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On hip-hop, transgender acceptance, and Ebro Darden's courage

Before I send my letter, a word of warning to parents--this one deals with some adult themes.

Before I send my letter, a word of warning to parents--this one deals with some adult themes.

This week a scandal ripped through the hip-hop community when Mister Cee, a DJ on the urban station Hot 97 and a foundational figure in the New York hip-hop scene, resigned after admitting to sex with transgender women.

Mister Cee quit, not because he was admitting to criminal activity, but because he felt the shaming and criticism based on his sexual practices would distract from his effectiveness as a DJ and harm the station. But Cee's program director, Ebro Darden, refused to accept his resignation--and that is why my letter this week goes to him.

Dear Mr. Darden,

It's me, Melissa.

I'm writing to you as a lover of hip-hop music, a feminist, and an ally to LGBT communities. Let me just say, you surprised me this week. I was born just six weeks after Kool Herc threw that legendary party in the South Bronx that started hip-hop. Hip-hop's beats and rhymes are the soundtrack of my life.

But with each passing decade it has been harder to love hip-hop when it seems so willing to hate me. As major corporations gained more control over the music, hip-hop became increasingly violent, vile, and sexist. Your station, Hot 97, has typically contributed to this trend rather than countering it.

So I wasn't surprised when---despite daily consumption of lyrics that gleefully describe violence against women and give both tacit and explicit support for rape culture-much of the hip-hop community reacted with homophobia fueled disgust about Mister Cee's sex with trans women.

I was surprised, Mr Darden, when, instead of joining the shame bandwagon, you encouraged an open and human dialogue with Cee about the complicated realities of manhood, identity and sexuality.

These are conversations we are committed to having here in #nerdland.

To the extent that Cee engages in illegal solicitation or non-consensual activity, his actions are indefensible. But if Cee's sexuality is expressed with legal, adult, consenting actions, then it is wrong to shame him.

And not just for Cee as an individual, but more importantly, because the current reaction is really about expressing disgust with trans women and labeling them as freakish and abhorrent.

#nerdland friend and trans activist Janet Mock wrote about the issue this week on her blog, saying:

"When a man can be shamed merely for interacting with a trans women... what does this do to trans women? This pervasive ideology says that trans women are shameful, that trans women are not worthy of being seen and that trans women must remain a secret--invisible and disposable. If a man dares to be seen with a trans woman, he will likely lose social capital so he must adamantly deny, vehemently demean, trash and/or exterminate the woman in question."

Mr. Darden, when you intervened this week, you helped to interrupt this practice. For a moment you made room to question this automatic reaction. A reaction that has life and death consequences for trans women. You took a stance that wasn't easy, or obviously commercial, or even widely supported. In short, you demonstrated some real courage. And I wanted to pause and recognize that you did.

Because it just might be the beginning of real change.

(And speaking of changes: now that you are getting a little practice at this kind of courage, how about some of the songs in your programming line-up?)



Listen to Darden and Cee on Hot 97 the day after Cee's arrest. It's worth the half hour to listen to the whole thing.