Representation for Non Binary and Trans Women of Color
There is a long history of those who identify as nonbinary being pressured to choose a side by society. I sat down with Seneca Platero, a self-identified non-binary woman and intern at New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, to find out how the effects of misrepresentation transcends the online sphere and into the offline world.
On Cisgender Beauty Being ‘The Norm’:
“Honestly, I rarely see trans people in any type of media, unless it’s specific queer online circles or trans people creating their own media (social or otherwise). When I do see trans people represented anywhere, it’s usually someone who’s undergone a complete medical transition. It’s subtle, but I believe that reinforces the belief that all trans people require medical transitioning, and are not valid as their gender until they do so. It also almost entirely discounts the experiences of non binary trans people, who – from my experience – seek many different forms of transition, and not always medical. Cisgender beauty standards are already the norm, and the safest way for trans people to navigate the world is to go unnoticed. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I personally experience an immense amount of pressure to adhere to those standards, and it’s hugely because of how trans people are shown in media. I don’t look like a cis woman, but all my femme idols do look cis or are cis women. I don’t see femme people that look like me unless they’re on the street at the same phase of life as me. I don’t feel like I have anybody that represents the image I am.”
On Being Forced Into A Box:
“I identify as a non binary girl, and for a lot of people I’m automatically assumed a trans woman. Many non binary people don’t undergo medical transitioning, but that is a path for me. As I move along it I realize that all trans people in media are represented as binary, especially when they undergo a medical transition. When it’s a non binary body, they’re automatically grouped into an in-between area where they have to be androgynous or they’re just not non binary enough.”
Societal and Social Media Pressure:
“I think there’s an unspoken pressure to look and act like cis women within the trans femme community. I’ve heard trans girls weaponize femininity against other girls who present more masculine. They say things like “Being trans isn’t for everyone.” It’s implying she’s ugly because she isn’t real enough, isn’t pretty enough – that she’s still too masculine.
Gigi Gorgeous is just that – gorgeous – but a lot of it has come from surgeries and access to resources that most trans girls don’t have, especially WoC. I think society pushes that beauty standard.
For me, I feel like if I’m going to present masculine I have to be masculine. It’s a safety thing, and it’s how I stay in stealth. When I present as femme, I almost feel a compulsion to over-sexualize my appearance in order to pass and stay safe. I’m constantly terrified for my life when I present femme, so most of the time I present as a femme gay boy. It’s safer than presenting as a girl, and while still uncomfortable, it’s more comfortable than presenting as man. I spend a lot of my time dealing with extreme dysphoria because I feel pressured to pass or die.”
On how she fights back against this societal pressure:
“I think simply existing as a trans body, especially as a person of color, is fighting back against societal pressures of all sorts. I consider my existence to be a walking political statement. I think openly living and giving love, advocating for different communities, being a face or voice for those in need is fighting back. Every breath a trans person takes in society is an act of open revolution.”
Trans and Femme Misrepresentation online:
“Trans femme bodies are seen as sexy, over and over and over again online. Misrepresentation also often goes back to cis [beauty standards] and surgeries undergone to obtain that standard. On all medias, trans women are simultaneously fetishized and degraded. Everyone wants to fuck us, but nobody wants to admit that they want to… and that’s why they’re violent towards us. A huge number of people are viciously transphobic online and help further stigmas against the community as a whole, but particularly trans women and femmes. Trans sexuality is ridiculously misrepresented as well. I know more trans lesbians than I do straight trans girls. People believe trans equals gay or it’s the same thing. “
Advice to Other Trans Women of Color:
“Whatever kind of girl you are, binary or non binary – or you aren’t a girl at all and represent a femme body – she/they pronouns are always there. Nobody knows you like you know you; remember that you can always be your own best friend. Nobody sees that girl inside except you. Your hair is gorgeous. You look amazing today and every day. Tall is really cool, try modeling sis. Short is cool too. Fat and skinny girls, let’s love and uplift each other. If you’ve got big hands and feet remember it’s to knock down all the assholes that’ll try to rise up to you. Lots of girls have facial hair and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with yours. Your existence is a power and you are a fire in someone’s universe. There are children who gawk at you as you walk by and wish to grow up to be like you, even when you don’t want to be like you. You will find love. You deserve that love. Most of all, you are important, and you deserve your own love most of all. Remember to be gentle to yourself, especially in your hardest moments. Your sisters and other trans siblings are with you, we are all one heart.”
On How She Sees Things Changing in the Next Two Years or So:
“Honestly, two years isn’t enough and I don’t believe much will change. Given the current political climate, I wish nothing but the safety of trans people, but visibility doesn’t necessarily mean that. I think society as a whole needs a reform in a way that teaches basic compassion, especially for things you don’t understand. If anything needs to be changed, it’s the belief that trans people need to be understood by cis people to be accepted. Trans experience isn’t something you can or will experience, so how could you ever fully understand us? Learn to just accept people lovingly, be open to the different paths people’s lives, hearts and souls take and things could be a whole lot better.”
On Big Name Trans Women Having A Platform:
The way I see it, these big name trans folks all started somewhere, especially the black women. They know the struggle the best, and it is empowering and motivating to see them using a platform to elevate others’ lives. I think that’s the only way trans people can survive. At the same time, I think that this platform [social media] could be used to allow space for other trans folks to speak, people of different identities and walks of life. I know that Laverne [Cox] has spoken about how many trans women don’t have access to proper resources & money, but beyond that there is no big voice to speak for the people who live in poverty, without transition (by choice or other circumstance), the people who don’t fit a beauty standard or who actively defy it, etc.
In the case of young black and brown trans girls, I don’t know who to look to for guidance, elevation, affirmation or other. I think there’s still platforms that are waiting to be raised by or for more and more people from different struggles. I can only hope the trans community progresses safely enough to continue our elevation.
On what the world should learn:
Many people believe visibility equals representation. Just because people speak about transness and gender and trans people in general does not mean we are being represented. If trannies and faggots in dresses is all the world knows of us, there’s no real representation. Visibility can be dangerous for transness because of how harmful being noticed too much can be. Better representation would lead to more acceptance, I’ll always preach acceptance. As I stated earlier, cisgender people cannot understand a transgender experience. What they can do is accept, be kind and just want the best for us the same as they would anyone else in their life.
Seneca’s Top 3 Accounts To Support:
“I’m really big on Ivy Fischer. Ivy just seems like an online trans model who’s enjoying her life. She pulls look after look and seeing how beautifully radiant she always looks is extremely uplifting for me. She’s very tall, and in my opinion doesn’t have typical cis-passing features, yet still turns out looks and life. She’s a very positive black figure and I wish other girls knew who she was to see that we can live positive fulfilling lives.”
NOSTALGIA – can’t believe it took me this long to use my fav color combo – #suvabeauty acid trip & scrunchie uv hydra liners – #makeupgeek poppy, lemon drop & simply marlena shadows – #themakeupshack eye popping lashes – #makeupforever aqua xl color paints in m-70, m-82 on the lips – #nyxcosmetics white liquid liner – #anastasiabeverlyhills dark brown dipbrow – #milani coralina blush
“Luna is an absolutely astounding makeup artist who’s been a huge inspiration to my drag growth. Her artistry has gotten her a massive online following and knowing there’s a fellow Latina t-girl working her makeup magic out there is also very elevating. For both of these girls I just see successful young (in my age range) and WOCso it’s a positive reinforcement for me mentally that I can succeed.”
“There’s also Laura Jane Grace, the frontwoman of a punk band called Against Me! She’s a trans woman who transitioned while in the punk scene & makes tremendous efforts to be political. Unlike many trans women in entertainment industries, her appearance, however femme or masculine, hasn’t really been a huge focus. Her existence as a musician has fueled my existence as a person – she’s an icon to me, a savior.”