FeaturesPride in the Media

Uplifting Black Trans Voices

Activist Dee Dee Watters launches a Black trans publication inspired by the work of Monica Roberts.

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Dee Dee Watters (l) and Monica Roberts (photos by Ashkan Roayee)

In honor of the late pioneering transgender journalist and activist Monica Roberts, Dee Dee Watters, a local trans advocate, founded TransGriot L.L.C., an online Black trans publication that will continue Roberts’ legacy of documenting trans history, lives, and issues.

TransGriot L.L.C.’s website features articles by local and international Black trans contributors, providing them with a platform to talk about issues that matter to them. The online publication, which was launched in January, is currently looking to hire a managing editor and fill other positions. Interested individuals can contact TransGriot at [email protected].

By promoting Black trans businesses and cataloging trans history through TransGriot L.L.C., Watters hopes to inspire more awareness and coverage of trans issues. “We don’t just want coverage when we’re murdered,” says Watters, noting how media reports on trans-related issues often focus on anti-trans violence. “It’s important that we do what we’re doing with TransGriot because it’s important that people know our history.”

Watters was reminded of the importance of chronicling trans history during the 2020 general election, when someone said there had never been a Black trans person elected to office. She corrected them, stating that on November 7, 2017, Andrea Jenkins became the first Black trans woman to win a Minneapolis City Council race. Jenkins also became the City Council’s vice president after her election.

Watters also remembers speaking to a young woman who was barred from barrel racing at the rodeo because she was trans. The woman felt hopeless, but Watters empowered her by reminding her of Renée Richards, a trans female tennis player who successfully sued the US Open to compete against other women.

In addition to preserving history and uplifting trans folks, Watters launched TransGriot to keep Roberts’ publication safe. In 2019, Roberts nearly lost her blog after it was suspended from the Google-owned Blogger service. Roberts and thousands of her supporters believe anti-trans internet trolls reported the site to take it down. Now that TransGriot has its own website, Watters and other contributors have the power to maintain the site. “No one can take TransGriot from us,” she says. “We can figure out what TransGriot looks like today, tomorrow, and in the future.”

Based on their conversations, Watters knew that Roberts wanted TransGriot to live on and evolve long after her death. The publication aims to prioritize intersectionality in the trans community and give Black trans people of all backgrounds the chance to contribute and have their voices heard.

“Monica Roberts is Monica Roberts; there’s not a need for someone to fill her shoes,” Watters says. “There are other shoes other people are wearing. Why not allow people to walk in them, provide other people a space to do that? Promoting Black trans voices is what will help us win the fight for equality.”

MX Leo Williams, a nonbinary Black person who uses they/them pronouns and currently lives in Jamaica, is proud to be a TransGriot contributor. They plan to write stories that promote hope and speak truth to power to dismantle oppressive systems that hurt trans people.

“Monica’s legacy deserves to be carried forward, and I am just overwhelmed and proud to be able to contribute to building on it,” they said.

Roberts, a native Houstonian, started TransGriot (pronounced trans gree-oh) in 2006. Her blog, which documented trans lives, issues, and anti-trans violence, became a valued source of accurate information for news outlets across the country. For her tireless reporting, Roberts received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Blog in 2018. She died of natural causes in early October of 2020, and was honored with an in-person service that was also livestreamed.

TransGriot L.L.C. launched with tributes to Roberts by trans people who attended her memorial service and helped organize it. Watters wanted to center trans voices and give attendees the chance to share what they couldn’t say during the in-person ceremony. “It was my way of saying thank you for coming and being there in person, because no one really had to be there in person during a pandemic.”

Many of the written tributes emphasized how valuable Roberts was to the Black trans community. Lain Littlejohn, a research assistant at Kansas State University who uses they/them and he/him pronouns and first met Roberts at a 2018 National Black Trans Advocacy Conference, wrote in their tribute, “[Even] in death, Auntie Monica continues to bring our community together and her work and contributions continue to inspire and inform the continued efforts of black trans people.”

Individuals can learn more about TransGriot L.L.C. by signing up for the newsletter and by heading to the Facebook Live page for TransGriot Weekly, an ongoing video series that summarizes recent events and trans-related issues. People can also support TransGriot L.L.C.  by contributing on the website’s support page.

For more information, visit transgriot.com.

This article appears in the April 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Lillian Hoang

Lillian Hoang is a staff reporter for OutSmart Magazine. She graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in journalism and minor in Asian American studies. She works as a College of Education communication assistant and hopes to become an editor-in-chief.
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