Journey Story

When Revolution Comes

by Taj M. Smith

I realized how much I hated myself the day I admitted to myself that I’m trans. I’d never noticed before then the nauseated feeling in my stomach each time I looked in a mirror, or how I never could take compliment without some type of rebuttal, or how much I clamored for attention while looking for the exit at the same time.

I often didn’t notice my tears—they seemed constant.

It all clicked the day I decided to transition into a name and a set of pronouns that fit me.

On a random day prior to transition day, I fell before my altar asking for something. I had no idea what would happen or what I needed, but I knew something had change. A voice like an old radio signal sounded in my mind asking, “Which revolution are you down for?”

I had no response. Revolution? I had always pictured revolution as something huge—way bigger than me. It happened “out there,” in the world beneath my feet, the world in which I trespassed daily, where every breath felt wrong, each step was heavy with guilt, and the body in the mirror—all dark-skinned and misgendered—couldn’t matter less.

The signal played again: “Which revolution are you down for?”  

I folded my legs, letting my body sink into the floor while staring down the picture of Jesus on my altar. His gaze pierced mine, all translucent and blue and angular. The sun floated behind his head against a curtain of stars and faraway planets. A crimson rose bloomed in center of his chest revealing Earth, also blue but opaque—a solid sphere enveloped in Christ and stars.

I wanted to climb into the flower and let it close around me. I wanted to leave the world in the ethereal visage of Blue-Jesus-in-Space to climb inside of the safety of the rose. Revolution? Forget it.

Blue-Jesus-in-Space would not let me forget. The question nipped at my heels. It gathered me into the library where I combed through the sections on radical politics and queer theory. Fanon, DuBois, Butler, and Rubin became familiar names among my friends as we debated race, class, gender, and the futility of large institutions.

I attended every lecture Angela Davis gave in my area and began visiting (sometimes volunteering at) a resource center dedicated to the theory and practice of nonviolence. I read scripture daily while devouring theory with the hope that I might gain an insight if not an answer to the question.

Nothing came together.

The day I announced my transition, I found myself in front of my altar after notifying several friends. This time, I sat casually, praying for the next round of notifications to go smoothly. Somewhere in the silence between praises, the question arose, this time with more force, “Which revolution are you down for?”

Still not knowing how to answer the question, I shot to my feet ready to let the heavens know how little that was helping. But something clicked. The one that’s happening right now, inside myself.

I took stock of the all of the times I had policed my own behavior to make someone else more comfortable. A film reel of all the ways I felt incapable of taking up space rolled in my mind. Every single insult hurled at me about my blackness and my queerness filled my ears, an unbearable litany of the nastiness that I had taken into myself as truth.

I had been severely hurt and it was showing.

The words left cuts and bruises on my idea of how life should be. I had been living under the impression that there was only one way to be even as I tried to free myself from it. I noted how my “critical” eye was actually just judgmental. All of the comments on what she was wearing and how he looked flooded my brain, forcing tears down my face.

This time, I noticed them. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I was doing just that. I hated myself, and I hated my neighbors just the same. I wanted to ask how to love them. I wanted to know how I could make the terrible feelings stirred by this revolution inside me go away. I knew I needed to start with myself. Rather, I knew that’s where the first revolution was beginning.

This moment in my life calls to me lately, as more bodies fill the streets to inform people of what they should already know: that black lives matter. It played on low-volume repeat after I heard that a gunman had taken 50 lives (including his own) at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando on an 18 and over Latinx night.

I think about this moment each time I think about all of my queer comrades who might be living double lives and hating it and who might be considering suicide. I think about this moment most when confronted with other trans people struggling through their own internalized transphobia or other black people who have just realized how much anti-blackness has infiltrated their being. The face of Blue-Jesus-in-Space creeps into my mind, each time revealing the earth cradled in his heart like pollen inside of a blooming rose.

Each time, the voice: “Which revolution are you down for?”

I reply, “The one that demands that we own our mistakes and heal the wounds left by them so we can love better.”  The world we live in teaches us that some lives are more valuable than others. That people are only as useful as what they can contribute to our lives. That there are some people who just don’t matter.

This is an untruth. People have unquantifiable worth, and part of the work of revolution is to unseat the idea that we don’t. We are living in a moment when those people who have been so devalued are standing up and demanding that their wounds be seen. People are demanding action from those who have been able to stay silent.

Revolution recognizes that, instead of just one way, there are so many different ways of living together. I had to realize that the work of revolution began inside of me. I had to envision and actuate a relationship with myself that looks nothing like anything I had been taught. I had to dream it. I had to learn and unlearn it.

Instead of running from it, I had to let it change me with my mouth open wide for more.

Most of all, I had to want it. I still want it. I’m still beginning to uncover the effects of a world telling me that I don’t matter on my spirit.

Sometimes, I still want to run. But I can’t. When the question is posed: which revolution are you down for? I find a place to sit, tilt my head to the sky, and say, “Revolution? Yes, please.”

Photo via flickr user Mídia NINJA