Issue #117 Noise Is the Nigga of Sound

Noise Is the Nigga of Sound

Sultana Isham

Kineen Mafa, The Purple Ones, 2020. Arcylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Issue #117
April 2021

Analogies push the boundaries of knowledge.
—Stephon Alexander, The Jazz of Physics

The recalling of a lost memory shared by a group of people is an extremely powerful act. It forces us to take inventory of the things we trade and replace in pursuit of survival. Memory is wealth and participating in its conservation is a gift. In a speech I gave for a press conference organized by New Orleans activist Mariah Moore in June 2020, I shared the memory of Frances Thompson.1 She was one of the five Black women and girls who testified before a Congressional committee investigating the Memphis Riots of 1866, during which white mobs massacred and attacked Black residents of that city. At the time it was the anniversary of her testimony and now as I write this, in November, I am reminded of this being the anniversary of her death at only thirty-six years old.

Novelist Alice Walker perfectly exemplified the practice of calling back what has been lost by uncovering the forgotten legacy of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. I am thankful for Walker reminding us of Hurston, especially as Zora expanded the narrative of womanhood, independence, love, and legitimized our sound(s) and language(s) without permission from the dominant filter. Her work and that of so many others continuously provide inspiration to contribute to the historical trans narrative in the United States, and to embed that particular shared memory into the collective Black consciousness with an interdisciplinary examination of the gendered, racialized violence towards Black women through sound, sexual assault, religion, biology, and capitalism.

“Blood memories,” a term coined by choreographer Alvin Ailey, are the ancestral collection of experiences that link us all. In a 1986 video, during an introduction to his 1960 choreography Revelations, he states:

The first ballets [that I choreographed] were ballets about my Black roots. I lived in Texas … until I was 12 … so I have lots of what I call blood memories … about Texas, blues and spirituals and gospel music, ragtime music … folk songs, work songs—all that kind of thing that was going on in Texas in the early ’30s, the Depression years. And I had very intense feelings about all those things … all of this is a part of my blood memory … very intense, very personal [stuff].2

This kind of shared experience is cultural and cyclical and not limited by genetic relation. As Ailey illustrated, sound is a vehicle for this collection of memories. Sound carries memories and travels fastest through water. Since humans are mostly water, we are sound. In my own work as a composer, scholar, and ethnomusicologist, I, too, have been hypnotized by the mysterious power of memory and sound. There is an intuitive process in resurrecting old manuscripts of Black composers and Creole folk tunes.3 Reanimating such works feels like unlocking what psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the “collective unconscious.” He believed that we carry our ancestors’ memories in our DNA and inherit both their gifts and trauma. When the body experiences trauma, sensory information is converted into a neurochemical track called the taxon system. This part of the brain functions to maximize survival by encoding what is learned from an experience. When someone doesn’t survive a trauma, that information is passed on to those who are genetically similar. We assume that our minds exist solely in our physical bodies, but instead, we are linked to a higher order of intelligence all around.

I approach my research with an interdisciplinary psychoanalysis of the racialization and gendering of sound. Much of this conservation is owed to ethnomusicologist Camille Nickerson and to historian D. Antoinette Handy, author of Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras. Handy illustrated the sexism and racism in elite and pop art and noted how instruments were gendered, as women were restricted mostly to piano and voice. This also translates to how many Black artists are disassociated with the genre they’ve been lazily assigned to for the purpose of radio.

In my study, I noticed something interesting about the etymology of “genre” and “gender.” Both words come from the Latin word “genus,” translating to “race.” It was an enlightening discovery to learn that “race,” “gender,” “genre,” and even “class” all come from the same word in Latin, thereby having the same function.

Since humans are sound, I began to hear speech as melodies, syllables as rhythms, texts as scores, and observed how narratives are genred. In what genre has the Black woman’s vast narrative been categorized? “Noise” is often used pejoratively to describe a sound that is unpleasant, dissonant, or of no value. This wasn’t always the case. “Noise” was originally used to describe a musical instrument, speech, or sound from any source. It wasn’t until the fourteenth century that it became associated with disturbances, rumors, and scandals.4 When analyzing the historic erasure of gendered, racialized violence towards Black women of all experiences, it is clear that we are genred as noise. Noise is the nigga of sound.

After the US Civil War, the symphony of Black women and girls who spoke out against sexual violence in the post-emancipated South was pivotal. For three days, starting on May 1, 1866, white men terrorized Memphis’s Black neighborhoods with looting, arson, murder, and the rape of Black women and children. The Memphis Riots started with police brutality towards Black Union soldiers. These well-orchestrated attacks began during a joyous gathering on South Street, one day after the Black soldiers were released from service and were required to return their army weapons. According to historian Hannah Rosen, white terrorists killed at least forty-eight people and injured eighty.5 They burned down over ninety homes, twelve schools, and four churches. They robbed at least one hundred people and even threatened to burn down the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Memphis Daily Post newspaper. They also raped at least five freedwomen. At this time there was no law against raping Black people; racist white beliefs reinforced the idea that it was impossible to rape Black women.

These forces alone make Frances Thompson’s testimony of the events crucial; hers was the most prominent voice featured in the US Congressional committee’s final report on the Memphis Riots, which was used to help establish US citizenship for Black Americans. One question was constantly posed to Black Americans during the early Reconstruction era days after the Civil War: “Have you been a slave?” The Congressional committee immediately asked this question of everyone who testified after the riots. The practice of permanently defining someone by terms that they grew out of is harmful. Is it any less an attack because of somebody’s past? The reduction of a person’s narrative to a classification that often precedes their name, i.e., “former slave, ____,” is dehumanizing. As Zora Neale Hurston believed, “Freedom is not a commodity that one race could give to another, nor take away.”6 The women responded to the committee with, “I have been but am free now.”7

This specific inquiry into a person’s past, as if what they used to be called is who they really are, is a trans narrative as well as historically a Black woman’s narrative. Because our genders are sexualized and racialized, both narratives carry the stigma of sex work. Being enslaved as a Black woman was coupled with sexual violence, and this specific inquiry was used to measure one’s proximity to “virtuous white womanhood.” Black women were often punished for defending themselves then, and we still see this today in legal cases such as Cyntoia Brown’s and CeCe McDonald’s.

Frances Thompson was twenty-six at the time of the riots. After losing her family in the rebel army, she came to Memphis from Maryland, a newly freedwoman. She was disabled and walked with crutches due to cancer in her foot. She was living with her roommate, Lucy Smith, who also testified in court following the riots. Lucy, then sixteen, was born and raised in Memphis and had been free for four years. At the time of the riots, they lived in South Memphis on Gayoso Street and supported themselves as seamstresses. On Wednesday, May 2, 1866, at around two o’clock in the morning, seven Irishmen, two of whom were police officers, broke into their house while they were sleeping. They told the women to make them something to eat, so Frances and Lucy made strong coffee and biscuits.

The testimonies collected by the Congressional committee show that the sexual attacks did not start with aggression, but rather an assumed dominion over Black women—as if they were somehow indifferent to sex. When the men asked for sex, Frances responded that they were “not that sort of women.” Her proclamation of her identity and sovereignty infuriated the intruders. Lucy also denied their advances and rejected the classification they ascribed to her. She testified, “They tried to take advantage of me, I told them that I did not do such things, and would not.” The intruder “said he would make me … He drew their pistols and said they would shoot us and fire the house if we did not let them have their way with us.”8

Over the next four hours these terrorists brutally attacked, raped, and robbed Lucy and Frances. They stole $300 and their clothing and threw their food into the nearby bayou. Frances was raped by four men and beaten by one while Lucy was choked and raped by another. Yet another man then began to rape Lucy but did not because she was so severely injured. “One of them … choked me by the neck … My neck was swollen up next day, and for two weeks I could not talk to anyone,” said Lucy. Frances testified that the rapists noticed the quilts they were making for Union soldiers with the colors of the American flag. They also had pictures of Union soldiers in the house. One of them was Thompson’s photo of General Joseph Hooker, which sparked more hostility. “They said they would not have hurt us so bad if it had not been for the pictures,” Lucy testified.9

Hostility towards Union soldiers sparked the riots, and any connection or affinity a victim had for the Union was cited as an excuse to inflict harm and sexual violence on them. Other women who spoke out against sexual violence after the riots, including Ann Freeman, Lucy Tibbs, and Harriet Armour, had connections to Union soldiers. Ann Freeman, who spoke to the Freedman’s Bureau, reported that a group of white men broke into her home and shouted that “they were going to kill all the women they caught with soldiers or with soldiers’ things.”10 Lucy Tibbs moved to Memphis with her husband and two small children. She was about five months pregnant and lived close to Rayburn Avenue off of South Street where the riots occurred. Her husband worked on a steamboat and was away often. When Lucy Tibbs heard the first shooting on South Street and saw gangs of white men and boys with guns killing Black men and boys, she urged her brother, who had served, to leave town. He tried but was found dead in the bayou behind her house. Later that evening, a crowd of white men broke into her home, robbed her of $300, and one of them raped her. Tibbs knew that this was planned and believed that they knew all about her and her brother, whose money they stole. Harriet Armour was married to a Black Union soldier and lived on South Street around the corner from Tibbs. That same day two armed white men came to Harriet’s house. Unlike the other women, Harriet knew one of her attackers: Mr. Dunn, who ran a grocery store on South Street. After learning that her husband was a soldier, they shut the door and both raped her multiple times.

This union of Black women and girls of all experiences testifying in court and declaring their citizenship in a country that had no laws of protection for them is a powerful moment in history. This union was pivotal in the Reconstruction era, and to my mind it was the first time we truly lived in a democracy. Reconstruction established our first antidiscrimination laws and integrated schools almost one hundred years before Ruby Bridges became known as the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in the South.

The Reconstruction era was the first time the narratives of Black women were genred as truth in official political arenas in the US. During this time, citizenship and the definition of rape were redefined to include Black women and girls. With Thompson’s testimony being the most prominent in the data collected by the Congressional committee, we owe the establishment of our citizenship as Black Americans to the union of Black matriarchs spearheaded by Frances Thompson.

In 1876, ten years after the riots, Frances Thompson was arrested and fined $50 for “crossdressing,” due to the suspicions of an alleged “well-known Memphis physician.”11 The charge was a misdemeanor, but because Thompson’s testimony was so prominent in the final report on the Memphis Riots, her arrest was widely reported, most famously in an article in The Pulaski Citizen headlined “A Colored Man Who Has Successfully Passed as a Woman for Twenty-Seven Years.”12 When this story came out, white supremacists launched a smear campaign across the whole country. The papers fabricated stories about Frances’s “lewd” sexual conduct, affiliating her with prostitution. White supremacy used what we would now call Thompson’s trans womanhood to discredit the Black women’s testimony about white violence towards all Black Americans.

It also must be said that Thompson’s race was a prominent feature in her public humiliation. The St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat described her as “the thick-lipped, foul-mouthed scamp,” “black brute,” and “negro scoundrel,” making it clear that her race was the main motivation in the reporters’ abuse.13 Her gender was racialized. When white women transgressed gender norms to join the Confederate army, their morality was not comparably questioned. Not to mention that this country was stolen by white men in heels, wigs, and makeup in the first place.

Lucy Smith was also directly villainized by the press because of her sisterhood with Frances Thompson. They dismissed her testimony and invalidated both her “virtue” and her protest of rape by ignorantly insinuating that Lucy was “occupying the same bed with Thompson.”14 The papers didn’t mention other names, but all of the Black women’s testimony was genred as noise.

Thompson’s arrest influenced the presidential campaign of 1876, after which came the compromise of 1877, formally ending federal Reconstruction. The Memphis Daily Appeal even nicknamed the Republican Party “The Frances Thompson Radical party,” saying:

Whenever you hear Radicals talking of the persecutions of the Black race in the south, ask them what they think of Frances Thompson and the outrages committed on her … during the celebrated riots. These pretended outrages in the south are all of a piece with this Frances Thompson affair. It is out of such material that all their blood-and-thunder stories are manufactured.15

In addition to the abuse from the press, Frances was subjected to physical and sexual violence by the jail guards. She initially refused a medical examination, but later submitted after threats of force were introduced. Four white doctors declared that Frances was male and “had none of the developments of a woman.”16 Frances was placed on a chain gang for one hundred days because she couldn’t pay the fine for her “crime,” and was subjected to what The Appeal reported as “other acts which we cannot place in print.”17 On leaving jail, she moved to a cabin in North Memphis where freed people later found her alone and very ill. They brought her to a local hospital, where she died of dysentery on November 1, 1876.

I find it interesting that it took four physicians to classify her sex. The coroner’s report of Thompson’s death agreed with this classification. Why would it require four doctors and a medical examination to come to this resolution if she was not in some way ambiguous? One news report claimed that people knew Frances as a “hermaphrodite,” and in one interview she described herself “of double sex” in response to their assessment of her being “unequivocally male.”18

In defense of her womanhood, Thompson cited social practices and recognition by her community, not her body. In an interview with the Memphis Daily Appeal, she said that her imprisonment was unwarranted because she “was regarded always as a woman” and had worn female attire since she was a child. Her statement shows an instance of community respect for trans and intersex people during slavery. This expands the narrative beyond the binary analysis of gendered roles, as gender variant people were not uncommon. The extensive examination of Thompson also displays an example of the history of the medicalization of trans and intersex people in the US.19 This experience is akin to how Black women were medicalized in the gynecological experiments James Marion Sims conducted on enslaved women without anesthesia.20

These events are the bedrock of the violence we see inflicted upon Black women and girls of all experiences today by the health care system, police brutality, pay inequity, murder, sex trafficking, “crimes against nature law,” and the ignored epidemic of missing Black women and girls.21 Such grave malfeasance does not just go away, and the trauma from this history has seethed into our psyche, as Jung discussed in his theories on ancestral memories.22 It is overwhelmingly clear that white supremacy used transphobia to divide Black people, and we have all suffered the consequences. If we lived in a society or community where trans women and girls are women and girls, who would have the closest proximity to them? Cis women and girls. Historically, Black cis women paid the price first for their proximity to Black trans women. This shows that Black women of all experiences historically have fought patriarchy together. Black women were the first anti-rape activists, and this union of the Black matriarch established citizenship for all Black Americans.

Stories like these also provide historical context to the ongoing witch hunt against Black women who transgress gender expectations, whether they are trans or not. It reared its ugly head again last year, when the forty-fifth US president released a memo on how to spot trans women in homeless shelters.23 Transmisogyny is misogyny; many women who are not trans have the same features listed in the memo, and Black women experience homelessness at higher rates. This union of sisterhood looks different today. The challenges that trans women experience are often paired with the conditions of gay or queer men. This is because we don’t live in a world that acknowledges gender diversity. Some communities do, but not nearly enough, and children suffer the worst consequences. Because we live in a cis-sexist, heteronormative, ableist, classist, racist, white-supremacist, patriarchal, Christian society, both groups share in the trauma inflicted by femmephobia from the time they are children. Trans women and some gay or queer men have a shared experience of being chastised in specific ways for exerting femininity, thereby creating a shared childhood trauma. Because trans women are not a monolith, this bond varies. Some are in deep community with gay or queer men while others, like myself, are not. Gay men are often the gatekeepers of femininity, as in when they tell women of all experiences what is desirable or attractive to men. This dynamic plays out constantly in media, from fashion to ballroom culture. Gender and sexuality are different, and the constant pairing of these issues in public policy sends a confusing message and fails to acknowledge our concrete gendered experiences. White women can create movements and tell stories and not mention Black women and those of color. Gays and lesbians can do the same and boldly practice transphobia. However, when Black women of trans experience speak, we are expected to fight for everyone. That is a Black woman’s narrative.

Being a member of any marginalized group with a legacy that has been erased makes it challenging to question or dislike the pioneers we are “supposed” to revere. I feel this dilemma constantly, being all of the things that I am, as I have never resonated with Marsha P. Johnson as a Black woman. Johnson is often heralded as the anointed one in Black trans rhetoric. Frances Thompson and Marsha P. Johnson were fighting for two different things with two very different groups of people. Marsha fought specifically for gay rights with many white gay men. Frances fought for Black liberation and humanity with other Black women.

Frances lived 150 years ago, and even though the words “transgender” or “transsexual” did not exist, she still used language and maneuvered in a way that I can relate to. Marsha used “he” and “she” pronouns and moved between male and female presentations, using the words “drag queen,” “gay,” and “transvestite” to describe themself. By definition, a transvestite is a man who has an affinity for wearing female clothing on occasion. None of those words are “woman.” In Marsha’s time, the medical-industrial complex already used the word “transsexual” to define a female who was assigned male at birth. These distinctions are clear to me and, in my opinion, to blame the times is lazy because all of these words existed, and Marsha chose and moved through the world using other terms. There are some drag queens who legally change their name, get breast implants, or even silicone injections, but still maneuver in a way that is expansive and congruent to the assumption that they intentionally move between the binary. To me, that is a uniquely different genre. I believe we have enough in common to stand together, and I also believe that it is important for gender-nonconforming people to commune with others who intentionally live beyond the binary, sovereign from people of trans experience who don’t. I believe their lack of spaces centered for them can create an unnecessary resentment for women of trans experience. Personally, I can only relate so far with someone who is assigned male at birth, uses all pronouns, and moves between male and female presentations. How could Marsha be a leader to a movement and not understand the words they used to describe themself?

I don’t think it’s incorrect to call Marsha gender-nonconforming (though shortly before her death in 1992, Marsha stated in a video, later featured in the documentary Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson, that they were a boy; she said this while telling a story about feeling confused when a man thought they were a woman.)24 Marsha’s narrative evolved beyond their desires in the 1970s, and this should not be erased. Gender-nonconformity is sacred, and those who are Black have been racialized in ways that make them more vulnerable to violence than those who are not Black. However, being a woman of trans experience is distinct, and adorning oneself in mutable feminine aesthetics does not make a trans woman. This has reduced our being to pure aesthetics with no reverence for the sacrifices and spiritual journey that are coupled in our experiences. Such misnomers continue today with people such as Big Freedia, who has explicitly said multiple times that they are not a trans woman.25

Choosing to remember Marsha differently is disrespectful to their legacy. Marsha and Sylvia Rivera, who are often cited as the initiators of the Stonewall Riots, are both documented as saying that they did not throw the first brick (or Molotov cocktail).26 The mythology and miseducation around these figures has affected how we see trans women and how trans women see themselves. Why create a lie when the truth is so much better? Love Marsha for who they were, not who you want them to be. The ethnocentric retelling of history to fit a desired contemporary narrative comes from a need to display our legacy and existence in a way that can be monetized. This revisionism has also contributed to the confusion about who exactly a trans woman is, which in turn can fuel transphobia. Regardless of Marsha not being the person capitalism wants him to be, the machine makes money off of her likeness for pride parades because the most valuable Black person is a dead one. We are not encouraged to remember Frances because she is not profitable, and revering her and her union with other Black women doesn’t benefit capitalism. It empowers Black women.

It’s impossible to conclude this discourse without mentioning religion. Islam and Christianity have greatly influenced the Black imagination, and have also been used as tools to reinforce heterosexism and patriarchy in the West. For example, Christian ministers who are women or queer are not universally welcomed. In fact, the Church is the most segregated institution, and the female bloodline is excluded from Abrahamic religions. I am not a follower of Christ, but it must be noted that Jesus spoke of gender-variant people in the Bible. In his time, people who were assigned male at birth and had various genital appearances or were castrated were called eunuchs. Theologians debate who exactly eunuchs were, but according to those who wrote the Bible, Jesus was very clear. In Matthew 19:12 he outlines three possibilities: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”27

This classification of being born a eunuch, made one by others, or having grown into one is clear. In my personal favorite passage on the subject, Isaiah 56:3–5, Jesus says,

… neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.28

Jesus’s affirmation is clear. His love for gender-variant people inspired him to expand his own language by creating a name beyond the binary in memory. Some people might be surprised to learn that many, if not most, of the women and elders in my community practice Christianity.

For those who have retained reverence for our indigenous deities like the Orishas, please recognize that you are praying to gender-variant beings. It’s peculiar to have an altar for Obatala or Oshunmare while simultaneously questioning the legitimacy of your Black trans family and ancestors. How can someone love Oshun, a deity about whom there are pitakís (parables) of giving the girls sex changes, but stutter when it comes to including Black trans women and girls as your sisters, daughters, and mothers? The choice to ignore this noise is not our natural state of being; our ancestors acknowledged at least five genders, as pictured in the image that accompanies this piece. We can use all pronouns to describe the divine, since we are told that we are a reflection of their wonder. How did we go from being healers and advisors in the community to having people question our existence?

The sounds of our experiences connect us, and the shame in our noises divides us. As Alice Walker says, “It’s better to be whole than to be ‘American.’”29 Black trans history is your history, and the score of this Black woman’s narrative is a symphony of revelations. Our power is historical, and we are not new or exceptional. Although the women whose stories are relayed in this text were silenced, their noise lives inside us, showing that there is no opposite to sound.

The ongoing history of gendered, racialized violence seethes through all dimensions, and as Black women we have to join and dance with the feral power of noise. Shame is what causes us to forget our collective past, and we must explore the noise underneath the silence to remember. I’m blessed to help build that sound path with other BIPOC women and gender-variant people at Alphabet Sound Observatory, an audio engineering library in New Orleans, with my colleague free feral.30 Our noise is greater than any category can hold. Noise is the source of all sounds, and we will not always understand or like what we hear.

Sometimes that noise can make us upset, but we also know that the dissonance is triggering something inside that we know to be true. Sometimes that noise can save our lives and influence us to be who we were always destined to be. Whether one passes the noise or not, it will always remain, making it that much louder and difficult to ignore. Willful ignorance is violent, and silence is an illusion that will never keep anyone safe. As poet Kineen Mafa writes in the closing lines of “The Channeling of Frances Thompson”:

Hence this great dawn …
If anything is gained, then nothing was in vain.
Perhaps … The Big Bang shattered something, but it was not us.
For it is not we who are broken, but the mirror that we see ourselves in.
We must leave this plane now, but know …
We are sovereign, natural, necessary, whole and ever near.
Remember this my family, my tribe, my people … my essence, my spirit … remember this … always.

Notes
1

Sultana Isham, “The Holy Presence of Frances Thompson,” Medium, June 6, 2020 .

2

Alvin Ailey, quoted in Brenda Dixon Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 259.

3

See my essay “Bloodline: The Power of Music and Memory,” antenna.works, September 13, 2018 .

4

“Noise,” Online Etymology Dictionary .

5

Hannah Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

6

Valerie Boyd and Catherine Clinton, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (Scribner, 2003), 369.

7

United States House of Representatives, The Reports of the Committees of the House of Representatives during the First Session Thirty-Ninth Conference, 1865–66 (Government Printing Office, 1866), 233.

8

Quoted in Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom, 70.

9

US House of Representatives, Reports of the Committees, 197.

10

Quoted in Martha Hodes, Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (NYU Press, 1999), 275.

11

Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom, 235.

12

“A Colored Man Who Has Successfully Passed as a Woman for Twenty-Seven Years,” The Memphis Avalanche, reprinted in The Pulaski Citizen (Pulaski, TN), Thursday, July 20, 1876, 2.

13

“Under False Colors,” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, July 15, 1876.

14

Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom, 236.

15

Memphis Daily Appeal, quoted in Hodes, Sex, Race, Love, 285.

16

Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom, 238.

17

“Francis Thompson,” Memphis Daily Appeal, July 14, 1876, 4. Quoted in Beverly Greene Bond and Susan Eva O’Donovan, Remembering the Memphis Massacre: An American Story (University of Georgia Press, 2020).

18

Bond and O’Donovan, Remembering the Memphis Massacre.

19

Georgiann Davis, Jodie M. Dewey, and Erin L. Murphy, “Giving Sex: Deconstructing Intersex and Trans Medicalization Practices,” Gender and Society 30, no. 3 (June 2016) .

20

Durrenda Ojanuga, “The Medical Ethics of the ‘Father of Gynaecology,’ Dr. J. Marion Sims,” Journal of Medical Ethics 19, no. 1 (1993) .

21

Imara Jones, “Opinion: Confronting Black Men’s Roles in the Murders of Black Transgender Women May Be the Only Way to Save Our Lives,” The Grio, June 24, 2019 . Adam Polaski, “LGBTQ Advocates in New Orleans to March for Full Repeal of Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Law,” Campaign for Southern Equality, August 29, 2019 . Janelle Harris Dixon, “When a Black Woman Disappears, Who Is Trying to Find Her?,” Zora, October 12, 2020 .

22

Fanny Brewster, African Americans and Jungian Psychology: Leaving the Shadows (Routledge, 2017).

23

Alex Bollinger, “Trump Administration Memo Explains How to Spot a Transgender Woman,” LGBTQ Nation, July 20, 2020 .

24

Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson, directed by Michael Kasino (Redux Pictures, 2012).

25

Curtis M. Wong, “Why Big Freedia Doesn’t Want You to Put Her in a Category When it Comes to Gender Identity,” HuffPost, June 30, 2014 .

26

In a 1970 interview with Eric Marcus, Marsha P. Johnson said she arrived at Stonewall after the riots started: “I was uptown and I didn’t get downtown until about two o’clock, because when I got downtown the place was already on fire. And it was a raid already. The riots had already started.” Making Gay History, March 2, 2017 . In a 2001 speech, Silvia Rivera said, “I have been given the credit for throwing the first Molotov cocktail by many historians but I always like to correct it; I threw the second one, I did not throw the first one!” “Op-ed: Happy Birthda, Silvia Rivera, LGBT Rights Pioneer,” The Advocate, July 2, 2014 . See also: Shane O’Neill, “Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall? Let’s Argue About It,” New York Times, May 31, 2019: “The impact of Ms. Rivera and Ms. Johnson on the trans and gay movements can’t be overstated, but it doesn’t take much digging to learn that they didn’t start the Stonewall rebellion” .

27

Matthew 19:12, KJV.

28

Isaiah 53:5–5, NSRV.

29

Alice Walker, “Finding a World that I Thought was Lost: Zora Neale Hurston and the People She Looked at Very Hard and Loved Very Much” (lecture at Barnard College, October 3, 2003) .

30

See .

Category
Gender, Music, LGBTQ+
Subject
History, Transgender, USA, Blackness, Black Feminism, Sound Art, Violence, Memory
Return to Issue #117
Author

Sultana Isham is a film composer, violinist, writer, and ethnomusicologist based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sultana’s film-composer credits range from avant-garde, horror, fantasy, and archival. Sultana was a researcher and the composer for the documentary All Skinfolk Ain’t Kinfolk, about the historic mayoral race between two Black women in New Orleans directed by Angela Tucker, which premiered on PBS. She was the additional composer for Ailey directed by Jamila Wignot, which debuted at Sundance Festival 2021. As a scholar she has lectured at universities and conferences, sharing her research with a psychoanalysis of sound, lineage, and memory. She is also the cofounder of Alphabet Sound Observatory, an audio engineering library for Black and Indigenous women and gender-variant artists of color. Sultana is a composer fellow with the Sundance Institute and her upcoming film score, “The Neutral Ground,” is for a feature film about the removal of confederate monuments, directed by C. J. Hunt. The film will broadcast nationally on the PBS show POV in late 2021.

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