Christian Carmen Olivia Jane is a black transgender woman who works as a freelance diversity and inclusion consultant. Here’s how she lives with having a marginalized identity while also working to protect similar identities. 

Every morning, Christian Carmen Olivia Jane, 25, wakes up between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. to start her daily routine.

Before anything else, she makes her morning cup of coffee. On the days she wakes up early, she will call her friend Arykah while she’s getting ready for work.

Then she starts the one-to-two-hour process of getting ready.

“When I do my makeup, it’s kind of like my ritual time,” Christian says.

“I turn on music in the background. Or lately, I have taken it upon myself to rewatch the entire series Charmed. It’s just sort of that quiet time.”

She washes and moisturizes her face, brushes her teeth and starts getting dressed as her moisturizer sets. She doesn’t need to worry about her outfit; she’s been planning it for days, so it’s already neatly set out in the order she puts it on.

After the clothes, she adds makeup. Right now, Christian is using Kat Von D foundation because it has the best coverage, and she pairs the natural face with a bold lip — her signature look. This step always takes the longest.

Next, she does her hair in a way that best suits her outfit for the day.

When she’s done, she stores it all away for the next morning. The makeup, the curling iron, the bonnet. They all have their place. She likes neatness.

Finally, just before she’s ready to walk out the door, she slips on one of her many pairs of high heels — also chosen in advance — and grabs her sunglasses.

Her ensemble is complete, and she’s ready to hit the streets of New York City.

In Christian’s life, everything has a purpose: every move she makes, every item of clothing she wears, every word she speaks. As a transgender woman of color, she feels she must be purposeful in everything she does, not only to survive, but to live, which she believes every black trans woman has a right to do. Now, answering to strangers and fighting the ongoing battle of survival in a society that doesn’t accept her or those who present as she does has become her personality, at least on the surface.

Christian poses for a photo on the roof of VOCAL. Source: Christian Carmen Olivia Jane

Christian grew up in Cincinnati with a doting mother and aunt. They were her rocks. They tried to give her every opportunity, from enrolling her in a school for gifted children to teaching her foreign languages and musical instruments starting in early elementary school.

In high school, Christian realized she was different. At first, she thought she was a gay cisgender male. It wasn’t until she attended the Art Institute of Ohio — Cincinnati, that she discovered the language, knowledge and awareness to label herself properly. She began to identify as a transgender woman.

But she didn’t want to be a trans woman because she had no real role models. For the most part, trans women of color in the media had a bad name. They weren’t out fighting for their communities or leading by example. Those trans women worked the streets, at least the ones that Christian saw or knew.

After reading the memoir “Redefining Realness” by Janet Mock, a trans woman of color who worked as a journalist for People.com and Entertainment Tonight, as an editor at Marie Claire magazine and as a host on MSNBC, Christian began to see role models in the trans community and began to accept herself as a trans woman.

“I think there was this period, years ago, when I spent two months really soul-searching and reading,” she says.

“I think it was around that time and somewhere in that space when I realized I was trans.”

She does not feel comfortable talking about the specific moments that led to her realizing she was a woman, nor does she feel comfortable talking about her coming out moment because she doesn’t believe she had one. It was more like a series of moments that led to her saying to people, “Oh, by the way, I’m trans.” Most of her close friends would just respond with something like, “Oh, we know.” She says the first “person” she actually told was her cat Grayson.

“I think that there is something that’s sensationalized about the coming out moment,” she says.

To Christian, it wasn’t a big deal, but rather, something inevitable.

Now that she’s come to terms with her identity and is constantly striving to live as her most authentic version of herself, Christian dedicates most of her time to fighting for herself and for those who aren’t capable of doing so. She’s self-employed as a diversity and inclusivity consultant, which means companies and organizations across the country hire her to conduct trainings on diversity, inclusivity and intersectionality.

In her spare time, she volunteers at VOCAL New York, a small nonprofit organization working primarily toward preventing homelessness and HIV in the LGBT community. Lately, she’s also been working on expanding her network by familiarizing herself with more nonprofits in the New York area.

“Doing this kind of work is great,” she says.

“It’s very rewarding, but it’s also very labor intensive and it’s exhausting.”

Too often, her work carries into her personal life, where even her friends and colleagues see her as a face for an entire community, and they ask her to speak on behalf of black feminists and black trans women in everyday conversation.

Members of VOCAL view a microaggression wall that Christian created for a training she conducted with the organization. Source: Christian Carmen Olivia Jane

“I did a training with (VOCAL) earlier this year,” Christian says.

“After the training was over and I was still around, they would come up and ask me to help them with things and help them understand. And I’m like, I would love to help you, but please understand that all the labor you’re asking me to do after this training are not things that I naturally do without getting paid.”

Christian is trying to survive. She understands what it’s like to walk down the street and have a stranger approach her because of how she looks, even in New York City where diversity can be found on every city block.  

People stare at her, some of them because they like the way she looks. Others? Not so much.

Every day, from the streets to the subway stations, she encounters people who think she has answers for them. And it has gotten to the point that she expects it.

She knows she represents, in everyone else’s eyes — and maybe in her own, too — every black trans woman, because most people have never and will never meet another black trans woman in their lifetime. Christian has lived with that since she started living as a woman a few years ago.

Though she dresses well, she does what she can to keep a low profile in public to avoid unwanted interactions with strangers. She wears her sunglasses. She keeps a straight face. She ignores people who look at her and most of those who speak to her.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to just keep walking. Some people don’t let her.

“Excuse me, ladies. Excuse me,” a man shouts to her as he half-jogs through the crosswalk to make it across the street before the light changes. He looks Christian up and down and says, “Do you even know what women go through?”

“What?”

“I said, do you even know what women go through?” he asks. “Every month, do you even know what they go through?”

“Do you?” she asks, surprised at the gall of the man.

He repeats his question, inching closer to her with every word, anger and confusion in his eyes.

“This,” she says. They go through men like him approaching them and asking ignorant questions. They go through men who feel they are entitled to do or say whatever they want in that moment.

He stands there for three minutes, yelling at her, telling her she’s not a woman, telling her she has no idea what women go through, asking, “How dare you?”

It’s not the first time a stranger has approached her.

People will stop her and tell her she looks famous, or her lips are beautiful or her outfit is gorgeous. Sometimes, they’ll yell like the man on the street, denying her existence. It’s usually not aggressive, she says, but it is uncomfortable and, at times, unnerving. In one of her more disconcerting experiences, a man followed her on the train all the way back to the Bronx.

Since the beginning of 2017, 25 transgender people were killed, most of whom were black women. And Christian is angry. Heartbroken. Coming to terms with the fact that women like her are murdered for simply existing. At 25-years-old, she genuinely believes she will become one of those numbers — dying at the hands of another person.

And the constant questioning, the stares, the blatant verbal attacks that invalidate who she is are what feed that fear.

Not only does Christian face verbal judgment by complete strangers, but she also faces more tangibly detrimental effects of transphobia. Unable to maintain a job because of her identity, she struggled with homelessness for a while, which is what eventually led her to New York. In the summer of 2016, the True Colors Fund chose her for its “40 of the Forty” program where she met her current roommate.

While at the True Colors Fund, Christian worked on a project called “Give a Damn,” which focused both on violence in and against the LGBT community and awareness of homelessness in the community.

“That project was all about highlighting the intersectional nature of LGBT issues,” Nick Seip, Christian’s former project manager at the True Colors Fund, said. “We try hard to filter things through a racial justice and poverty lens.”

The True Colors Fund discontinued the project last year, but its purpose lives on through some of the fund’s other projects and missions.

“Just because [Give a Damn’s] gone doesn’t mean that all the awesome work that Christian did is gone,” Seip said. “It really helped us focus our messaging around intersectionality, because it’s something that we’ve always, all of us, believed in and tried to practice.”

Christian attended this year’s True Colors Fund Summit and posed for a photo with Nick Seip who works for TCF. Source: Christian Carmen Olivia Jane

The True Colors Fund found her because of one of her previous jobs working for the University of Cincinnati’s Racial Awareness Program office. There, she trained students and faculty on topics ranging from race to gender to intersectionality.

“I have been able to acquire that fantastic knowledge and put it in a beautiful bow, a Christian Carmen Olivia Jane bow, and package it and really be able to share that knowledge with so many different spaces and communities all over the country,” she says.

Christian’s experiences at RAP helped her develop not only her professional resume, but her ability to work with others and teach more effectively what it means to be inclusive and accepting and equal. But that becomes difficult when she faces the issue of people generalizing her ability to educate based on her identity.

“I think a lot of people think, ‘okay, she’s a black trans woman and she does this and she does that and she speaks well and she dresses well and this and that and whatever, so she would be the perfect person to come in and talk to this group because they will pay attention to her,’” she says.

“And maybe eight times out of 10 that is true, but sometimes, that is also very intimidating.”

When anyone equates a single person with an entire population, it creates rifts on both sides. Christian explains that just because she is a black trans woman does not mean anything about her personality or those of everyone in the transgender community.

“I am these things. These are a part of who I am. These are layers of my identity,” she says. “Just because I am these things doesn’t mean that it is mutually exclusive with this (identity).”

About a year ago, Christian was sitting with a friend of hers, watching a news segment on police brutality against people of color.

Thinking out loud, she asked him, “How can black people go outside and feel safe?”

While the question was meant rhetorically, her friend still answered.

“They can’t. We’ll all die. They’re gonna kill all of us.”

She said nothing back.

“That sat with me for a few days,” she says, now recalling the short conversation.

“And I thought, damn, that’s so true. We all are going to die. Black people and people of color, queer people, are going to go extinct. And if you meet at the intersections of a couple of those identities, you’re really about to be done.”

At this point, she’s being completely honest with herself, saying things she’s been wary to say out loud for a while.

“For me to be (25-years-old) and to have coped with the idea of dying and be okay with the idea of dying literally at any moment, at any fucking second, is not normal. For me to think that I’m going to die, for me to think that I am very likely to die by the hands of somebody else and to just be somewhat at peace with that is not fucking normal. But it just is what it is.”

She takes a long pause, looking down before continuing.

“And I hope that’s not true, but I believe that it is. That’s just the reality of my existence, of the existence of a lot of people.”

Every interaction, no matter how insignificant it may seem, has added to that fear of becoming yet another number on a list. She doesn’t need to have had an experience that made her think someone will kill her to put that belief into her head; the fact that someone killed another trans woman of color, and the fact that it has already happened so many times in 2017, put it there.

“To note that trans people, out of over 300 million people in the United States, make up .3 percent of the population — (there are no) numbers of trans women of color for that .3 percent — and eight bitches died in two months,” Christian says.

“What the hell? That don’t even sound right.”

She’s angry and afraid, and it shows in the way her brows crease, her mouth shifts, her tone changes from one of professionalism to emotionalism, her eyes look off searching for answers that aren’t there. She sits in silence for a long moment after spewing thoughts she’s tired of containing.

Why should she care if it makes other people afraid? She lives with this fear daily. It’s time others hear it, too. Maybe something will change. Maybe not.

“How can we have policies and protections in place for animals that are dying off, but we don’t have that for people? That’s weird,” Christian says.

Her shoes lay kicked off on the floor; her jacket drapes over her legs like a blanket. She keeps taking pauses, as if to assure herself this is her reality.

Finally, she says she’s just tired of having these same conversations.

People keep dying, and nobody listens or pays attention. People keep asking her the same questions, but they don’t seem to hear the answers. And no one has answers to her questions, which aren’t difficult.

Why are trans women of color being murdered?

Why have there been no legal consequences to the murders this year?

Why aren’t people talking about it?                                

“What the hell?”

Christian has been transparent in her fears on her blog, The Cis Jungle, which she intends to use as a tool to help solve some of the issues plaguing trans women of color, specifically black trans women.  

“We spend a lot of time talking about trans folks of color and trans women of color,” she says.

“But black trans women are really going through it, more than I even am, especially here in New York City.”

That’s why she wants to create The Black (trans) Woman Summit, which will be a space dedicated specifically to black trans women and helping them take back control of their lives. She does not want to live in fear of murder, or HIV/AIDS, or losing her job based on her gender identity. And she wants to make sure other black trans women aren’t living with the same fears, not to mention countless others.

“I’m trying to figure out ways that the work that I do can focus on getting those women in a place where they can take back control of their own lives and sort of just live happy, full, healthy lives and lives with possibilities and focus on living and focus on the things that they care about instead of focusing on surviving,” Christian says. “I really want The Cis Jungle to focus on that, too.”

She wants to build a community “for trans and queer folks by trans and queer folks,” as the funding page for the summit states. The blog will transform into a space of resources, networking and job opportunities for trans and queer people.

 

During a trip to Albany, New York with VOCAL, Christian smiled for a photo. Source: Christian Carmen Olivia Jane

At the end of the day, she wants to ensure that every trans person and every queer person can live authentically because she knows what it’s like to be denied that right.

And every night, when she’s finished with her work — work that needs to be diversity and inclusion because that’s the type of work that fuels her existence — she makes the commute back home. She rides the train back to her Bronx apartment with the blue walls that she doesn’t like. The walls she wishes were yellow because of what yellow represents.

Before she kicks off her heels the second she walks in the door.

Before she lays out her clothes for tomorrow, her makeup, anything that makes getting ready to get out and face the world again just a little less stressful, a little easier.

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