My full name is Zola Chatman, I am from Chicago, Illinois. I am a musician. I’m an artist, I am a writer and organizer as well.
In one sentence, I would describe myself as a polarizing force of change, I find that I am, I, I bring out what I sometimes believe to be the best and the worst of like everyone, which is so interesting at times, just because I feel like I have such a polarizing identity within, you know, the scope of like, whiteness, and like, you know, the patriarchy and like heteronormativity and transphobia. And I sit in this place in terms of like my own identity that refutes and goes against all those things. So, you know, being black and then being trans and then being a woman, and then being queer that all of those things were few, you know, the the systems in place within America and beyond that, you know, set the standard for what is normality. And so I usually have a very polarizing effect on people, which is sometimes very, very shocking, in good ways. And sometimes not, but it is always kind of just, like, interesting to see how people interact with me and other black trans people as well.
I’ve had like, literally at 12 years old, like people comment on everything from my, the way that I walked to my posture, to my voice to like, the way that I wear my hair to the way that I interact with other people, to the friends that I made. Just everything and it was all like, within the crux and within the situation of, you know, making assumptions about my my gender and sexuality as a child.
Being bullied in school was something that honestly shaped a lot of who I am today, just because I really didn’t have you know, the normal resources in terms of like friendships and relationships that most kids had growing up. And like, you know, kids are like mean, in general, sometimes, because they really don’t understand what it is, you know, hold empathy, or compassion, or any of those emotions that, you know, inform you of how to treat other people. And it was all just like, you know, I’m on the subject of like, my gender and sexuality. And it was, it was scary, it was extremely, extremely horrifying, not because I was afraid of the individuals who were, you know, hurling slurs at me or like chasing me after school or like beating me up because but I was, I was truly afraid of them being like, correct or right, in terms of what they were saying about me.
People were definitely asking me they are making these assumptions and asking me these questions about my sexuality and gender way before I really knew what that was, I didn’t really perceive my own gender To be quite honest. I mean, like, there are many stories of like me, like dressing up as a member of Destiny’s Child, and like, you know, reciting the lyrics word for word, which, you know, many would be like, maybe that’s a sign, who knows, um, but I never really perceived my own gender or had, you know, to sit and analyze it. Because if you really think about why people are required to dissect and interrogate their own gender, it’s just a societal requirement to make it easier to categorize one’s identity.
I was outed by my younger brother at 16. And he like, showed all these text messages from like, my long distance boyfriend in Kentucky, to my mother, and she was like, What is this? And I was like, wow, I guess we should have this conversation. Um, and soon after that, I literally, openly and viscerally started to explore and express, you know, my variants of gender and exploring what my transits look like, when I was a teenager,
I really started to sit within my body and sit within my identity and like my woman, that as well, when I was able to express those identities within my clothing, and to be able to sit with those identities in my clothing and feel comfortable within my body. Using clothing and like fashion.
I feel like trans people especially have to think about the way that their body shows up within space, be that you know, social spaces, the bus, the train, the classroom, their jobs, their jobs is a big one. So I’ve had to think and just ponder and focus on like, how I want my body to show up and what I think looks good on it, and how to feel more comfortable in it and to feel more expressive and to feel more at home in it. And clothing has been a huge, huge, huge implement in that the summer 2018. And when I was able to achieve that I was just able to walk without, you know. I don’t know my spirit is felt lighter, and I felt so relieved. I felt as many many many weights and many stressors and terror within my my psyche were extinguished a lot of anxieties. In terms of like how it was being perceived and like, held in space, as like a trans woman were also just alleviated. So I remember having the orange heels, which were like a little waves that I got from Akira. And I also had this matching like banjo top, and like leggings that were like in this, like, really, now I see I’m just like, that was interesting, but this interesting, like a reptile print that was like this orange color, and being able to, like wear that out to like the club or like, to a party, and so on and so forth made me feel very secure. Those are some of the outfits that I loved wearing when I was when I was 20 years old, you know, sitting within the comfort of my gender and identity,
I think the industry is at a place where they see they see transness and they see variants within what individuals have a specific gender as opposed to where as a trend to follow and less like a moment or a chance to invoke diversity. And I feel like we really see that within the example of like hairstyles being on the cover of Vogue is like the first non man to wear a dress on a full page spread. That was ridiculous. There’s no way that hairstyle should have been attributed with that. That’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous.There are so many fashion houses and brands and designers who will put their male mom male models and dresses and feel like they’re breaking ground, and some revolutionary context. And they’re really not. And it has been it’s become so, so trendy. So so so so so so, so trending, and I rarely see individuals really invoke change in terms of like, including, like trans individuals and like trans people’s experiences and their clothing within what they’re doing and the work that they’re doing, because it just doesn’t happen. And like oh my god, Harry Styles being on the cover of Vogue in a dress is the biggest example of that, because there is no reason that this, this white man should be able to glean and take credit for the the decades and centuries of oppression and hatred that has you know, been attributed to individuals who are assumed assumed male and participate within clothing in that way. It seems that inclusion and diversity and things of that nature within fashion have become trendy, and no one is really thinking about how to invoke real change and real you know, real meaning within what it is to include trans individuals, bodies and experiences within fashion.
The first time I saw myself as beautiful would have to be around two years ago. And it wasn’t because of like, you know, the ways that participated with my transcends in terms of like medicalization or things of that nature. But because I felt like I was able to willfully and exuberantly and excitedly see myself without fear, and to be able to hold that person and to be able to care for that person and love that person without remorse or regret. I feel like so many black Trans and Queer people experienced such high, high proportions of fear in terms of like who they are and what they are and how they’re going to be perceived and show up within space. And that goes through, you know, black people across the board. But then when you hit the intersections of queerness, and our transness like something new, something new emerges and it becomes so mortifying, and it is hard, it is hard to not get petrified and stupefied by that fear. But I find that only when we are able to traverse that and walk through it, do we find true development and growth into the individuals that we love to be
Zola Chatman is an artist, musician and community organizer living in Chicago.
Chatman is also the co-founder of Molasses, a collective that works to support Chicago’s black, trans and gender-non conforming artists and organizers.
You can find out more about their work at molasseschicago.com.
For iPondr, this is Rebecca Rosman.
Audio story edited by Annie Sinsabaugh
Originally published on ipondr.com January 27, 2021