InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights Brown Grrlz Project co-founder Trinz Massiah.
ELIXHER: Tell us a little about yourself.
TRINZ: I’m 33. I live in Brooklyn, NY. I was born and raised there. I identify as a Queer Trinidadian Brown Womyn of Indian and African descent, twice removed. I’m a writer, an artist, an activist, and a spiritual revolutionary.
ELIXHER: You’re co-founder and co-director of the Brown Grrlz Project. What is the Brown Grrlz Project and what was the inspiration behind creating the collective?
TRINZ: I was feeling that our community was lacking femme spaces for us to share in our experiences and really grow and build together. Over the past few years spaces for masculine of center individuals had been popping up, but not for femmes.
Shortly after my initial feelings I was having a conversation with Kim Crosby, the other co-creator of BrownGrrlz. We were discussing our experiences at femme conferences where we felt that there were few femmes of color. We were trying to figure out why so few femmes of color were attending these events. Also during this conversation we lightly mentioned that we needed more femme spaces for womyn of color. The thought rolled over in my mind for a few weeks after. I called Kim and proposed that we start the Brown Grrlz Project.
Since then we have been quite successful in generating femme discourse and visibility; we produced our first calendar; created a Tumblr which now has hundreds of members; received our first grant; and have planned our first retreat for the end of August.
ELIXHER: Many people often associate privilege, power and visibility with masculinity. How do you navigate the concepts of privilege, power, visibility and femininity?
TRINZ: Femme privilege is much like the argument against reverse racism for me. I don’t believe privilege could ever not be associated with masculinity or whiteness for that matter. To understand privilege we first have to understand what that means and where it comes from. Privilege is argued to be the advantages a group feels over other groups. Many feel that groups can be privileged on different levels. I argue though that white privilege is the only privilege that truly exists. When we go back to the origin of privilege then we understand that it is based on a hierarchal system created by white folks to maintain societal power. With the white male at the top of the hierarchy and all others falling underneath. Here is where I argue that all outside of this group will be affected by some level of oppression. And the further down the totem pole you go the deeper the oppressions.
As queer womyn of color we are already an oppressed group. The racial and social constructs of our society creates an intersectionality where we have to take into account gender, race, class and social networks along side sexual orientation. The many ways we identify or are classified within the structure interact on multiple levels and contribute to our oppression in many different facets. I’m not sure that we can turn off our other oppressions for the feeling of privilege within one realm of our lives. So lets say I go to that interview and the interviewer isn’t thinking of my sexuality, maybe I am assumed a straight womyn. But has my skin color changed? My last name? Address? Experience? Education? All the other levels of my oppression still exist and don’t cancel out for the one. So then where do our advantages lie within the power construct?
Now on the argument of invisibility; some may say that femmes are advantaged because they are invisible in terms of their sexuality and therefore have a privilege over their masculine of center counterparts. I think that is a matter of perspective. A femme identified womyn has to negotiate always safe spaces to “come out” over and over again. Although this may seem to be an advantage for some to be cloaked by the ability to choose, it is not. Can you imagine the anxiety of negotiating safe spaces constantly? And the so-called spaces where a femme is privileged to not be revealed; is that really a privilege to not feel safe to be expressive of who you are within that group? That actually sounds and feels quite oppressive to me. Not to mention all of the unwanted male attention and harassment that queer identified womyn may experience daily. Here is another area where femme womyn have to negotiate safety within their invisibility. I may get some flak for it, but I truly have not been given a strong enough argument to sway me on the femme privilege stance.
ELIXHER: What’s one message you have for femmes of color?
TRINZ: Make sure you are being good to yourself, practicing self-care and finding ways to heal and grow.
ELIXHER: You have a diverse spiritual background. How has being exposed to different faiths help shape your spirituality?
TRINZ: My mom and dad had a house and welcomed people to come up from Trinidad to get their lives started in the states or just come for vacation or to make some money. As a child the house was always full. It seemed that each family practiced a different religion. And my mom and dad were very open allowing for them to practice at home. We may be celebrating Diwali one day and Easter another.
Having been exposed to so many religions made me very accepting and open-minded. I’ve also become quite spiritual myself and do not confine myself to any one religion. I love Jesus, Buddha and Allah all the same. And have quite a hodgepodge of rituals I practice at home. Also I think it has made me a very loving and empathetic person. My heart is really big. I can laugh with you, cry with you and genuinely feel what you are feeling.
ELIXHER: What makes you smile?
TRINZ: This question is too easy. I’m always smiling. It doesn’t take much to make me smile and takes a lot to make me weep. I love to laugh, love to be light of heart. I can be down right silly at times. Not that I don’t fall, not only am I human but my heart is so full and so big; so when I hurt, I really hurt. But what I admire in myself most is my resilience. So once I’ve wiped my tears and picked myself up, I’m back at it, beaming my smile once again.
ELIXHER: What’s one challenge you’re currently overcoming? How are you doing this?
TRINZ: I’m learning to live alone. I’ve been in and out of relationships for a few years and put way too much focus on my love life. I learned the hard way that when your happiness is in others then it is dependent on them. If the love falters, the happiness falters. When your love is gone, your happiness is gone. I’m learning to maintain my happiness from within despite the energies of the outside world. I’m learning to also access my power and utilize it to unlock my greatest potential.
I’m doing so by living my spiritual journey; understanding that it is not some abstract thing that I am trying to accomplish, but living right here in the now. I’ve been visiting the temple, meditating and praying regularly and most recently I’ve reached out to a Spiritual Alchemist and we will be doing some energy work together.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
TRINZ: I’m proud that the Black queer community is evolving. There is constant growth and we are continually expanding the barriers of mainstream society’s consciousness. It may seem that things are getting worse in society in terms of queer acceptance, but in actuality that is what happens when you push the envelope. Those that are resistant push back. In society when we get push back there is violence and political agenda. However, we as a community are growing and hearts and minds are changing.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the community?
TRINZ: The queer community is very much divided within those multi-layers. Understandably so, we want to be around people most like ourselves. But I’d like to see more acceptance between the different pockets of queer communities. I don’t think that we should be divided by our differences. We get enough judgment from the world. We should not be turning against each other. We have to recognize that those are our own internalizations of our oppressions. Why fight a construct and then build the same constructs and power dynamics within our own communities?