Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, a Nigerian, Cuban Indigenous American actress, singer, dancer, writer, radio host, oracle, healer and teacher, the first trans woman of color in Washington DC to publish a work of fiction, a member of the leadership team of Trans Women of Color Collective, listed in the 2015 Trans 100, a group of trans people honored for their work on trans issues in the United States and having a positive impact. Hello Dane!
Dane: Hi Monika, How are you?
Monika: I am fine, thank you. You are a woman of so many talents! Let’s start with one of your blessings, namely, singing. You are dubbed the Ancient Jazz Priestess of Mother Africa …
Dane: I am, I was given that title a while ago when I was very young, and a powerful medium was reading my aura as I performed. He said “You are a priestess of Mother Africa”.
People have said that there is a timelessness about the way I perform, I really honor ancestor and their voice, and most of the music I sang during that period of my life was jazz. My aunt Liz is a jazz singer and my mama and all her sisters sing, so in time, the title Ancient Jazz Priestess of Mother Africa became a crown I happily wear.
Monika: You also wrote three novels, including “Yemaya’s Daughters” (2013) …
Dane: Well, one book of poetry and two novels. Yemaya's Daughters was my first published novel in 2013. It is about a trans priestess named Inanna and her sisters, as well as Maryam (The Mother of Jesus). Maryam's story takes place in the past and Inanna's story takes place in the present. The overarching theme is the way colonization effects indigenous cultures.
My second book is called Baltimore: A Love Letter. It is a book of poetry. It was written as an ode to my birthplace as well as a defiance piece against the media that was attempting to malign the resistance in Baltimore. There are poems of revolution, and love as well. I wanted to take back the narrative that paints Baltimore as the scourge of the states. There is so much magic there, and so many beautiful people, and art.
I feel the Government abandoned Baltimore, and what we are left with is a city of tears. This book was me controlling my own narrative, and celebrating the hidden beauty of the city and those I love.
|Dane's book and herself.|
My third book is a novel called Brew. It is the first of the Ghetto Goddess Series, it takes place in Baltimore. It is about a trans mother and daughter who are witches. I grew up loving Sabrina the Teenage witch, Bewitched, Charmed, Scarlet Witch, Zatanna, but I really wanted to see woman like me, living where I lived in magical situations doing magical things. So I said why keep asking for this story to be written and I should just write it myself. I am currently working on Keeper, Book II.
Monika: However, cabaret seems to be your favorite art. You began producing your own cabarets at the age of seventeen …
Dane: I did. It was earlier, but I say seventeen because seventeen is when I started to do it because it was something I loved. At first I did one the year before to raise money for University. My friend Monet did it, and it was very successful for her and she gave me advice and said “try it and see”.
I was studying jazz “formally” at the time and singing with a few musician friends, so I got us together, paid a little money and did a show at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.
It gave me a new perspective on what it means to be a creative, particularly that if someone isn't creating the art you want to see or hiring you to sing, or act, or dance, produce your own show. It isn't easy, and some days I performed to ten people and made less money then it cost but it laid the ground work for what I do now and how I access creating art.
|Reading her book to the audience.|
Dane: For me being a Trans artist is a title I bear proudly. Yes, we are artists who just happen to be trans, but for so long we have been erased from space and silenced and to be a trans Artist is to be connected to a deeply magical state of being.
The culture of our indigenous ancestors loved us, so I feel I am simply existing in a place that was always meant for me to occupy by Divine Rite.
Monika: You are the champion of a myriad of causes that touch on transgender rights. Could you name some of the most successful initiatives that you took part in?
Dane: I am apart of TWOCC (Trans Women of Color Collective) and we are one of the only black trans women founded and run organization. We have been at the forefront doing healing circles, we use to do a lot more direct actions, our members have been at the White House several times. We are about dismantling structural oppression, uplifting the lived narratives and work of those most effected by structural oppression and fighting for liberation for us all.
Healing is at the heart of what we do, the most recent work we are doing is Lourdes Ashley Hunter and I are teaching a seminar on healing and Restoration in Social Justice Movements this Friday.
I also volunteer for Casa Ruby, which is founded by my social justice mother Ruby Corado and the largest employer of trans people in the United States currently. There we have been at the forefront of employment initiatives, creating several transitional homes for youth and adult LGBTQ people in DC, combating homelessness, and creating a haven, a safe place for everyone to come and feel loved and cared for.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Dane: I love the work of Casey Plett, Red, and Ryka and the amazing characters they have created. Trans writers are out there making waves and doing the work.
As far as the cis writers and their trans characters... well... I will say this, I have been unimpressed mostly. I am simply at a place in my life when I am over cis people telling trans stories and their obsession with how we fuck and what we have between our legs.
There are trans writers writing trans characters with nuance, authenticity and a ferocity that quite frankly I feel cis writers lack when they write characters of a trans experience. They tend to make the body the unsung hero in the story as oppose to simply writing a kick ass character who just happens to be trans.
I also believe Hollywood masks its buy-in to structural oppression (as it manifest through the lens of transphobia and misogyny) by utilizing every excuse not to have trans people at the table. I am done with trans people being the butt of jokes, or the stereotyped character, or even the character who always has to be harmed in order for anyone to care about them and reach catharsis. Like, haven't we laid down our bodies enough in real life for cis white men....
There are many trans experiences but Hollywood seems to be interested in only one and it is boring to me, and then add on top of that trans people are hardly ever seen for trans characters, let alone, often for anything else, despite the number of trans actors who exist.
Monika: At what age did you transition? Was it a difficult process?
Dane: My social justice mother Ruby Corado says “Transition starts when you make up your mind to be who you are.” and I agree. So, I began body transition last year. I have been attempting to break free of the violence of being misgendered and internalized misogyny for longer then that.
My process is only as difficult as realizing that white supremacy has a hold on so many people's ideas of gender that so many people forget trans identities existed in indigenous cultures dating back to the beginning of time. State sanctioned violence and colonization have and continue to attempt to erase us completely.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Dane: I have many Lourdes, mama Ruby, my Aunties Consuella and Cece, my sisters Katrina, Sami, Mother Koko Jones. These are women I admire, respect, who I can call at any time on any day, wail about my frustration and strategize healing and restoration.
There was my Auntie Jimmy who was not given the opportunity to explore who she really was and live her life unapologetically. She has passed.
|Among her readers.|
The number of trans sisters I love and respect expands at every moment, thanks to social media and the platform I have created. We are so incredible, I am blessed to be living at this time, in this moment.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Dane: Learning to love me means learning how to cut ties, learning how to divest myself of buy-in to structural oppression, learning how to know that the pain I suffered at the hands of those who said I shouldn't be me was not because I deserved it.
The hardest thing is the desire to wake up everyone to seeing the evils of white supremacy while knowing that I won't be able to save everyone. While knowing that by virtue of my intersections there are people I am fighting to get free that would rather have me be eradicated from the face of the Earth. While I stand in solidarity with those who stand in solidarity with me, when you dismantling structural oppression some folk who don't like you bound to get free too, just because.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Dane: …. I will say this. America has a lot of deaths to atone for and a lot of people has to answer to. It is still legal to discriminate against trans people in over thirty states in the US. And on top of that, The US has yet to actually pay for and admit its hand in its own making.
Our country is built on genocide of indigenous people, anti-blackness, slavery and privileging white cis men and it continues to be the poison that festers in America's veins. We are in a global state of emergency. Trans people are being killed everywhere in the world and we, the people, cannot be lax on calling out the world's governments and the blood they have on their hands.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
The modern LGBTQ movement was founded on the back of trans women of color, and they are erased constantly. Just because you are LGBTQ, it doesn't mean you can't be racist or misogynist.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
All the photos: courtesy of Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi.