Being black did effect in to how I managed my transition. In my pre-transition days, when I would go out dressed, I was getting clocked in my neighborhood. Outside of my neighborhood it rarely happened but near home was a different story. In particular it was black men who were clocking me. And they were not kind when they did it. The most painful experiences I had in those days came at the hands of black men. The loud-talking, the derisive laughter, the taunts and the threats I experienced still haunt me to this day. The lesson I learned from that was simple and clear: as a budding black transgender woman stay clear of other black folk.
I didn’t want to leave my community. There is a lot of comfort in being among those who share a significant part of your daily experience. However transition was not going to work for me in my black neighborhood. So I determined that the best thing for me to do when I was ready to transition was to move. So at the end of 1997 I left Seattle’s Central District where I was living and moved to Silverdale, WA. There were not many black people there and there I worked on my presentation. I did the hard work that a trans woman in the early stages of transition has to do.
About a year later I came back to Seattle but it was to the Ballard neighborhood. Ballard was mostly white and had not yet become the hipster capital that it is today. There I continued to blossom as Carla and my confidence grew. I was living in Ballard that fateful year when my male life finally collapsed in ruins and I was birthed into my full-time life as Carla.
Ten years later I was sent to serve a congregation in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle. Rainier Beach has a large black population. On top of that I moved to Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood, which also has a large black population. My life in both neighborhoods was full and rich. I found acceptance as exactly what I was: a middle aged black woman. I even got to the point where interacting with my black brothers became a joy. The only time when things got a bit tense is when I had to tell them, “Sorry. I’m spoken for.”
I sometimes reflect on this irony of my transition. In order to find myself as a black trans woman, I had to leave my black neighborhood. Only when I had found me apart from my community was I able to return and find a place in my community. I don’t pretend that this is a universal experience. In fact, I would guess that this not the way it usually happens for black trans folk. But that’s how it was for me.
My life in both the Rainier Beach and Columbia City neighborhoods came to an end in January of 2013. I miss both neighborhoods. Now I live and work in yet two others parts of the region. Still I’ve called this region home now for well over 20 years. If Cleveland is Nice Guy’s city, then Seattle is Carla’s city and her home town. For all that has happened to me here, it is now home, sweet home.