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‘Toxic Silence’

UH professor’s book examines violence against black trans women in Houston.

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One of the things I love to do when I have the opportunity is to get my hands on a good book. While I enjoy a good romance novel (and author Kayla Perrin happens to be one of my favorites in that genre), the bulk of my reading tends to be nonfiction that covers a wide range of topics, from current events to politics to biographies.  

I love to read books that talk about history, and some of the books in my personal collection, as you may have guessed, address transgender-related topics.   

Books written by and about trans folks over the years include autobiographies like Caroline “Tula” Cossey’s My Story and April Ashley’s My Odyssey. Others have an academic slant, such as Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl or Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. There’s also Transgender History by Susan Stryker, in which a certain award-winning OutSmart columnist is mentioned.  

Other well-known trans-themed books that come to mind are Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, I Am Woman by Daliah Husu, and Born on the Edge of Race and Gender by Willy Wilkinson. 

One of the things I have lamented is that there aren’t many books focused on black trans people. In fact, the people I meet at conferences and other TBLGQ events frequently ask me when I’m going to write my own book. 

Hmm. You want fiction or nonfiction?     

One of the earliest books featuring a black trans person that I remember hearing about—and have been trying for years to get a copy of—is A Finer Specimen of Womanhood, which was published by Sharon Davis in 1987.       

Janet Mock, a black trans woman, hit the New York Times Best Seller list when her autobiography, Redefining Realness, was published in 2014. Mock followed it up last year when the sequel, Surpassing Certainty, was published. 

Also last year, C. Riley Snorton published Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity. I’m looking forward to reading it when I get a copy.     

One book about black trans issues that I did get a chance to read recently has an H-Town flavor to it. 

William T. Hoston, an associate political-science professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, just published his 17th book, Toxic Silence: Race, Black Gender Identity, and Addressing the Violence against Black Transgender Women in Houston. 

I met Hoston a few years ago during one of my Trans 101 panels at HCC-Southeast. I had heard through Mia Ryan, who was one of the local trans women interviewed for the panel, that Hoston was working on a book—and this is the one she was talking about. 

Toxic Silence is divided into five chapters: “Before I Was Trans, I Was Born Black,” “The Black Trans Identity,” “Black Transphobic Violence and Murders,” “Black Trans Voices: Their Lived Experiences,” and “Black Trans Liberation.” 

The chapters of Toxic Silence provide a snapshot of the local trans community via interviews with local trans women, discussions of black trans identity, and sobering statistics about the murders of black trans people.

The book points out that we must address the off-the-charts level of violence targeting black trans people both inside and outside of the black community. 

The book’s appendix includes an interview with former Houston mayor Annise Parker. She discusses with Dr. Hoston the false anti-trans propaganda that killed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. I was also surprised to see that I was mentioned on pages 8 and 14 of the book.  

Hoston offers some solutions-based recommendations in Toxic Silence that include getting the black community to take steps toward ending toxic masculinity. He also talks about the urgency, in these Trumpian times, of encouraging the black community to become more accepting and active allies for their black trans and gender-nonconforming siblings.

Toxic Silence is a needed and necessary addition to the increasing number of scholarly nonfiction books that focus on black trans lives. I’m looking forward to seeing which topic Dr. Hoston focuses on in his next project.     

This article appears in the November 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Monica Roberts

Monica Roberts, a native Houstonian, is the founding editor of the GLAAD award-winning blog TransGriot. Her ongoing mission is to educate people on the lives of transgender people and fight for everyone’s human rights.
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