Sunday, 13 September 2015

Interview with Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor 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 voices, 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 affects 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 a woman like me, living where I lived in magical situations doing magical things. So I said why to 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 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 than it cost but it laid the groundwork for what I do now and how I access creating art.

Reading her book to the audience.

Monika: Is there anything like transgender art? What does it mean to be a transgender artist?
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 a part of TWOCC (Trans Women of Color Collective) and we are one of the only black trans women founded and run organizations. 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 affected 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 Durkin, Ryka Aoki, 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 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 opposed 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 than 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.

There are Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major. There are the trans ancestors called by many names in many cultures, their sacrifices, their stories, their bravery to honor their spiritual selves, and beholders of ancestor truth move me every day to continue to be me and fight for others to be able to be themselves.
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, at 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 see 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 are bound to get free too, just because.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Dane: … I will say this. America has a lot of deaths to atone for and a lot of people have 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 the genocide of indigenous people, anti-blackness, slavery, and privileged 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?
Dane: I actually want to take the T out of the acronym and have us realize that while some trans people are L, G, or B, not all LGB people are trans and because structural oppression privileges cisness, trans people are often erased and silenced.
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: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Dane: I don't, and we can. And “Your oppressor will never save you.” I live in DC we have some of the best legislation protecting Trans people's rights and yet I am still discriminated against often. The government is not set up to care about any of us. Look at our Congress. When the government wants to hold itself accountable for its hands in our deaths then we can have a conversation.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Dane: I do like fashion. My style changes from time to time. I am not really big into name-brand things. I am currently feeling red dresses. I see myself in something red and I go in.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Dane: Love is Eternity, Love is my salvation. Without love, I would be in my grave, but love without healing is sometimes a fool's errand, love without accountability isn't love at all. I love me, my mother loves me, my cis and trans sisters and my community love me, and it is that love that really helps me to wake up every day.
I try to be as loving as I possibly can because love can shift worlds. I am really interested in healing because being healed allows us to not only recognize love but bath ourselves in its truth and thus radiate it.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Dane: Nope. I love the memoirs that are out there. I feel like so many publishing houses are only interested in memoirs and for myself personally, I see this as another way the cis lens invade our lives and attempt to control our narratives.
We are writers, we have fiction stories dripping from our pens, poetry birthed on our tongues. So many trans writers of fiction and poetry exist and the work is great.
Me personally, I am too young to write a memoir, maybe when I am fifty. I have a lot more living to do. And fiction and poetry were a part of the art that helped to save my life. There is room for both the memoir and the work of fiction. We have to start celebrating our amazing trans creative birthing new worlds and etching new possibilities. 
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Dane: I am! I am coming out with an EP at the end of the year. We are now raising money to record the live concept album for me and Andrew Morrissey's musical Roaring (about a trans woman star in the 20s). I am a part of the Hothouse13 Development Playwriting series and so my piece Absalom will be presented as reading there in October and I am completing Keeper, which is Book 2 in The Ghetto Goddess Series.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Dane: Get you some friends who love you, and that will be invested in lifting you up when you are down and be invested in being that type of friend to yourself and to others. If you don't have them, instagram me. I will help to celebrate you, honey.
Beauty comes in many shapes, forms, and beings and you are the inheritor of a rich legacy, you are the hope for generations to come. Remember you are everything and You are more than enough.
Monika: Dane, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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