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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

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MAY 2021 Issue
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Linda La. Courtesy the author.
Linda La. Courtesy the author.

My last day in social services was October 31, 2019. After devoting over 10 years of my life to helping my community for the sake of financial stability, I was finally ready to pursue my dream of being a full-time performing artist. I was invited to host and perform a response to the Kara Walker exhibit Fons Americanus at the Tate Modern in London that December. I went on my first birthday trip two weeks later to my father’s homeland, Puerto Rico. It felt so liberating to not have to compromise my joy for sustainability. By March, I had been cast as a feature dancer on Pose and began rehearsals. I found myself in a wardrobe fitting, apprehensive about the shoot seeing how nervous people were to shake hands. Every gig, production, appearance, interview, or public speaking engagement was canceled after that.

I fell into a deep depression and began feeling more like a prisoner in my own home while I struggled to maintain contact with my brother in prison at Rikers. I became physically inactive, reverting to old childhood habits of self isolating, ignoring calls, and avoiding friends. For the first time in many years, I started watching the news again everyday to stay informed. I grew frustrated with the growing number of people protesting issues many people I knew from my community, including myself, had been bringing awareness to for years. The need for isolation and basic human rights are more familiar to trans bodies than anyone. I began questioning my purpose, feeling very disposable.

After five years in the making, I chose to utilize the excessive down time to finalize my first studio project, Adjusting my Crown. As trangender visibility increased, so did the murders of Black trans women. As someone who never expected to make it past 27, witnessing another change in our rate of mortality created a fire within me to finish the project before something terrible happened to me. And Jill Scott had convinced me it was no longer mine and belonged in the world. Thankfully, I continued to receive invitations to create new work and was invited to write a piece that would finally allow me to return to a live stage to perform for the city’s first annual Juneteenth Jubilee. I performed a piece that I would go on to convert for a digital Pride performance at New York Live Arts. This gained the attention of Bill T. Jones, who invited me to perform in collaboration with Lee Ming Wei at the Metropolitan Museum that September. Unfortunately, I received the offer the day right before I found out my grandfather passed in my mother’s homeland, Antigua, and was unsure whether schedule, travel, and health restrictions would prevent me from being able to be present for both.

September 2020 was tumultuous, but it presented a unique opportunity to reconnect with family I had not seen since childhood. My grandfather never accepted me, thus we were never close, but Bill T. reminded me so much of him. The opportunity to perform at the Met was all the acceptance I needed, but being back in Antigua taught me a lot about my lineage and the familial acceptance I needed. Considering the conservative culture in the West Indies, I developed a deep fear of going back. Confronting the loss was difficult, but I was met with a radical acceptance by my relatives, I think partly because of the sudden loss and how well I was able to blend into the gender binary there. Every creative project I participated in deepened in meaning thereafter. Between the protests that were going on across the world to abolish police systems and jails, I worried about the intersections in my own family, feeling like patriarchy was finally dying.

It has been difficult to recount the wins this past year. The changes have happened so fast, I haven’t had time to process the losses. While it seems that most are hanging onto hope that life will return something close to what we remember, I have been embracing the possibility that it won’t. I used to say that if I lived on a desert island I may have never transitioned. Quarantine was the perfect test for this theory. Being stuck in the house, scared to see the ones I love, without the pressure of applying makeup that I had long grown tired of wearing, without the wigs, without special events or get-togethers, I realized more deeply how my own gender presentation was influenced by public perception or, more specifically, the male gaze. I realized how subscribed I was to the gender binary structure I was no longer benefiting from while indoors. Within the safety of my home, I no longer needed to be assumed cis to feel safe.

Although I am grateful to still be able to connect with my work and community virtually, it has been difficult to maintain so much digital interaction. Social interactions are still difficult after being estranged from so many friends and my community. I have also been embracing physical traits I once found to be too masculine for my safety. I have been embracing maintaining strength in all parts of my body, my desire to protect others, my desire to learn some form of martial art for defense, and I even shot my first gun. But in spite of my appearance, I don’t think I know much of what it means to feel like a woman anymore. More importantly, I no longer wish to limit my body to any social construct, but instead to allow my body to live as another creative outlet for self. I am a spirit within a vessel and that vessel is ever-transforming.

While reimagining how live performance can exist again, I began creating visual art for the first time since high school and started learning to play the guitar and keyboard. Pose reached out February 2021 to offer me a shot at a speaking role. I got the part, which pushed me to finally become a SAG-AFTRA performer. And just when I began to feel too disconnected from my community and audience, I was invited to accept a Transgender Day of Visibilty Award directly from the Stonewall Protestors, a unique group of activists who have been showing up every week for over a year to continue to bring light to so many issues that plague my community. I have watched them vicariously through social media and they have maintained a source of inspiration and empowerment. Everything really does happen for a reason, even in moments so dreadful that the reasons seem unfathomable. May we all continue to lead with confidence, where there is no room for doubt.

Contributor

Linda La

Linda La is an international, multidisciplinary SAG-AFTRA performer, teacher, curator, host, model and organizer from the Boogie Down Bronx, New York. Born out of the Iconic House of LaBeija, her experimental spoken word infused musical sound has been articled in both AFROPUNK and The Fader. She is currently working on her first studio project set to include original music and poetry. Her work can be found on all streaming platforms and archived at the Brooklyn Museum in the “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall” exhibit. Find out more at Lindala.world.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

All Issues