Culture

I Chose The Name Leia When I Transitioned And Meeting Carrie Fisher Is A Moment I Will Never Forget

It happened in a galaxy not too far away, meeting interstellar royalty. I was a cashier in a well-known beauty retailer based in the heart of Beverly Hills, California. What started as a trivial shift of organizing lipsticks and rechecking rollerballs became one of the most memorable moments in my life.

I was busy trying to solve the ever-constant mystery of lost pens. Fair to say I wasn’t completely focused on my jobs at hand as I did the meticulous work. I was rather new to Los Angeles and the beauty retail world still learning the ropes.

Credit: leiacheyanne92 / Instagram

It was that in moment a chocolate French bulldog lapped his extra long tongue on my shoes. I bent down laughing, petting him while his tongue spiraled up in between heavy pants. This wasn’t just any pampered pooch off Rodeo Drive, this dog in question was Gary Fisher, the one and only Carrie Fisher’s dog.

Credit: garyfisher / Instagram

This would be a good moment to clear up any confusion. My name is Leia, Carrie Fisher plays a character in the film series, Star Wars, Princess Leia, and Gary Fisher is obviously the full/accepted name of her dog. I wasn’t always named Leia. Up until I was 22, I was Jacob. I’m transgender. Fisher’s Star Wars character Princess Leia was always someone I looked up to. Her strength and fighting spirit are things I could relate to and I wanted to keep her strength with me. My name was now Leia and I was intentionally channeling that strength to guide me.

Credit: leiacheyanne92 / Instagram

So when I looked up to see Carrie Fisher with hundreds of dollars of sheet masks I was speechless. As a kid, I watched this woman run through the Death Star, dodging Stormtroopers braless! These are some of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood. Now it’s key to note, working in Beverly Hills, the easiest way to get fired is by making celebrities feel awkward. Oscar-nominated bad business is frowned upon. While I rang her up all I could mumble about was that her last-minute gold nail polish purchase was the “same shade as C-3PO,” and we smiled. I then saw Carrie’s eyes lock with my name tag and heard her, “Oh my God! Your name!” I nodded. She nodded. We shared a moment of clarity. I was finally acknowledged by Alderaan. Gary, Carrie, and there was I, Leia. It was the same year she passed away, but that particular day two Leia’s met in the middle. The original Princess Leia who inspired my name and taught me what it meant to be a woman had found me, accepted me, and welcomed me into her tribe. You could say it was a little luck or the Force but it’s something I’ll have a long, long time no matter how brief.

Credit: leiacheyanne92 / Instagram

I still work in the beauty industry and getting clients to remember my name comes down to one simple sentence, “Oh, and I’m Leia… like Star Wars.” The whole concept of naming oneself during a transition of gender is daunting. Many transgender/nonbinary identifying people change their name multiple times. My distinction didn’t take much thought. It was my first day in Los Angeles ordering coffee and being asked for my name, “I’m Leia… like Star Wars.” It was easily understood by the majority of the population and thus I became a part of a smile, of a sci-fi connection, of a Carrie Fisher stand up or book prologue. I was suddenly surrounded by the image of a side bunned, hard ass, space princess and if I could leave that in my wake then I knew I could be that much more memorable. Plus, my closest friends already addressed me as Leia at the beginning of my transition so it just made sense. I remember my encounter with Carrie Fisher fondly every year when May The 4th comes around and the power of that moment continues to impact my life.

READ: Why This Transgender Mexicana Picked This Biblical Name

This Woman’s Viral Poem Explores The Cultural Stigma Attached To LGBTQ Identities

Fierce

This Woman’s Viral Poem Explores The Cultural Stigma Attached To LGBTQ Identities

@2shotsofmely / Twitter

We all know how annoying family can be, nitpicking and offering opinions about how we choose to live our lives. Sometimes, though, our relatives’ perspectives are more than frustrating—they can be hurtful, causing us to question and doubt our place in the world. For many of us, it may be really difficult to address these issues with our loved ones, and we might often need to process these complex situations on our own before we can make any progress within our relationships. For Twitter user Hot Girl Scholar (@2shotsofmely), art was part of this process. She addressed some deep family conflict through poetry, and y’all, Twitter was shook.

According to her pinned tweet, @2shotsofmely and her family emigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic when she was seven years old. In May of this year, she graduated cum laude from Clark University with a BA in English and a minor in Education, ecstatic to dedicate her degree to immigrant and first-generation students. By embracing her role as a “hood girl, educator, and undercover poet,” @2shotsofmely is “living [her] mama’s wildest dreams”—although the poems that have electrified Twitter focus on some hard-to-swallow cultural viewpoints, reiterated by su madre y su abuela.

In poetry, the author of the poem is not always the speaker of the poem, but because of the caption in @2shotsofmely’s post (“Heard it so much I wrote poems about it”), it is clear that these poems—displayed on the walls of Elevated Thought, a Lawrence-based art and social justice organization—are written from her perspective. 

In one poem, “Negra Yo, Pero El No!,” @2shotsofmely acknowledges the hypocrisy (and the shadowy nature of racism and colorism) that defines how her mother reacts to a hypothetical boyfriend: based on the title, we know that @2shotsofmely’s mother is black, yet she proclaims that if @2shotsofmely ever dated a moreno, he must have a thin nose—la nariz fina—green eyes like @2shotsofmely’s grandfather, and “good hair.” In other words, he must not have black features. Why? “Because hay que refinar la raza.”

In the other poem, “LGBTQue?,” @2shotsofmely explores the cultural stigma attached to LGBTQ identities, affirming that her grandmother would “prefer [we] open [our] legs for all the men in the barrio before we walk around with a sister in our arms.”

The original tweet has garnered over 2.3k likes and 900 retweets—people can’t stop gassing @2shotsofmely’s badass display of honesty, the simultaneous pride in and critique of her roots. Several people expressed solidarity, citing events from their own lives that mirrored @2shotsofmely’s poetry.

This Twitter user really related to @2shotsofmely’s experience on the receiving end of her mother’s words.

This Latina responded in Spanish, explaining that her own grandmother married a white man para “mejorar la raza,” but affirmed that it wasn’t her fault—this point of view, according to @ditasea88, is a remnant of colonization.

This Twitter user applauded “LGBTQue?” for its resonance and truth.

Her poems even moved some folks to tears.

Although each of these tweets suggests a common experience which is largely negative, the response to @2shotsofmely’s poetry was rich with compassion—not only for those other Twitter users who share that experience, but for the madres y abuelas whose lives were very different than ours, and who had to make different decisions as a result. History is complex and difficult to synthesize without a broad contextual understanding, and @2shotsofmely’s work draws attention to how cultural patterns from the past can leave a dark impact on the present. However, alongside the criticism and pain at the core of these poems, there is something else: a sense of defiance and hope.

Now, in the midst of the political chaos within our country, it is especially important to celebrate the victories of individuals and groups creating supportive platforms for folks—particularly people of color—to express themselves. It is always exciting to see expressions of Latinidad—from art to poetry to a bomb Insta selfie—spark conversation and communion, even if people are relating about moments that have left them hurt or bruised. In a way, this type of conversation creates a sense of camaraderie, amistad—a feeling of familia.  

And although a lot of Latina familias struggle with antiquated viewpoints (like those presented in @2shotsofmely’s poems), times are changing, and cultural expectations are becoming more inclusive to Latinx people with a range of diverse identities. Often, the more difficult aspects of our upbringing lead us to create meaningful work and connect with others who can relate to us—@2shotsofmely’s poetry is a great example of how intergenerational trauma can produce beauty, connection, and personal growth when you honor yourself and your dreams. @2shotsofmely, you go, girl!

Violent Hate Crimes Are Up And Latinos And The Transgender Community Are The Primary Targets

Things That Matter

Violent Hate Crimes Are Up And Latinos And The Transgender Community Are The Primary Targets

Nigel Chiwaya / Getty

Violent hate crimes in 2018 were the highest they have been in 16 years, according to a report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While hate crimes in general slightly decreased, the number of violent crimes significantly increased. Moreover, Latinx and trans people increasingly became targets of hate crimes. 

The FBI collected data from over 16,000 police departments and law enforcement agencies which found 7,120 hate crimes logged. This was just a 1 percent decrease from 2017. However small, being just a difference of 55 incidents, it is the first time the total number of hate crimes has gone down in four years. 

Violent hate crimes increase, while total hate crimes decrease.

Violent hate crimes, which differ from hate crimes that involve property, jumped from 4,090 to 4,571. The 12 percent jump reveals white supremacists have become increasingly emboldened. 

“This is really significant,” Brian Levin, the director for the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism who analyzed the data told The Guardian.  “The more we have these derisive stereotypes broadcasted into the ether, the more people are going to inhale that toxin.”

Levin implied the popular hateful rhetorics of our time have violent outcomes for the targets of such ire. Hate crimes against Muslims and Arab-Americans, Jewish people, and Black Americans (although still the most targeted group)decreased in 2018. While hate crimes increased for Latinxs and trans people who are more frequent subjects of condemnation during the Trump administration era. 

The disabled, Latinx and trans people face higher rates of hate crimes in the Trump era.

Anti-Latinx hate crimes, the Walmart El Paso shooting being one example, increased by 14 percent jumping to 485 reports in 2018, and increasing 48 percent over five years. 

“The number of crimes targeting Muslims cratered,” Levin said. “Anti-Semitic crimes dropped. But the ones targeting Latinos increased for the third year.”

Meanwhile, trans and gender-nonconforming people saw an increase of 41 percent with 168 hate crimes reported. People with disabilities saw a 37 percent surge to 159 reports as well. 

“We’re seeing a leaner and meaner type of hate crime going on,” Levin told NPR. “Homicides were up and crimes against persons were up and that’s an important thing to look at.”

Even with this many, experts still say the FBI’s number is a “significant undercount” according to The Guardian. 

“[The President’s] white supremacist rhetoric and talking points that vilify people” are encouraging violent attacks, Jorge Gutierrez, the executive director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, told The Guardian. “Every day, people are afraid to come together in public spaces. People are afraid to be proud of who they are.” 

Another report by the Guardian found that Latinxs were changing their behaviors as they grapple with anti-Latinx attitudes. 

“Every day when I take my daughter to school we pray. I ask God to protect her,” Lidia Carrillo, an immigrant from Mexico, said “I don’t know if I’m going to see my daughter or my husband at the end of the day.”

Other Latinxs said they went out at night to run errands when fewer people were out, they avoid crowded places, and tried to be aware of the nearest exits at all times. Others were so traumatized from hearing about the El Paso shooting they didn’t leave the house for days.

Trump’s hateful rhetoric is a part of the problem according to experts. 

Trump spread misinformation about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) saying some of them were “no angels” and many were “hardened criminals,” on the very same day the Supreme Court began to weigh in on whether to keep the program. 

“Trump has also repeatedly pushed anti-LGBT policies, and he and other Republicans have aggressively targeted trans rights and advocated for discriminatory laws,” according to the Guardian. 

What is known as the “Trump Effect” has become a solid theory with mounting evidence. The Washington Post reportedthat in 2016, counties that hosted Trump rallies saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes. Recent academic research found that just hearing Trump’s offensive rhetoric against a group of people made individuals more likely to write offensive things about such targets. It is naive to think Trump will stop when it’s the reason he garnered his support in the first place. 

“While some observers have explained Trump’s success as a result of economic anxiety, the data demonstrate that anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, and sexism are much more strongly related to support for Trump,” Vanessa Williamson and Isabella Gelfand wrote for the Brookings Institute

“Trump did not do especially well with non-college-educated whites, compared to other Republicans. He did especially well with white people who express sexist views about women and who deny racism exists.”