Islan, & Harlem, & Me

Posted by – August 25, 2013

I went to college in Harlem, slept with men in Harlem, lived a little north of Harlem and a little south of Harlem for most of my 20s. I cut my teeth on womanism, which was the first form of feminism that ever felt like it invited me in.

& I used to ride the subway to and through Harlem and I saw young women like Islan on their way downtown to the Piers or from a date and it was one of the only times in my life I used to pray, the way an agnostic might, to my grandma, to keep that young woman safe. I was a white woman from the suburbs who moved through black and brown communities safely because of my skin privilege & straight privilege & cis privilege. That is not to say I always was safe, & ultimately, I wasn’t, but that’s another story for another day.

& I wasn’t going to say too much about Islan because I am still recovering from the shock and horror and sadness of the deaths of Cemia and Evon, but then I read this short, raw piece by Grace Annam at Alas & thought better of my silence.

& The non-trans people of this planet need to step the fuck up. We can’t keep letting this happen.

There’s a lot more to say. There’s a lot more anger & heartache & sorrow & fury where this post came from, & sometimes I want an emotional callous to keep from feeling all of it every time I see a beautiful face like Islan’s & hear it was blotted out of existence by someone’s fists, except I don’t want that callous either, because what kind of asshole would I be then?

3 Comments on Islan, & Harlem, & Me

  1. Stephanie Stevens says:

    Back before your time, I’m sure, but back then while going to a college in the Village, riding the subway to or from W4th or Astor Pl, I had fears for folks, regardless of “skin privilege.”

  2. Donna says:

    Thank you so much for this, Helen. This is devastating. I can’t get over that this happened right here in Manhattan, just a couple of miles from where I live. Islan was executed for the “sin” of being in public while trans. Sometimes I feel that nothing ever changes; not really.

  3. gennee says:

    Helen, I live about a mile from where it happened. I’m somewhat familiar with the area.

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