Host Angela Glover Blackwell with Tiq Milan, writer, journalist, activist
Host Angela Glover Blackwell talks with writer, journalist and activist Tiq Milan about the the limiting and often toxic ways our society thinks about gender, and how we can do better. While the nation has come far in its inclusion of the LGBTQ community in recent decades, we have a long way to go. At least 25 transgender or gender-non-conforming people were reported murdered in 2019, and that’s an undercount, because most attacks go unreported. Join us as Milan describes his personal journey and the intersection of gender and race.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (00:05)
Welcome to the Radical Imagination podcast where we dive into the stories and solutions that are fueling change. I'm your host, Angela Glover Blackwell. In this episode, we're going to re-imagine gender. We'll glance at how far we've come as a society in terms of inclusion of LGBTQ folks and where we are in our understanding of gender. Just over 50 years ago, in 1969 New York police raided an LGBTQ bar in Manhattan's Greenwich Village sparking riots.
news clip: (00:37)
"Well, the next few nights, really a repetition of the rioting." "All of a sudden, a lot of gay people would appear on the streets in this whole area, not just in front of the Stonewall."
Angela Glover Blackwell: (00:46)
The people demanded civil rights. They were rising up against the system that criminalized many, simply for being gay. Last year, the NYPD apologized for its conduct during the Stonewall riots.
news clip: (01:00)
"The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that I apologize."
Angela Glover Blackwell: (01:13)
Yet, while Americans have made some progress in their understanding and cultural acceptance of LGBTQ folks. Some see the struggle of the transgender community, in particular as the Stonewall of today.
news clip: (01:25)
"Seven reported transgender murders in the first two months of this year, roughly one in 10 physically attacked."
Angela Glover Blackwell: (01:31)
At least 25 transgender and gender nonconforming people were murdered in 2019 alone. This is actually a conservative figure. Since many of these violent attacks go unreported. For more about the need to re-examine gender identity and how it is defined, we're joined by writer, journalist, and activist Tiq Milan. Tiq began his transition to a man more than a decade ago and today he joins us from a studio in New York City to talk about his journey. Tiq, welcome to Radical Imagination.
Tiq Milan: (02:02)
Thank you so much for having me
Angela Glover Blackwell: (02:04)
Tiq, you began your transition to a man back in 2007. What was life like for you growing up until the time you transitioned?
Tiq Milan: (02:13)
Life before transitioning was really good, loving family, really classic kind of middle class American kind of life. Um, you know, I'm really, really grateful for that. Um, prior to me coming out as transgender, um, you know, as an adult and even before coming out as gay whaen I was a teenager, I was really a masculine kind of kid, you know, and my parents made space for it. There was no name for that back in the late eighties, and in the early nineties. It was just like, Oh, Tiq is a tom boy. And he gave me my video games and my trucks and my matchbox cars and you know, my dad would take me on these long bike rides in the trails and getting dirty. And it was, it was never a thing, they just really allowed me to be my best self and my most authentic self. So that was really key in me being able to transition in a way felt good. And that was really supported as a lesbian when I was 14, you know, that was, you know, it was awkward. But It wasn't necessarily difficult. Um, my family got onboard rather quickly. And then when I was in my early twenties, I came out as trans and there was definitely some awkward moments there. Um, but my family definitely got on board again really quickly. And what was really important for me when I came out as transgender, I came out to my mother first before I told anybody else in my family because it was her opinion that really meant the most to me. And it was like my mother could love me and accept me and everybody else, you know, kind of falls by the wayside. And so me coming out to her and having these really important conversations with her made her my ally, made her like my buffer.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (03:43)
Could you talk more about the process of transitioning and what it was like for you and for the people around you who cared for you the most?
Tiq Milan: (03:50)
While the process of transitioning is really complicated. I think, you know, there's the medical transition, there's the legal transition. And I think the most complicated part of it is the social transition, which I'm still in that social transition ...I'm still thinking about what it means to be a really good man in this world. Um, so when I started my medical transition, when you start testosterone, they start you on one CC of testosterone every like two weeks. Right. And I was afraid to take that much because I was afraid of the changes, the physical changes. Cause I had to come out to my family yet, I was here in New York City, my family's from Buffalo, you know, I had this barrier of like space, you know, of distance. So they didn't have to see me everyday. But I was like, y'all, I see my family all the time. I'm always going there to visit. If my physical body changes too much, you know, I'm going to let the cat out the bag, right? So I started off with just a fourth of a CC, like taking that like every two weeks. Now let me tell you, testosterone is a hell of a hormone. So even on that little bit of testosterone, I was going through physical changes, right? And I remember my mother calling me one day and she's like, I just got to ask you this, why is your head so big? Like a head got bigger, your knuckles got darker, what's going on with you? And I was like, what's going on with you? I'm fine. I don't know what you're talking about. So, I started my medical transition and I gradually built up to taking a full dose. And then once that started to happen, the facial hair started coming in, my voice started dropping though, some really significant changes in my body and I still hadn't told my family. Um, I was still like shaving my face and trying to lighten my voice when I went home or wouldn't go home as often to see them. I really came out when it was time for me to have my top surgery.
Tiq Milan: (05:35)
My mother was a nurse and it was super important that I told her, um, at that time. So I remember I called her when she was at work. She used to call me Tiq-a-boo right. And she said, Tiq-a-boo what's up? I said, so listen, um, I am having a double mastectomy and chest reconstruction, I'm a man. So that, that is exactly how I came out to my mother, right. And she's like freaking out on the phone, you know? And I was like, hey, listen, I love you. You said that you loved me, you promised that you love me. So I don't know. I'm having this surgery in three days, so if you can be here for me, that'd be awesome. So we hung up, and I didn't hear from her for the three days, right. So, uh, I'm about to get wheeled into surgery. I'm being wheeled into surgery, who walks in, here comes my mom.
Tiq Milan: (06:27)
She walks in there and she has this blue bear and she has these chocolates covered in like a blue foil, you know? Um, and she stayed there with me for the entire three days.
Tiq Milan: (06:47)
And when I left the hospital after that, I think that was when she really realized, started to really understand that she had a son now, you know, cause I remember she told me like, it felt like her daughter died, you know, and that was really, really hard thing to hear. But I think we talked through that, she realized it wasn't a death here. There's a transition, but like all of the love and the memories that we shared as mother and daughter informed the person that I am and informed the relationship that we were going to have as mother and son, you know? So we were able to really work through that. And also I think with the physical and legal transition, changing your physical appearance, changing your name to something that is totally different than the name that you were born with, there is a grieving process there.
Tiq Milan: (07:29)
There's a grief that so many people have to go through. So I went from being the youngest sister to the youngest brother, from an auntie to an uncle. Like this was something that people really had to grapple with, you know? So I also, so there was like this, this duality of like me coming into my best self and celebrating who I am, but also at the same time really trying to hold people's hands through the grief that they were feeling as they were making this transition with me. Another thing about my transition which had been really privileged with is living here in New York City. So me getting access to hormones was fairly easy. Me finding a community of other LGBTQ people and trans people, it's great. There's a huge community of folks here. Me changing my name and gender marker was really easy and that is not the story for a lot of trans folks, particularly trans folks in the South and in middle America who don't have this kind of access.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (08:21)
Tiq, you do a real service by talking about the legal, the physical and the social. I don't think people often are able to separate those and think what it means to have them all happening at the same time. And I'm curious about your mother though. I love to hear you talk about your mother and once she got beyond the surprise and the worry, and the grief, what was she worried about for you as you were going through this transition?
Tiq Milan: (08:48)
My mother had went to see, my mother always liked to go to the movies by herself. That was her thing. She'd go like to the matinee and she went to see Brokeback Mountain
film clip: (08:56)
"Well since we're going to be working together. I reckon it's time we start drinking together."
Tiq Milan: (09:06)
And in that last scene of Brokeback Mountain, when they killed that one guy, she called me crying, she called me crying and she was like, I don't know what I would do if someone hurt you, it just scares me so much, and your in that city and your doing this whole trans thing and I just don't know. And she's just boohoo crying. She was really, really worried about my safety and she was really worried that no one was going to love me. I'd spent so many years in lesbian community and I'm not a lesbian anymore and it's awkward being in these exclusive like, you know, women and female spaces. Um, and so now I'm a trans guy dating women, mostly like cisgender women, cisgender women who are not coming from LGBT community. Are they going to accept me for everything that I am? Am I going to have to put on this performance? And she was really, really worried about me finding good love in my life. She was really protective over that, you know, and it was hard, you know, I've definitely had some relationships that didn't work out because I was trans, you know, whether I dated women who identified as lesbians and they were like, you're a man, I can't do this. Dating women who identify as straight and they're like, your trans, I don't think I can do this. You know, there was a loneliness that that happened for for awhile.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (10:12)
Knowing your story, not only were you so fortunate to have a loving supporting family, but you found love in a really exciting way to.
Tiq Milan: (10:20)
I did. So I met my wife at the time and sells on Facebook and I'm like perusing through people's like friends lists, you know, and I come across this woman and she has this sign up that says like, like queer, like coming out queer.
Tiq Milan: (10:36)
She was just so beautiful and I was like, okay, this is like a queer identified woman. This is what I need. I need like this queerness. That's what I'm looking for. I reached out to her and I just said, "Hey, how are you doing?" and she ignored me and when she reached back out to me, all we did was talk through Facebook messaging. And in those three days I was like, I love this girl. I'm going to marry her. So I met her. I proposed after two weeks, married her after five months, we were married for five years. Uh, we have a daughter who's two years old and Kim and I, you know, we did a lot of really good work together.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (11:15)
How did your life change once you transitioned and how did that impact your work?
Tiq Milan: (11:20)
One of the significant ways in which my life has changed is that I have had to be really deliberate and really intentional about thinking about what it means to walk as a man in this world. You know, because what I didn't want to do is it get caught up in the privileges that are afforded to us as men. And I've gotten pushback from that. Oh, because you're Black, you know, Black men don't have privilege. That's a bunch of BS, we do. If you're a man in this world, if you're a masculine person in this world, there is privilege that you are given. Okay? And this privilege may shift for different people because of your race or your size or sexuality. But there's absolutely privilege that is afforded to men. And so for me, I've been trying to navigate that space. What does it mean to be a man in this world? And so oftentimes you ask that and you get these very traditional answers, like, Oh, it means to protect. It means to provide, it means to be there for your family. I say, yeah, okay, that's true. But you know, most of the people that I know, the women I know are protectors and providers and who are heading up their families. So this isn't something that's exclusive to masculinity. This is just what, what responsible adults have to do in this world, right? When you have people who are dependent on you. So what outside of that makes me a man? So I would ask these questions and a lot of the answers I would get is basically like being a man and being a masculine person is just antithetical to being feminine. It's just the opposite of femininity.
Tiq Milan: (12:58)
So I'm like, okay, so, so what you're telling me is that manhood and masculinity can only be defined in its relationship to something else. So but how does it stand on its own? So how do I begin to curate this organic masculinity? So that it really is tethered to my spirit and is not defined by its relationship to femininity, that is not defined by how much it can control, how much it can protect, how much it can possess, not defined by how better you are then the next guy. What does that look like? What does that mean? And that's something that I'm constantly thinking about, thinking about how me as a queer identified man start to create a blueprint for the future for other men, for other masculine people.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (13:40)
That is so powerful and so interesting because what you're doing here is that you're bringing into sharp relief the struggles of masculinity in this changing society. What are you seeing in terms of men struggling against the perception of masculinity and what it's supposed to look like?
Tiq Milan: (14:04)
Yeah. You know, I see that struggle a lot, particularly when I'm traveling and I'm doing my talks and usually at the end I'll have some young guys want to come up to me. They'll never want to talk to me during the Q&A portion. They'll wait until everybody's gone and then they'll pull me aside and talk to me about their own feelings around their masculinity. And what I'm finding is like a lot of men, no matter how like masculine they are, they're presenting them as how straight and like burly they are. A lot of men feel really confined to these ideas of masculinity because masculinity can be so small.
Tiq Milan: (14:44)
You know, this whole idea that the only valid emotions that a man could feel is lust and anger. While we do that, what we're doing is we're taking a man's humanity because in order to be a fully functional, and healthy human being means to be in touch with this huge variety of emotions that we have and that we should be, you know, honored to be able to express, and we take that away from people and then it starts, it turns into resentment. It turns into violence. This whole idea that men have to be men for other men's constant kind of competition, like there are so many men who are worn out, who are tired of it. What does it mean for you to be a man for yourself? What does it mean for you to be a man for the women and feminine folks in your life? Like shifting this framework around masculinity.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (15:28)
Coming up on Radical Imagination, we continue the conversation with writer, journalist, and activist Tiq Milan about the importance of reexamining gender. More when we come back.
Speaker 6: (16:20)
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Angela Glover Blackwell: (17:09)
And we're back with LGBTQ activist, writer, and journalist Tiq Milan. I'm curious whether there are other big lessons that you have learned in getting to this. What is a good man? What is organic masculinity? The tough fundamental questions.
Tiq Milan: (17:27)
I'm working on a book right now that's really looking at queerness as a blueprint towards freedom. Queerness is about being free. It's about saying these little boxes that you put me in because of my gender or what my body looks like, or what my race is, or what my sexuality is, doesn't work. It's about being able to define yourself. So like humanity and gender is something that is self-determined, it is not imposed. And that's what I've seen queer people do. Queer people say, you told me I was supposed to be this way, but I'm actually telling you that I am this way. This is who I am and this is what feels good to me. There's so much love and spacing acceptance in queer communities and Hey, this is who you are, this is your pronoun, this is how you present yourself. This is who you love, this is how you love. Guess what? You like it. I love it, that's what my mother used to say. Right? And I think that that is something that's really radical. When we give people the space to define themselves for exactly who they are and we love them for exactly who they are.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (18:36)
Looking farther back than the time of your own transition. Can you tell us about the socioeconomic challenges and discrimination that the LGBTQ community faces and what has changed, if anything, since the days of the Stonewall riots in the 1960s.
Tiq Milan: (18:53)
I think the representation that we've seen in media has been great. Gay, lesbian folks have been introduced into people's homes now for decades, which I think has really helped change the culture to something that is more accepting and was loving. Um, we're seeing that happen with trans folks, which is good. But I think it's also important to know that transgender people are still four times more likely to live in poverty and are eight times more likely to live a poverty if you're Black. Forty-one percent of transgender people have tried to commit suicide. And this isn't like suicidal ideation, this is actually attempted to commit suicide.
Tiq Milan: (19:27)
And, what I think a lot of people don't know, the majority of Black LGBT people live in the South and the South has some of the worst protections for LGBT people. So the shift is happening, but I think what's happening is we're not really paying a lot of attention to the nuance. There's still a lot of barriers and it's because of this like heteronormative gaze. And I think once we can bust through that and start to understand that gender is not a binary experience, it is a spectrum of identities, and a spectrum of expression, and none of it is wrong. Then we'll start to see the statistics start to really shift in a really radical way where like the social economic place of LGBT people is starting to be on par with our cisgender and heterosexual brothers and sisters.
news clip: (20:10)
"There is growing concern in this country and fear about deadly attacks against transgender Americans, particularly trans women of color."
Angela Glover Blackwell: (20:19)
And in this regard, according to a report by the human rights campaign, at least 25 people from the transgender community were killed in 2019, many of them being transgender women of color.
Tiq Milan: (20:32)
Oh yeah. This has been happening for a while and I think that number went up. There are trans people who are being brutalized, who have unfairly lost their lives, who we don't count because they were mis-gendered.
news clip: (20:42)
"Last year, more than two dozen transgender people were killed."
Tiq Milan: (20:46)
And what we find, we talk about hate crimes. The studies from the national anti-violence project that shows that the majority of hate crimes committed against LGBTQ people is committed against trans people. So that's why there has been like this shift in LGBTQ advocacy towards really focusing on trans folks. Not to say that gay and lesbian folks have arrived, but it's like gay and lesbian folks can have a seat at the table in a way that trans folks don't. And there's some space there for us to really start looking at trans people. Right? But this is a trend that we're seeing, particularly with Black trans women, and it's happening with black trans women because Black trans women kind of sit at these intersections of so many things. So you're talking about racism and misogyny and misplaced homophobia and transphobia, all these Black trans girls, these beautiful Black trans girls are sitting right here at this place and something explodes for them.
Tiq Milan: (21:40)
There's that and there's also looking at this conversation around men and masculinity, and men not being able to have the space to really express their sexuality outside of something that looks like really heteronormative. As a culture, we don't give men that kind of space and because men don't have space to express their emotions in a way that is really healthy, what comes out -- anger. So they get angry and they start killing and hurting the women who they are supposed to protect and who they love the most. Most of the Black trans women who are killed are killed by their lover. And for me when I look at it, what it does get down to, is us really having conversations about radicalizing our ideas of gender and busting open these little small spaces that we are putting men in so that men can be better to themselves and have more love for themselves so that they can love other people better.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (22:37)
You know, ordinarily I would end here, but you mentioning being a father made me want to ask one more question.
Tiq Milan: (22:43)
Angela Glover Blackwell: (22:43)
How has becoming a father impacted, if at all, your ideas of gender?
Tiq Milan: (22:48)
You know, I refer to my daughter as my daughter and all, she was assigned female at birth and I've gotten some pushback from folks in the community. Like, you know, I'm assigning her gender and this is going against me. talking about gender as self-determined. Gender is self determined, but my baby is two. So, as of right now, she is two and I make her decisions for her so until she can verbalize something different to me, this is what we're doing. Um, and I know that if my daughter ever came to me and was like, daddy, I'm not your daughter, I'm your son, or I'm your child, or my pronoun is they, or my pronoun is he, it's all good. Like I wouldn't even bat an eyelash.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (23:23)
Tiq, part of what I am sensing from you is a capacity to move from your individual experience to the implications, to the broader society, and always thinking about love and freedom and liberation and what can any of us offer, you have tapped into your superpower. How would you define your superpower?
Tiq Milan: (23:46)
That's a good question. What is my superpower? Being able to adapt and change and also being able to lead with that adaptation. You know, being a model of possibility, I think has been my superpower. Um, I get a lot of emails from a lot of people all over the world, from young people and older people too, about how just being able to see me change in a way that has been really open and really vulnerable. That has been my superpower, to be a model of possibility of adaptation and love.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (24:21)
Thank you Tiq for talking with us.
Tiq Milan: (24:24)
Angela Glover Blackwell: (24:30)
Tiq Milan is a writer, journalist, and activist. He joined us from the NPR studios in New York City.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (25:03)
Radical Imagination was produced by the Futuro Studios for PolicyLink. The Futuro Studios team includes Marlon Bishop, Andrés Caballero, Ruxandra Guidi, Stephanie Lebow, Julia Caruso, Leah Shaw, Lita Hollowell, and Sam Burnett. The PolicyLink team includes Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Fran Smith, Jacob Goolkasian, and Milly Hawk Daniel. Our theme music was composed by Taka Yusuzawa and Alex Suguira. I'm your host, Angela Glover Blackwell. Join us again next time, and in the meantime, you can find us online at radicalimagination.us. Remember to subscribe and share.
Angela Glover Blackwell: (26:03)
Next time on Radical Imagination.
news clip: (26:06)
"I don't drink the water, but do you know what my family has passed away from cancer? A number of residents in our communities have gotten sick. I bet it's because of the water."
Angela Glover Blackwell: (26:14)
We hear from the people who are working to address the lack of access to clean and running water, right here in one of the richest nations in the world. That's next on Radical Imagination.
The Futuro Studios team includes Marlon Bishop, Andrés Caballero, Ruxandra Guidi, Stephanie Lebow, Julia Caruso, Leah Shaw, Lita Hollowell, and Sam Burnett. The PolicyLink team includes Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Fran Smith, Jacob Goolkasian, and Milly Hawk Daniel. Our theme music was composed by Taka Yusuzawa and Alex Suguira.
Tiq shares his story of being transgender and how that informs his views on masculinity, race and gender. He leads discussions on healthy modes of masculinity, inclusive leadership and creating cultures of consent.
He is a sought-after host and strategic media consultant who has lectured at Harvard, Stanford, Brown University and hosted authors at Schomburg Center for Research, NYU and Princeton. He’s moderated conversations about LGBTQ+ representation in media as well as worked with HBO’s Newfest Film Festival, The Toronto Film Festival, LOGO, NBC News and MTV. As a media consultant, he has been a trailblazer and instrumental in guiding organizations and companies in creating content and media campaigns that engage diverse audiences in ways that are inclusive and authentic.
As a journalist and creator he has produces powerful content for MIC, Buzzfeed, NBC and CNN about pop culture, inclusive leadership, transgender rights and equity. His TED Talk, “A Queer Vision of Love and Marriage” has been viewed over three million times and continues to inform and inspire people all over the world!