah, and please… please send those. I’d be interested to hear their response. So, I’m gonna pivot a little bit here, cause I do want to talk a little bit about your advocacy. You said that you’ve recently gotten more into activism, and one of the topics that you mentioned to me that you’re really passionate about is trans prisoner rights.
So, can you sort of talk about the state of trans prisoner rights as they stand right now, where you’ve seen that come from over the past few years, and also where we’re headed?
Faith: Yeah, I mean, just to clarify—most of my organizing work has been around trans women of color that are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated. I took a hiatus from activism and from organizing, just… burnout is real, and then the other side of that is that… a good segue in talking about how activism or activist circles in those spaces tend to be white-dominated spaces, and it was no different, and I got tired of it, so I took a break for a couple of years.
But where that started was with the TGI Justice project—which originated in Oakland, California, and is now in San Francisco—most of my work was with them, Critical Resistance, the Transgender Law Center, and Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
I helped… my congressional testimony with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, I co-authored a pamphlet—we’ll talk about Kamala Harris now—I co-authored a pamphlet for trans women that were in the San Francisco County Jail through the San Francisco Department of Public Health that basically was a How-to-survive guide if you’re going to prison, because the rate that Kamala was sending Black and Brown bodies to prison was pretty astounding… but specifically with trans women, it was almost a guarantee that if you were a Black trans person, and you went through San Francisco County Jail, the likelihood of you going to prison was pretty high. And at the time, that’s when Kamala was the district attorney.
Yeah, I worked directly with Miss Major and with various legal directors at the TGI Justice Project for prison reform policy changes, so what does that look like? That looks like access to gender-affirming healthcare, with…I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dr. Lori Kohler at UC San Francisco… she’s one of the most critical people for trans healthcare in prisons. If you wanted HRT, and you were in prison, there was one doctor to see, and that was gonna be Dr. Lori Kohler.
And that also translates to advocacy for pulling trans people out of solitary confinement, and forcing prisons to find safe and secure housing, but also allows them to function in some kind of general population where they have access to relationships with people and not being locked in a six-by-nine cell, 23 hours a day, with no physical contact with people.
That looks like gender-affirming clothing, so like, bras, having the state provide those in the same way that they do…cause you know, trans women go to prisons that house “men,” air quotes, and so they do things like blocking… block access to things like gender-affirming clothing, when, if you’re a cis woman, you go to a women’s prison, you’re gonna be provided some things like blouses, and bras, and the things that you need to do life as a normal person.
So, yeah, advocated for those things. And so, when I came home, the focus kind of shifted into this broader thing of just blocking, or helping to block, funding for new facilities, and then conversations around securing things like gender-affirming surgeries, and secure housing…but secure housing in that trans folks would either be housed with themselves and taken out of mens’ populations, or housed with women.
So that’s the beginning. And then I took a long break (Laughs). And then the overarching goal is that we would burn all the fucking prisons down and that there would be no prisoners…
Faith: …we can start there. I think it’s good to start there, and work backwards, you know.
Arielle: Yeah, yeah.
Faith: But, yeah, the over…
Arielle: Yeah, it’s like, how do we address the current problems of getting the people that are currently living in those situations the accommodations and the rights that they need, while also recognizing the overarching goal, “no prisons.”
Faith: Yeah, I think that—and this is where I always started—is for, and I’m not directing this directly towards you, but the community at large…don’t fucking talk to me about trans rights if you don’t have a trans penpal that’s in prison, or you’re not linked with an organization that works directly with trans prisoners. If you want to talk about the most vulnerable people—it’s like, sure, those of us that are walking around in quote unquote “free society,” there’s dangers, for sure—but no danger like being a trans woman that’s walking around a male prison, and it’s one to four thousand. And you are not allowed to be yourself at all. Yes, you have access to gender-affirming care like hormones, but you don’t have access to safety, you don’t have… it’s literally like one woman for four thousand people, four thousand men, and nowhere to run.
So, I think that the center of protecting trans women starts in prison, as much as the need is. And I feel like, if there’s weight behind that statement, it’s because: yeah, as dangerous as it can be in the world, it doesn’t compare. Not even fucking close to what the experience of a trans woman in prison is like.
Arielle: Yeah, I think that’s a really really important point. Thank you so much. I could literally keep talking to you forever, but I think we’ve covered a lot of the really important points that I wanted to cover. But do you have any words of wisdom for listeners before we wrap up?
Faith: Yeah. Apathy is not your friend. If you’re not involved in amplifying voices of people that are the most marginalized, then you’re not involved… and you should be. Trans people need your support. Black people need your support. Yeah, that’s it.
Arielle: Thank you.
Arielle: And where can people follow you and your work?
Arielle: You also, I believe, just launched a Patreon
Faith: I did, I did, yeah.
Arielle: Yes. So I would love for listeners to also put some money in there. Thank you so much for your time today. This has been wonderful.
Faith: I really appreciate you and your time, and what you’re doing.
Arielle: I appreciate you. I am so so excited to stop in your shop.