“I think the most beautiful way I can honor my ancestors is to live in freedom and love as myself.”
Thanks to shows and movies like “Pose” and “Tangerine,” transgender celebrities, and social media, more people are learning about the transgender experience — without the offensive caricatures, stereotypes, and misinformation that dominated depictions of transgender life for so long.
Despite this progress, the transgender experience still often includes continual interpersonal and systemic violence.
For many trans people, art is a powerful way to reflect on and share their lived experience. It’s become a fundamental instrument for building community and practicing self-care in the face of ongoing discrimination.
In honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility, this edition of Superwoman Takes a Seat brings together two Black trans artists — Celestino Pottinger and Overflow — to talk about their experiences as trans people, the communities they’ve found, and how they practice protective self-care through their art.
As cisgender Black women, we have an important role to play in making sure that trans people are respected within Black spaces and in the world generally.
A key step to being there for trans people is listening, firsthand, to what they want, what they need, and the best way to facilitate those things.
What does being trans and that experience mean to you?
Overflow: It means everything to me. I attribute my success and genius to my trans lens that I have on the world. Understanding that I was trans allowed me to fully realize my potential and place in the world.
Celestino: Accepting my transness was the beginning of accepting myself in my wholeness and holiness. Gender for me is a deeply spiritual experience. When I came out, I had people saying I was disrespecting my ancestors. I think the most beautiful way I can honor my ancestors is to live in freedom and love as myself.
What role does community have in your life? Have certain communities been particularly helpful?
Overflow: It’s beyond just a community, [it’s] my chosen family. I found it in The Lodge, a BIPOC-centered living space at [my] college. It was there that I could truly be my real self and come to develop bonds that would last a lifetime.
It was actually Celestino that helped me become vulnerable and feel really at home within that house, and I’ll forever love him. I honestly make all of my music and live my life for my community. They mean everything to me and I wouldn’t be anything without them.
I want to pave the way for young trans and queer youth and show them that you can be youin all of your glory andhave wonderful people support you and love you for you. That’s why I incorporate so many trans and queer themes throughout my music, to show people that this is what my trans life is like, and it’s amazing.
Celestino: Community for me is where you can grow. Chosen family is such an important concept for young people and queer people because those who choose to love you as family without blood bonds choose to meet you where you are in ways that can be difficult for your blood relatives.
I built my first community at college, at my housing co-op called The Lodge. I keep building new bonds as I move through life. We get to play with our presentation, explore our interests, and be brave in our chosen families.
Art has an indispensable, liberating role in the queer community and in queer history. As creatives, what’s the significance of art in your life?
Overflow: Music has always been my personal journal and the first thing I’ve been able to go to to fully express myself. It’s an extremely pensive process for me because I’m in charge of every step of the music creation, so I can really make a song tailored to how I’m feeling and my experiences.
Art is how I like to explain myself to my world. If you want to get to know me on an intimate level, you need to listen to the music I create and the clothes/graphics I design. My life story is imbued in everything I create.
Without art, I wouldn’t want to be on this earth. It is the sole thing gripping me to this world, and I’m happy to participate in a greater collective and history of art with my fellow queer peers and elders.
Celestino: Art is how I speak to myself firstly. When writing dialogue for my short films, when choosing visuals for music videos, and when writing my poems, I kinda get to critically ask myself why the images come to me the way they do.
Art generally can take concepts that are difficult for me to explain to people in conversation and make them visual, or make them into a trick of language.
I love being transported into people’s interiority while listening to music or watching a movie or reading, so I try to be vulnerable and visible in my work to give people that feeling too.
Let’s talk about healing. Social media can raise awareness and foster community, but it can also feel overwhelming. How do you protect your mental health and guard your energy during these times?
Overflow: To put it extremely frank, even though all of this sh*t happens around me, I’ll never let anything that’s meant to destroy me control how I feel. I will never let any type of systemic violence against me and my people remove me from the place of joy that I’m in when I’m surrounded by them.
I absolutely refuse to let [those] horrible things bring me to a depressive state. I’ll continue to dance, laugh, and smile in the face of opposition every single time.
Celestino: I really try to only speak to Black trans people about what we’re facing because we hold each other’s pain so differently than other communities do.
There is joy in Black transness, too, and seeing beautiful trans people on Twitter and Instagram living their damn lives reminds me that my own visibility, my own joy matters. When it really gets to be way too much, I cook a lot and feed people I love.
What’s your favorite act of self-care?
Overflow: Buying myself a nice-ass meal after a long day of working on my passions. Being food insecure growing up, being able to have a full belly at the end of the day is priceless (except for the amount I paid for the meal, haha).
Celestino: No lie, grocery shopping and making vegan hacks sparks joy. I’m a simple enby, I see food and it makes me smile.
Which act of self-care feels most accessible?
Overflow: Meditating is honestly one of the best things that I’ve done, and all it takes is a solitary moment to yourself.
Celestino: The easiest way to show yourself that you love yourself is taking a minute of deep breathing and silence when feeling overwhelmed. I do this liberally because I hate letting people take me out of my peace.
Trans Day of Visibility is not only about awareness, but also materially supporting trans people. What are ways that people can materially support you?
Overflow: OPEN UP THAT WALLET. You all should know by now that capitalism affects the Black trans community the worst, and no amount of thoughts and prayers is going to improve our situation. Break open that wallet or give real resources that can save a trans person’s life.
I’m tired of seeing these foolish-ass infographics [that] make it seem like sharing them is going to protect a trans person from harm. A way you can support me is [to] also elevate trans voices, especially Black trans voices, in every single space that you occupy.
Celestino: Me personally, I hate to have cis people tell me about how brave I am or whatever. Please stay out of my DMs with the well-wishes. Solange said “Don’t Wish Me Well,” and I let that inhabit me.
I think a lot of non-trans people think that what trans people want is assimilation. Some trans people do want that, for sure. But I personally want to not be fearful all the time. I can’t feel safe in Black spaces like other people. I don’t get the financial support other artists do.
But if the space doesn’t want me, I don’t want the space! I don’t want to be a commodifiable trans experience. Having a trans audience has always been and will always be enough for me.
I just need y’all to talk to your parents, your siblings, your cousins, and help the youngins financially with their transitions. I want cis people to take action against transphobia in their families, because the casual transphobia that burns underneath us normalizes violence.
Allyship is action, not a title.
Where to find Celestino and Overflow’s artwork
Check out Overflow’s unique sounds and one-of-a-kind apparel on their website.
Gloria Oladipo is a Black woman and freelance writer, musing about all things race, mental health, gender, art, and other topics. You can read more of her funny thoughts and serious opinions on Twitter.