“Throughout the years advocating for Black trans men, there are topics that don’t come up or people are still clueless about, or would like to know more about,” said Christian Lovehall, a Black trans man who is an artist, advocate, and founder of the Philly Trans March and the facilitator of Trans Masculine Advocacy Network. He often expresses his advocacy through his art, he said.
To tell his story and help increase awareness of mental health issues that many Black trans men experience, Lovehall is producing a filmed choreopoem called “For Black Trans Men Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Not Enuff,” inspired by the film version of Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considred suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.” Lovehall plans to release the project, composed of 16 original poems, music and dance, in summer, 2022.
Despite a dearth of mental health resources for trans men and little public interest in the topic, Black trans men experience higher rates of suicide, suicide attempts and ideation than other LGBTQ demographics, Lovehall said.
“I myself have struggled with ideation,” Lovehall said. “So being at a point where I’ve facilitated healing for myself and am tending to my self care, I wanted to tell my story. It’s a survivor story to spread awareness, to connect with others like me and to just basically start some conversations that are well past overdue in order to create resources, increase equity and access for Black trans men.”
Lovehall hopes that people who view “For Black Trans Men Who Have Considered Suicide” will become more aware of the nuances of the experiences of Black trans men.
“I think in the trans community oftentimes when we talk about trans experiences, there’s a focus on the transness of it all,” Lovehall said. “But with Black trans men, our ethnicity puts us in certain situations. Those nuances are not often explored.”
For Black trans men who view the project, “I would say that it’s okay to feel certain feelings and express certain emotions,” Lovehall said. “You’re not alone, there are brothers out here in our community that you can relate to and approach for support for resources, like myself.”
Lovehall would also like the film to encourage community members who have access to money and resources, including medical and behavioral healthcare providers, nonprofit leaders, lawyers and other allies, to do more to support Black trans men.
Lovehall held auditions for the project and selected a few Black trans men to be part of the cast, though he is still looking for others. Quinn Rodriguez is one of those cast members. For Black trans men who view the film, Rodriguez would like them to find connection and understanding.
“I think that [Christian] is bringing light to some mental health issues within the Black queer community that don’t really get talked about,” Rodriguez said. “I think using this art piece as a way to express himself and his experiences will bring our community together. It spoke some truth for me just reading the excerpt poem that he had me read for the audition. That really hit close to home for me.”
For white and/or cis viewers, Rodriguez hopes that they not only become aware of the experiences of Black trans men, but that they realize that navigating mental health issues as a Black trans person manifests differently than doing the same as a white, cis person.
“I’m hoping that the audience pulls from that and knows that there’s a lot of truth being spoken through this piece and a lot of vulnerability that is a very special thing to be shared,” Rodriguez said. “I think that should be respected and taken for its whole experience.”
Earlier in 2022, in collaboration with the Philly chapter of the Black Sex Worker Collective, Lovehall created the Real Work Fund, a mutual aid network for Black trans people who do sex work in Philadelphia. He has been getting the word out about the fund as much as possible.
“Many people don’t know but Philly is the biggest poorest city in our country,” Lovehall said. “It’s especially hard for marginalized individuals, many who are Black and trans who have turned to sex work in order to survive due to lack of resources, access to affirming employment and ways to provide basic necessities for themselves.”
Another part of Lovehall’s artistic advocacy for Black trans communities manifests in the children’s book “My Name is Troy,” which he wrote and published in 2020. Illustrated by Chamar Cooper, the story is told in rhyming couplets and follows a young Black trans boy as he talks about everything that makes him who he is, and shows his family’s support. Since its publication, the book has been very well-received, though Lovehall hopes to get it in more libraries and schools where more youth can get a hold of it.
“There aren’t too many books out there like it,” Lovehall said. “I’m just thankful to be able to provide something for Black trans masculine youth. I didn’t have anything like that when I was growing up, so just to be able to affirm our youth is something that’s important to me.”