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Focus on the Individual: Five Questions with Dee Dee Watters


Transfaith spoke with activist and advocate Dee Dee Watters about loving God, her ministry, and serving the whole person in our work. Check out “A Prayer for Black Trans Women” and learn about Dee Dee’s work ending violence against black trans women and trans feminine people.

1. How would you describe your spiritual or philosophical perspective?

I grew up religious. I believe in the spirit of love, it is so easy to love. I believe in God: I affirm God, I love God, I too believe in Jesus. On the same token my business partner practices Buddhism. When his mother passed away, I went to the temple. Someone said I was wrong for doing that, and I told them “you have to keep in mind that the spirit side of me says that I am here to love, and this is part of my ministry.” My spiritual belief is love, love, and love: it's the easiest thing to do because I am to serve God and God alone which I do!

2. How has your spiritual or philosophical perspective evolved over time? What kinds of opportunities and challenges have shaped your perspective?

When I was younger I [caught] West Nile Virus. I was told I wouldn't see my next birthday, which was three weeks away. I was paralysed from the waist down, and used a wheelchair for a very long time. All I had was four walls, a light fixture, and a machine that beeped all night long. That changed me. I knew I had to develop a relationship with someone, and that someone was God. I developed a really strong relationship with God.

When I went into my transition, being put out of my mother's home wound up getting me to meet people [who] were black and had attempted suicide, or knew someone who committed suicide. I never knew that black people committed suicide. I came up in a time where if you said the word suicide you were going to hell! They wouldn't even have a funeral [for you]. That [showed] me I was needed. God didn't just keep me here so I can make people laugh and put a smile on someone's face, God kept me here because someone had to focus on the individual. That took me from "Oh let's read the Bible. Let's talk about God" to let's talk about the will of God, which is to love. Let's talk about the work of Jesus, which is to serve and to love.

I was doing condom distribution in the Gayborhood when I found someone who had been beaten [and thrown] in a ditch. I didn't see her until she moaned. I brought my car back around and put her in. When we got the hospital the doctor [told] us her CD4 count and how her T cells were low. She was beaten so badly that she was more than likely going to die. She looked at me and asked if I could call her mother and father. When I called this person's mother gasped and dropped the phone. I told the father that his child had been beaten, she was on her last legs, and someone in the family should be here. This man told me "my son died the second he put a wig on."

It hurt so bad. [Not] because of what he said, because that child was looking me dead in my face while he said this to me. All I could do was just sit there and smile. When I hung up, she said "What did they say? Are they coming? You didn't even tell them what hospital I was in." All I could say was "Baby, I will be here with you as long as I can." Since then I've become more aggressive in my practice. It hurts me because I don't want to have to be that aggressive person, [but] some aggression is needed. Jesus turned the tables over in the temple, honey. I can still love and have an attitude from time to time.

I've grown from being a person who was all about religion, to being a person who was all about spirituality. I don't know nothing about God in religion. I know that the Bible was written, but I don't know if God wrote the Bible. I don't know if God blessed someone to do it. We have to stop with all of this condemning people to a place that we don't even know of. The Bible tells us hell is a place outside of heaven. Are we walking in that place right now? Is this heaven? Those experiences molded me to to step away from religion for just a minute and think about spirituality. When I run into people who are trying to condemn me with the Bible, I tell them I get them, that's their interpretation. I get it totally different. When I was focused on religion I would attack them back, but it's not worth it. I'm glad to be more spiritual. Following my beliefs and practices has guided me in that direction.

3. How do you see your work (vocation, calling, advocacy, role, etc) in the world? How does your spiritual or philosophical perspective relate to your work?

The work that I do in this world is about the individual. I'll go and talk about politics, policy, or religion and the love of God and spirituality, but baby, what about the individual? What about the Melissa, or the Marissa, or the Diamond, or the Chauncey? What about them? My work needs to focus on the individual. We advocate for HIV prevention, but people don't know what PrEP is. We talk about how black trans women are getting paid less than $10,000 per year, but no one says “Let me help you get a job." You know how they say “you take two steps forward, and somebody knocks you back four”? We’re sprinting ten and twenty steps forward, but we're forgetting about the people we left behind. My work in the world is to be able to encompass, empower, and embody the individual.

4. When do you feel the most vibrant and alive? What resources or practices do you draw on to nurture your own resilience?

When I have a trans kid [who] calls me and tells me “you know what Ms. Dee Dee, thank you so much. I was able to get back in school just like you told me. I start school next week I'll be graduating in May.” That helps. Whenever a person calls me and says “Dee Dee, thank you so much for making sure I had a seat on the bus to Austin to be involved in a lobby day. It was so hot out there I thought I was going to pass out, but that experience has changed my life.” That moved me. Whenever I get a phone call from a person and they say “Dee Dee, they told me my T cell count is low and they may not be able to help me.” Then they call me and say they're getting released from the hospital. Today, I received about five phone calls from five different people: three were black trans women, one was a Latina trans women, and one was a black gay man. All these people called to give me an update about things I was working on with them, and tell me they appreciated me.

I'll be honest with you: I don’t nurture my own resilience as often as I should. It's something that I need to do more. That’s a conversation we need to start having with many of our black trans and LGBTQ leaders because we need to do that more often. I used to go fishing, that was my thing. I didn't even have to catch anything; being by the water was enough for me. I ain’t been fishing so long it's ridiculous. I don't even know if I know how to put the worm on the hook.

5. What kinds of issues or concerns do you think need more attention in the world?

Back in the day when I was young we used to go to church. When I tell you church use to be amazing, it used to be amazing! Sometimes your mother or grandmother didn't like a certain Sister So-and-So, but if something happened Sister So-and-So was there. They still took care of each other. We as a black community have lost that thing we call community, period. Then, it was called sisterhood. It was so important and we lost that. Not only have we lost it, we have lost that communication because of what’s going on in black churches, the way the black churches have condemned people to a hell they know nothing about. We have people now whenever they hear things like God, or Jesus, or church, or spirituality they turn around and run. That’s not what this is supposed to be about.

To our ancestors who helped build this land, church was all they had. Sisterhood and community were all they had. The men were out there doing a lot of the work, but the sisters were the ones who were building the community. We should learn from that as a black community. I'm not saying we all have to go back to church. I'm not saying we all have to pray. I'm saying we need to figure out how we can get back together again. We need to stop coming together because somebody got shot, or somebody got lynched. We should come together because my child matters, my entire life should matter because that's my future. That's your future. We need to come back to community, because we can rally and protest and raise hell all we want, but what about tomorrow? The same thing is going to happen tomorrow that happened yesterday, unless we change yesterday and that starts today. We don't have to like everybody, but we can’t just come together because somebody got shot.

Dee Dee Watters a Transgender entrepreneur, leader, teacher, director, and performer. Using her skills and talent to not only entertain the community but to also educate the community. Dee Dee has been listed in various magazines articles and some of her work noticed in the Huffington Post the Ambassador! She's been awarded numerous awards and has made history within the trans community. Dee Dee is the CEO of Take My Calls Virtual Assistant Services and COO of Koncept Kit! She is the founder of T.W.C.U.C. Transgender Women of Color United for Change and Chair of BTWI, Dee Dee sits on a host of boards that are in line with her vision of building community, trans inclusion and equal rights for ALL!


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