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Photo of CeCe McDonald smiling with a hand on her hip Photo of CeCe McDonald smiling with a hand on her hip

CeCe McDonald, Transgender Women of Color, and Dreams Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex

By Lexi Adsit

Photo of CeCe McDonald smiling with a hand on her hip

I’ll be honest, I didn’t consistently follow CeCe McDonald’s story or read her blog. Mostly because incarceration is a huge fear of mine and I’ve heard so many negative experiences of incarceration for transgender women of color, I prayed CeCe would not share that same experience. It breaks my heart to hear negative experiences of any transgender woman of color because I often feel absolutely helpless to be able to do anything about it and that these negative experiences are so commonplace. I also recognize the structural oppression that plays such a large role in conducting violence within our lives. Resisting and fighting structural violence often feels like boxing a ghost who doesn’t have any rules to follow.

As I look back on this experience, I wished I had taken time to write a letter and thank her for her strength, courage, and inspiration to do what she had done: Stand up for herself, her friends, and transgender women of color everywhere. Resisting the violent forces that aspire to obliterate us from existence. CeCe McDonald is a warrior princess of our community for choosing to survive and resist the way she did.

As a 23 year old trans* Latina I have a community of transgender women of color and I care deeply for all of them. We’ve experienced these same issues of having slurs thrown our way and violent threats made on our lives. However, we often aren’t brave enough to do what CeCe did, stand up and say ‘no’. Personally, I’ve heard of a handful of trans women of color surviving violence like this and often being incarcerated after standing up for themselves in a violent fashion. Janet Mock, reminded me during a breakfast date that issues that transgender women of color were facing in the 1970s and 80s are still an issue today. The murder, incarceration and lack of support for transgender women of color has been abysmal.

As we’ve observed with numerous Black folks in recent years, it is dangerous to stand up for yourself and survive [see: Marissa Alexander]. It is unfortunate that this is the reality we live in as trans women and people of color, that when one chooses to defend themselves of life-threatening violence that one can then get policed and sent to jail for such an action.

It’s been almost two years since CeCe survived her attack. At the time, I wasn’t surprised or shocked by anything that had happened to her, the punctured cheek, being arrested, and charged with second degree murder. I’m from the Bay Area and it seems that over the past two years we’ve had our fair share of trans girls of color be incarcerated and murdered. I feel so often that’s been our reality, especially for Black trans women.

So, it is with tears and so much joy to have seen CeCe leave her prison earlier this week.

From my perspective one of the key factors in helping CeCe survive has definitely been the support of community. It was her Minneapolis community to draw this issue to our National attention. It was the community who put so much pressure on Michael Freeman, the Attorney who held the power throughout this process to drop all charges against CeCe. It is the community who wrote CeCe countless letters and bought her books.

This community has showed up at a time when a queer movement and prison abolition movement need to work together hand-in-hand. We’ve seen books like Captive Genders, Normal Life, and Queer (In)Justice [all books I recommend, by the way] talk about prisons and incarceration for queer and trans* communities. We’ve seen projects like Black and Pink and [Transgender, Gender-Variant, and Intersex Justice Project. We need to begin and continue to hold this analysis and center our experiences of incarcerated folks as we continue to work towards the freedom of all incarcerated people and ideally look for alternative routes to incarceration.

In my lifetime I have not seen so much support for an incarcerated transgender woman of color as I have seen for CeCe. Her case and reactions around it have refreshed my spirit and given me hope that a part of our community can and is willing to center trans women of color – and let us set the agenda for a movement that help us survive and combat incarceration, violence, and oppression.

We have to remember that there are so many more transgender women of color vulnerable in our society through incarceration, sex work, homelessness, and more. If you’re unaware there is a great project here in Oakland, CA called the Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project I strongly encourage readers to get involved with an organization close to you if you have time or spread the good word on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Reddit.

The good word: transgender women of color are surviving, thriving, and taking over.

Now that CeCe is out, I have a request of all my trans women of color and our supporters: dream. In a society where trans women of color experience some of the highest rates of homelessness, unemployment, and violence, we must situate CeCe’s experiences as a reflection of a racist, transphobic and cissexist system. A system where we are policed and violently hunted down for just being who we are.

I want to know the dreams of CeCe, and that of my sisters, so we can begin to tear down this violent society—to envision a new one where we not only can be ourselves in peace. To dream up alternatives to the Prison Industrial Complex. Dream up alternatives to violence. Dream up the healing of our communities of historical and continuous violence.

It is not a coincidence that transgender women of color are marginal, vulnerable, and yet brilliant, resourceful, and powerful in our resistance and resiliency. So many of us lose our families because of our choices to love ourselves and be ourselves. We continue to lose our lives, jobs, partners, and more because we’ve chosen to survive and take up space.

Yet many of us continue to survive and be so creative in our resistance and resilience. Through chosen family and communities many of us have made it through the night, and I aspire to see a new day rise on our community where we able to conduct ourselves without the fear of death on our doorstep.

Lexi is a 23 year old trans Latina living in Oakland, California. She is an organizer of the International Transgender Women of Color Gathering. Follow her work at

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Lexi Adsit

Scholar / Activist / Organizer / Visionary / #girlslikeus / #TWOC / #TransLatinas who #ruletheworld

Catch up with me @sistahmamaqueen.





January 14, 2014

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