Portrait and interview by Sean Drakes
On a postcard-perfect August day in New York, the fountain under the landmark Unisphere in Queens is a popular playground for kids on scooters and young lovers chilling in the fountain's mist. A few yards away, the Emily Baumgaertner–Pulitzer Center inside the Queens Museum is also crowded. Activist and author Dominique Jackson, seated two rows in front of me, is assembling her thoughts of the first screening of My Truth, My Story.
She appears in the documentary film series produced by The Caribbean Equality Project. In the film she recounts being molested by a local priest in Tobago when she was a boy, breaking the silence with her family around her sexual orientation, and claiming the power to not allow others to govern her life as a transgender woman.
Born Dominique Brebner, Ms Jackson, also known as Tyra Allure Ross, is a 40-year-old entertainer and model based in the Bronx, but originally from Scarborough, Tobago. She migrated to New York in 1990 and recently self-published the hurdles, hurts, revelations and trials of her journey in an autobiography titled The Transsexual From Tobago (Revised). "In T&T I was attempting to obtain an education and make my family proud while fighting off pedophiles–a battle I lost." She adds, "I accepted my truth in 1994."
Ms Jackson's daily reality is a long shot from what Olympian Bruce Jenner reveals for reality TV as Caitlyn Jenner. We asked Ms Jackson to speak on finding her purpose:
Q: Why did you decide to author a book?
A: I decided to author a book once I realised my story was not exclusive to me. I wanted Caribbean people to know that we must face our traumas and not be ashamed because of the things others have done to us.
Share the message that is the essence of your book?
My message is that we are human, all of us–bottom line!
What issues do you lend your voice to?
I lend my voice to youth advocacy, trans advocacy, domestic violence and human rights.
Does Caitlyn Jenner complement or distract from the agenda you represent?
Caitlyn complements my agenda. I see human, not these segregating constructs we have put into place. Caitlyn coming out to the world is brave and empowering. Like most LGBT West Indians, she lived not only in silence but in pain unable to be herself. She knew there would be ridicule, but she still made that stance.
At what age did you realise you did not feel like other boys and when did you fully identify as a transgender woman?
I was about five years old, but it was not until I understood that my life was mine to live that I identified as a transgender woman, even though I already lived as a woman. You know, it was that I identified as a woman. I just accepted my truth. I studied biology, I knew my existence was basically scientific, not some rebellion against God or the corrupted church.
What chapter of your life was the most challenging?
Accepting myself was most challenging. We live in a dynamic where we believe we are no more than what others feel comfortable accepting or understanding.
Has your family embraced your identity?
Trans youth dismissed by their family is an extremely tough issue. The love, the warmth, the light in the eyes of those that say they love you is empowering. When that light goes dead you shouldn't die with it, one should fight even harder to exist. You are more than other people's beliefs of you.
What do you offer to Caribbean parents who wrestle with the issue of their child questioning their sexual orientation?
Parents that struggle with their children's sexual identity are selfish and probably use biblical quotes to hide embarrassment, prejudice and disappointment. The intimate activity of consenting adults does not have any correlation to their ability to assist in the progress of humanity.
Do you encourage therapy or other counselling for anyone questioning their sexual orientation?
I will always advocate for therapy. It's time we speak to professionals. Therapy is essential in the transition process especially with the hatred that exists in our communities.
What is one insensitive habit of people that you wish would be discontinued?
People tend to address from a place of privilege and authority when it comes to [dealing with] those marginalised and oppressed. If I tell you my name and you ask me for my real name you will meet the beast.
To keep yourself safe and whole in New York City requires 60 per cent of what and 40 per cent of what?
To keep myself safe in NYC requires 60 per cent self-value/worth and 40 per cent sympathy for ignorance.
Does it matter whether the next generation attempts to dismantle narrow stereotypes and perceptions the general public may have of transgender people?
Dismantling stereotypes is paramount to progress and young and old should attempt to play a part.
What is the discussion you are most impassioned about motivating through your awareness work?
I am impassioned to motivate amendments to anti-LGBT laws throughout the Caribbean. I would like justice for all that suffer in silence from molestation and rape, [and] having to see their tormentors live so-called upstanding lives while destroying the existence and mental stability of their victims. I want Portia [Simpson-Miller], the Jamaican whatever she is, to prosecute the people involved in the brutal murders of Jamaican citizens of LGBT identification. Stop talking about LGBT folk flaunting their sexuality when it's just who they are.
Has Cait Jenner excessively glamorised the transgender lifestyle?
Lol. Caitlyn has not really glamorised this, we were always glamorous. However, it is the shock of this 'super-masculine' hero embracing her femininity that brings the attention.
What is your favourite pastime and what do you miss doing in T&T?
I miss my people! I miss Carnival! When sexuality is not on the table there is a beauty that Trinbagonians possess that speaks volumes to my heart.
What shall define your legacy?
My resilience, perseverance and strength.