I smiled on command, ignoring his disdain for my sisters. I didn’t want him to know that I was just like them. When my clothing crumbled into a pile around my feet, it was my last act in shedding all that tied me to the other women who weren’t deemed worthy of being here. All that mattered was the continuation of his admiration, and my body would pay the price. Lying down, my limbs and developing breasts were my only offerings. He began to draw, reinterpreting every curve of my body to serve his agenda. When he revealed his work, I wondered whom he’d just spent his evening with. There on the page was a woman who could’ve been any of the women he’d discarded in the past. All that was recognizable was his attention to what was between my legs. The part of my body that had caused so much trouble in my life was all that he was interested in.
“Do you like it?”
Unwilling to sever our ties, I opened my body as my response. Taking him into me, I hoped his praises would register in body and become true. I winced to expand myself as he entered with ease. Finding pleasure in my struggle to accommodate him, he told me it would be over soon. Stepping away after his release, he began to get dressed. He had a flight the next morning, but I was welcome to stay in the hotel room by myself. This was his token of appreciation. On a bed that only belonged to temporary lovers, I watched him leave. The next morning, the view's stark concrete in sunlight replaced the lights of the city. Flaws were visible, their presence no longer welcoming. My stay in this life was over. The text on my phone alerted me that he was headed to Europe. He didn’t know when he would be back. He never came back. What did come back was the news of his art show. The conversation was set around a single drawing of a faceless trans woman exposing her penis. There was no mention of a name or of the evening that produced this work. My purpose had been served.
In his absence I found creativity. There was an erotic satisfaction in keeping my charms all to myself, and guarding them through my writing. For fashion designer Gogo Graham, her trans experience gave birth to her creativity. I first discovered her while the world slept, at 2am during an endless Tumblr scroll. The first image was of a trans woman in control of the way clothing hung from her body. Each girl that walks in one of Gogo’s shows works closely with her, ensuring that the clothes fit their body to their liking. Confronting the audience with the beauty and reality of the trans femme experience has become a hallmark of this brand that disregards the fashion system. When I asked her to speak with me, she replied within an hour of my email. Hearing her voice over the phone for the first time, I recognized something familiar in her tone. We both wanted to get our stories right. Both of us are from the South, and I was comforted by the slow cadence in her voice.
“I was in denial about my gender identity. When I came out, everything else came with it, including the creativity” —Gogo Graham
An ex-Biology major, she had dreams of New York. While she dreamt of the city in Texas, I was forging my path from Tennessee. Arriving in New York City, she found a community where she could construct her identity freely. “There’s something excellent about everything a trans girl does,” she said with a smile in her voice. We agree that by existing on the margins of the cisgender narrative, creative trans women have the ability to look at the world objectively. Allowing this to be her guide, every garment she creates is made with the woman in mind. Gogo creates clothing that echoes the voice of the wearer in its seams. In her latest show, the models appear drenched in fake blood, mirroring '70s horror films. In a language the audience can understand, Gogo handed the cisgender viewer the weight of our politicized existence.
“I wanted people to feel how we feel” —Gogo Graham
The effect was haunting, although not free from the artist’s own critique. For future shows, she is committed to making a political stance that is true for her. Although all trans women experience violence, black trans women experience the bulk of that violence. Gogo, from her experiences as a mixed-race Japanese person, is aware of the danger in telling a story that's not her own . Nonetheless, the resourcefulness of her work is palpable and directly learned from her own trans experience. Without mass production and large corporations financially backing her, once a season she gathers trans women across race, size, and identities. For an evening, she creates a trans-centric space in the middle of a fashion week that often turns trans people into a trend. Here is where trans creativity in New York comes to thrive, and all the women can be seen as they see themselves.
“We need to hold onto these things – this is what makes us who we are, and it’s all we have” —Gogo Graham
Alone in my bedroom the day after our conversation, the sun was my only visitor. It was the time of day where the sunlight reached every plant, book, and painting in my home. Life was greeting me, beckoning me to write this piece. To create something as a trans woman is to extend oneself beyond the carnal. As our ideas of gender shift, the creativity of trans women is making this change known and felt. As cis people at large begin to feel this shift, they are already reacting to us. We are being kept out of bathrooms, shelters, and history. A trans woman defending herself through creativity is a way to ensure the cisgender gaze no longer controls us. This control must be confronted, and our creations are the evidence that we deserve to expand and place our history on the shelf. We are survived by our will to create.