Ceyenne Doroshow is halfway through packing a box of stilettos—some of them stoned, all of them glamorous—when I arrive at her place in Ozone Park, Queens. She’s going to be moving in a few days, she tells me, and seems to be living in that exhausting space between here and there, the present and the future.

Adding to the chaos of the moment are the sudden demands of a new kind of mainstream fame. The praise is well deserved, if not a little overdue, but Doroshow is wary of it all the same. For years, she’s been well known—revered, even—in New York’s trans and sex-worker communities, where she’s supported and advocated for vulnerable individuals. As founder and executive director of Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society, or GLITS, she’s served as a kind of one-woman Swiss Army knife for those who’ve needed help of virtually any kind.

But recent events have catapulted her to new heights. On June 14, Doroshow spoke at Brooklyn Liberation, a hugely attended rally and march organized to demand action for Black trans people. The event was held, coincidentally, during a spate of shocking violence against Black trans women, including Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, who were reported killed days earlier in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively. Images of Doroshow at the podium with her black fur hat and Barbie-pink bandana, speaking to the crowd of 15,000, dominated news coverage, as did her galvanizing words. Video of her remarks spread like wildfire on social media, introducing countless straight, white, and cis people to the compassion and irreverence that have made Doroshow so beloved in her communities.

“We’re whores!” she shouted when she reached the mic, perhaps as a way of clarifying her affinities first and foremost. “Babies, I love you,” she continued, her voice softening with a motherly tone. “I want you to breathe and sustain! I want you to stand tall and proud and Black and live,” she proclaimed, punctuating every other word with a swing of the folded black fan in her hand, as if she were banging a gavel and making it so.

The scene felt historic and, in many ways, unprecedented.

A similar New York rally the previous summer, demanding justice for Layleen Polanco—an adored member of the city’s ballroom scene who died at Rikers Island—drew no more than a couple hundred people. Now there were 50 times that number cheering as Doroshow called on LGBTQ+ folks to put trans people first. “We have always been last,” she said. “That’s not going to happen anymore.”

The protesters erupted in cheers as she spoke of past efforts supporting incarcerated trans women. They roared when she announced that GLITS had managed to raise $1 million that week to secure stable, long-term housing for Black trans people in New York. “Venmo @glits!” she added. “We’re still raising money, motherfuckers!”

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The Godmother of the Moment by Harron Walker

Aug 27, 2020