By Ricky Tucker
For Trans Day of Visibility, the spotlight is on Gia Love, former House mother of House of Juicy, public speaker, model, activist for Black trans lives, and a friend of Ricky Tucker’s. Ricky Tucker is a close friend of the NYC Ballroom community and interviewed her for his book And the Category Is . . . Inside New York’s Vogue, House, and Ballroom Community. In this passage, he asks her about the importance of focusing on Black trans joy.
This portion of my July 26, 2020, interview with preeminent trans advocate, model, and icon Gia Love was pure joy for me on a lazy Sunday afternoon. She is a joy to be around, and accordingly, in the aftermath of a summer stricken with the murders of Black, trans, and Black trans people (which we discussed), I wanted to ask her about how she finds and leans into joy during these cruel times as a thinking and socially engaged person sitting at the intersection of those identities. Luckily, the concept of trans joy is central to her ethos, pathos, and logos. She also cast a spotlight on some of the limits of the not-for-profit industrial complex when servicing Black women of trans experience. Enjoy.
RICKY TUCKER: I saw you speak at the Black Trans Lives Matter protest at the Brooklyn Museum the other day, and you were talking about the murder of Islan Nettles and how you all shared a trans mother. Can you tell me a little about how her passing is affecting you?
GIA LOVE: Yeah, so I wouldn’t consider her a friend, just to be very clear; but I would consider her a sister. We weren’t really particularly close, but I did know her personally because she was a Juicy and because she was very close with Courtney, who is my trans mother.
And that’s the thing. That’s what a house is like. She was a Juicy, so I loved her, but I didn’t have her number, type of thing. But I can speak to her death. I remember, because it was really at the beginning of my transition. I remember probably like two weeks after her death, this Black guy tried to talk to me in the street and I was absolutely terrified. I literally ran, because I was just like, “Excuse me?” I just didn’t know . . . what the result of that would be. I never really know. . . . The situation that happened with Islan was the first in my transition, the first time that I was really able to see something like that. And maybe before, when I was identifying other ways, I was blind to the reality of a trans woman, and what we go through. It was like a wake-up call, in a sense.
Before that, I feel like the younger generation wasn’t really having a conversation about the lived experiences of trans women. Oftentimes people romanticize it, like “This experience of being a trans woman is great because then you have this relationship with trade, which is a different type of relationship than if you were a gay man.” But the violence that we’re subjected to because of the fact that we’re trans is not really romantic—at all.
If I can control my destiny, one thing that I will just never allow to happen is that I will not be a victim of transgender-based violence at the hands of some Black nigga who’s really insecure about his sexuality and feels like he needs to take that out on me. So, I’m very intentional about how I engage men. I’d rather be lonely than be dead, and I’m not commenting on women who choose to navigate those spaces, because that’s a choice that they make; but for me, I have decided that if you’re not treating me like I feel like I should be treated, I’d rather be lonely and really lean on the support of the people that do, even though it’s not intimate love in the sense that you’re fucking me, but it’s like I get love from my house family, from my personal family in the Ballroom community. And that love, for me, is everlasting.
RICKY: Well, you’re such a huge inspiration, and a community figure. Losing you would take a toll on your family, but also the community at large.
GIA: Right. And I get it. I get that people want to be loved, but at what expense?
GIA: So, one of the ways that I deal with transphobia, toxic masculinity, fragile men that I’ve engaged with in the past, is by letting them know how fucking low they are and how fab I am. I had a conversation with this man the other week. I was like, “You know what? I’m not going to take that course this time. I’m not going to go there, because I feel like that’s really revealing some things about myself that I’m working through.” I don’t have to big myself up. They’re not going to see me as the person I see myself as, no matter how I tell them that I’m the girl, that girl, the ultimate girl in the world. They won’t believe that, so I won’t be that to them.
So, I just explained to him how I’ve always gotten the short end of the stick in every relationship I’ve ever had with a man. A lot of these guys’ sexual explorations or just self-explorations were done at my expense, with no care about how that would affect me. I told him, “As a trans woman, my gender identity and how that shows up in the world is very interwoven into every aspect of my life. But if you decide that you want to fucking freak out tomorrow and that you don’t like trans women anymore, you can do that. That’s a gift; that’s a privilege. I live with this every day. The very reason you are attracted to me is the very same reason you fucking hate me—that’s very problematic. I was like, “You need to do some healing and you need to do some work, because I choose not to allow men to explore on my time.”
RICKY: Amen. Where do you see yourself going professionally or academically, because it seems to me like you can do so many different things.
GIA: I just want to finish school. I have so much working experience, so when people say, “What do you see yourself doing?” I don’t really know, because I literally have so much working experience without having the degree, and I’ve had so much leadership experience in jobs. I’m actually about to transition out of my job now, and I’m going to be devoting more of my time to Black fem trans activism.
My objective is to really center our joy and not our pain. A lot of time we have resources out there, like GMHC [Gay Men’s Health Crisis]. They give us PrEP, but that’s not the whole entirety of my life. My life doesn’t look like HIV prevention and condoms. It’s like we’re just running from this disease; that’s what we’re going to live for—to die? I want to provide resources for Black trans artists that address health from a holistic framework and also from a full-body, full-person framework. I’m not going to treat your identity; I’m going to treat your personhood. What do you need to thrive and be healthy? We aim to address the much-needed nuances of our identities, especially in our professional lives.
RICKY: That’s really exciting. That’s awesome. One thing I’d like to land on is if you want folks out there to focus more on the joy in trans lives than your suffering, tell me what brings you joy. What should we know about Gia in terms of her joy?
GIA: Well, I’m a tennis player. I love to play tennis; I love to watch tennis. Honestly, I feel that if I grew up in a household that was like, “Oh, try this, try this, go to dance classes, go to this,” and they put me in tennis, I would be pro today. People don’t know I play tennis, but I’m like really good. I love tennis—I love it.
And I love to just be in the community that I have created for myself and just really share love and receive love from the ones that I love and who love me for who I am. My happiness and my joy is just really about being around people, like-minded people, people that really care about my health and well-being, and protecting people like me and just really constructively moving forward: emotionally, in terms of our careers, really supporting each other. I have a really good core group of friends, Jonovia [Chase] being one of them, where we really work with each other. We’re really respectful and intentional with the work that we do. That’s the center of my joy at the moment.
RICKY: I have two things to say about that. One of them is that when you said you love playing tennis, it brings to mind to me your old love of being on the debate team. There’s something about a back-and-forth that seems to engage you.
GIA: I do that. That’s like my life. When I was in debate, I was in debate. When I was in tennis, I was in tennis. When I was in Ballroom—I was in Ballroom. I’m getting back into tennis now and trying to train so that I can play tournaments in the winter. Actually, one of the guys who used to train me was in the Ballroom—
RICKY: For real? Wow.
GIA: Yeah, Ryu Mizrahi. He’s a legend for face. Basically, like ten years ago when I came into Ballroom, I found him there. I had my own friends, and he was with his own people, but then one of my fathers is his son, and that’s how we built a relationship. He’s been trying to get me to play tennis all these years, and one night I just hit him up like, “Yo, I’m ready to start playing.” I sent him five hundred dollars, and I was just like, “Buy me all the things I need,” and he did it, and now I’m playing. Do you live in New York?
RICKY: Yep, I’m in Crown Heights.
GIA: Okay, cute. I’m doing a cookout in August. It’s going to be a celebration of Black trans resilience, well, Black trans women. I was at that Women’s March, and I took issue with the fact that they’re saying, like “If this is a Women’s March and we’re centering women, why are we saying ‘Black trans’?”
RICKY: Ugh. Of course.
GIA: Because even in research sometimes, when they say “Black trans,” it’s a dog whistle for people, and what they think that means is they’re making trans men invisible, when they’re really just talking about trans women. Our experiences are very different. You know what I mean? And the reason why I will continue to center Black trans women is because it’s a Black trans thing. Because in this country in particular, systemic racism is a thing. So, if you think that Black people are on the last rung of the ladder, and then you just want to say trans—no, Black trans women are on the fucking last rung of that ladder, and that’s why we are counting twenty-five of us who have been murdered in a very specific and unique way. It’s not like there’s nuance to the murderers either. No. Every time, it’s a Black cis man in some situation with a trans woman, and she’s getting murdered by him, and his weapon of choice is a gun. So, it’s a very specific narrative, right? I’m also not having it when they say, “All Black Lives Matter”—not doing that either. No. Black trans women matter. The thing is, saying that plays into that realness trope, how we’re not supposed to speak about or uplift our transness? No. I am a Black trans woman, and we are not going to be afraid to say that.
RICKY: That’s so important. Unfortunately, there are all of these experience erasures that are happening at the moment. Maybe it’s what happens when so many diverse groups form coalitions.
GIA: Right? Let’s talk about it. Black trans women are disproportionately criminalized. The way that we navigate the criminal justice system is very different. There’s just so much that is unique to being Black and trans. I’m not going to allow people to erase that.
RICKY: Well, I’m going to keep an eye out for the flyer, because that cookout sounds amazing.
GIA: Yeah, it’s going to be great. This is everyone’s opportunity to show up for Black trans women in a way that is really centered around joy, centering celebration. And hopefully it can be an annual thing.
RICKY: Do you have a name for it yet?
GIA: Yeah, it’s “Gia Love in Collaboration with Friends: An Event Celebrating the Resilience of Black Trans Women.” I’ll be giving out roses and buttons to all the Black trans women who come.
RICKY: Love it.
About the Author
Ricky Tucker is a North Carolina native, a storyteller, an educator, a lead creative, and an art critic. His work explores the imprints of art and memory on narrative, and the absurdity of most fleeting moments. He has written for the Paris Review, the Tenth Magazine, and Public Seminar, among others, and has performed for reading series including the Moth Grand SLAM, Sister Spit, Born: Free, and Spark London. In 2017, he was chosen as a Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Fellow for creative nonfiction. He is the author of And the Category Is . . . : Inside New York’s Vogue, House, and Ballroom Community. Connect with him at thewriterrickytucker.com and on Instagram: @rictorscale.