For trans disabled people, invisibility and isolation is the norm. Disability justice in every movement, including that of trans liberation, has been neglected in organizing demands and values. Despite this, trans disabled activists like Gabriel Foster and Kiyomi Fujikawa have not only strategized their survival but also worked to shift movements from the inside.
They both live in Seattle. Gabriel was born and raised there. Kiyomi found her way there after she moved from California, where she was born, after college.
Both are Executive Directors for organizations that help fund the work of marginalized people: Gabriel leads the Trans Justice Funding Project while Kiyomi is at Third Wave Fund. At a time when our collective resilience relies on how we choose to engage the wisdom of marginalized communities, Gabriel and Kiyomi are crucial community leaders.
Gabriel began organizing as a teenager. Over the course of a decade, he moved from being a constituent of the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee’s GLBTQ youth program to being among its staff. After leaving Seattle temporarily, he made several stops along the East Coast in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and then New York City, working on a myriad of issues from reproductive justice, arts in relation to social change, and trans legal rights. From his decades of devotion to movements for justice, he’s gleaned that among the most important things we can learn: “We must learn to be together. To just be. If we can’t learn to be together as people none of these movements can work.”
While Kiyomi now lives in Seattle, she grew up in the military-saturated city of San Diego. It wasn’t until she began college at UC Santa Barbara that she began working for the Women’s Center on-campus and finding her political home among queer and trans people of color. As a mixed-race Japanese person, her experience of the disability movement in the U.S. has been misaligned with trans justice, placing the two movements at odds. “Trans people are being asked to be removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Trans people want so badly not to be considered crazy. But there are some people who are trans and crazy or mad at the same time.”
Both Gabriel and Kiyomi acknowledge that the most cutting edge work within disability spaces has been done by queer and trans people who’ve broken down the narratives that create a hierarchy of bodies. And yet, this feels like the first time to both of them that queer and trans disabled people are placed center stage.
Trans people intimately know what it feels like to be peering through a glass wall at the people who are meant to be your community. In the 60s and 70s, trans people were not allowed in gay bars. And they were similar rejected by their families. Many of them had to turn to the streets and created their own communities from scratch. Adding another layer of marginalization, trans people with disabilities are left behind when they can’t access public spaces, turn to community for support, or have their oppression acknowledged at the very least. In fact it wasn’t until recently that disability was acknowledged as a political identity within queer and trans spaces at all.
When asked to imagine the ideal scenario for how disabled people would feel in queer and trans spaces, Gabriel drew a blank.
“I don’t know what it would look like. I’ve never been asked. There’s something to be said about the fact that we’ve never been asked to imagine beyond what we usually get.”
As with Gabriel, the question gave Kiyomi pause. She wasn’t sure how much would change in several years. But her only hope is that trans disabled people feel less isolated. “I think a lot about what it means to be valued. So many queer and trans disabled people are lonely. It’s systemic isolation… My hope is that the Disability Project will influence more movement spaces to invest in disability justice.”
We can’t have mass movements that transform the world if we can’t offer one another as individuals the dignity and humanity we deserve.
While the Disability Project feels like a ‘first’ for many, Gabriel reminds us that disabled people have always been a part of LGBTQ movements, but their legacies have had to be sanitized for mass consumption. “I think about Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson as people who might be considered disabled today. What parts of people are we conveniently forgetting to elevate them as icons?”
Gabriel and Kiyomi, alongside the Disability Project’s other advisory board members, are living ancestors, ensuring that the legacy of trans disabled brilliance will no longer be forgotten.