Hope Giselle is all about self-love. As the first openly trans woman to graduate with a MFA from conservative Alabama State University, she’s learned to put her mental health first while challenging people on the opposite side of the political spectrum. When it comes to confronting a bully or a racist, she says sometimes it’s ok to say, “Today, I don’t have the power.” But if you do step up—you should do so with the full knowledge of what it is that you’re stepping into. In this episode, the author of Becoming Hope: Removing the Disguise shares her modern social take on trans and Black bodies in public spaces, how to love yourself enough to be in love and how to relax and “wear the bathing suit” when you’re being judged.
Hope Giselle 00:04
I am a very loving partner. I think that right now, the overarching theme of my life is taking care of my partner and taking care of my relationship and loving, and leaning into that. I haven't had a lot of space to do that for myself. I've spent so much time either feeling like I wasn't worthy, like I wasn't going to be able to have it, or that it simply just wasn't possible. And so, now that I have somebody that I feel deserves my time and my attention, I enjoy being that person for them. I also enjoy just being able to sit back and allow myself to lean into whatever I'm feeling.
Aja Monet 00:47
Hello, lovely listeners. My name is Aja Monet. I'm a blues surrealist, poet and organizer, and I will be your host for this show. The Sound Bath is a podcast brought to you by Lush Cosmetics. Thank you so much for being here. This podcast explores what personal, social, and environmental care and well-being really mean in today's society. This show is designed to be listened to in the bath. So, sit back, and enjoy the conversation. At the end, stick around for a beautiful meditative, sonic sound bath. I am so honored to share my conversation with Hope Giselle who's a really dear friend and someone who I admire deeply for her activism and her grace and humility, and commitment to engaging in critical conversations with others about the world of ideas and the struggles that we have with one another here on this planet around gender and identity—and just being good humans. The way that I was first introduced to Hope Giselle's work was after watching a really powerful conversation with a bunch of incredible trans women activists around the struggles that we have in the Black community, particularly around trans women and cis women and identity. What I found so profound about Hope was her intention on making sure that we weren't further dividing our relationships in our ways of seeing one another and that we were actually strengthening the ways that we need to show up and be more intentional with our language. I've seen her in so many other spaces. Since that conversation, I've witnessed her push not just cis women but cis men to think more deeply about how they talk about gender. And how they talk to those who challenge us to think more deeply about gender. And the ways that gender limits and can expand our worldviews.
Hope Giselle 03:09
Aja Monet 03:10
Hi. I'm so excited to be having this conversation with you today. There are so many amazing things that I know you're doing. And I would love to help tease those out today together. And, also just hear a little bit about you as a person. So, I want to… yeah, first, I wanted to just welcome you. Thank you so much for joining us today on The Sound Bath. Welcome. And yeah, can you tell me a little bit about being a Miami native?
Hope Giselle 03:42
Okay, so let's jump into it. First and foremost, thank y'all for having me. Being a Miami native is near and dear to my heart. Like I am one of those people that would scream out, like, I live where you vacation! Like I was definitely one of those people. So, I started the beginning of my life…I grew up in the projects, and they were called lovingly; we in the community called it P.S.U. Now, what that actually stood for, I don't think I ever asked, so I don't know, but I lived…I grew up in those housing projects. And then, I moved to an area that was near Little Havana. And that was like the sweet spot between getting back and forth to my father's house, and then my mom's, because what a lot of people don't know is that I am Afro-Cuban. My father's side of the family is, you know, really mixed up over there. And so, it was kind of a really good space to be so that I could get to my mom and my dad at the same time.
Aja Monet 04:38
Wait, what? How did I not know that your Afro-Cuban? That's beautiful. I would love to learn more about this new discovery that I'm hearing, so yeah, what was that like growing up Afro Cuban? Because, you know, growing up in New York, I thought all Black people spoke Spanish. Do you know what I mean?
Hope Giselle 04:56
Aja Monet 04:57
It's just like in New York; you grow up with seeing Black people speak Spanish fluently, so you're more exposed to just the difference in the variety and diversity of Black people. So, I think Miami was the other place when I moved there and just seeing the richness of different cultures that express, you know, blackness in so many ways, I was like, I would want to know…what was it like growing up Afro-Cuban?
Hope Giselle 05:18
To be perfectly honest, it's different when you're a darker-skinned person, right. And then, on top of that, being that like, I also have Haitian roots on my father's side, my grandmother and my grandfather did not see eye to eye in the ways of teaching us heritage. So, my grandmother was hell-bent on this idea of us like learning Spanish, it was one of those things where like, we had to do it, learn your Cuban roots, understand what it means to be like a proud like Black Cuban person. And my grandfather, and you know, my father ultimately followed suit with that, was just like we are Haitian, you know, like, it's a huge thing. But it was always interesting whenever I would tell people that was a part of my heritage or my lineage, they would never believe me, because it's just like, oh, you are dark skin and like dark-skinned people can't be anything other than Black. Or you might get away with saying, like, I'm Jamaican, or I'm Bahamian, or like, I'm a solid Haitian person, but you didn't get away with being a black or a darker-skinned person and saying, like, I have Cuban in my family. And so, it was just really awkward for me. Because in a way, on my father's side, after my father left my mom, he got with another like, authentic just Cuban person. And my sisters are very stereotypically Latin and Hispanic-looking. And so, whenever I'm with my sisters, they become the thing that proves that I am a Cuban, you know, or Afro-Cuban person, because they are these stereotypically, light-skinned, curly-haired women. So, I dealt with a lot of like real issues around trying to assimilate, especially in high school, because I went to a predominantly Cuban High School, and a lot of people thought that I was appropriating for a while.
Aja Monet 07:01
I think that is such an interesting coming-of-age reality that we experience, which is like, what, how does the world see you? And then how do you see yourself? And you grapple with that, you know what I mean, constantly. So it's interesting to hear you talk about culturally what it's meant for you to have to kind of prove yourself and then to live in a world that, like only now, we're starting to find language for wait, wait, wait, wait, how do we, how do we want to be identified? How do we choose to be identified?
Hope Giselle 07:30
That's the thing, I feel like a lot of the time, I revel in the idea of being a Black woman, right, like just being a Black woman who happens to have roots in Cuba and roots that stretch back to Haiti and, you know, roots that stretch back to God knows where. But I don't like the idea of people using me for the nuances of my blackness. Because I think at the core of it all, what I learned was that people see me as a Black person, I am a black-bodied person, before anything else, before my Hispanic culture, before my rice and beans heritage, before my griot heritage, I am a Black person to a lot of folks. And I had to recognize that when fighting the good fight, that is what a lot of people will see. And they don't care to know about the rest of my heritage because this hue of my skin right, is going to be the deciding factor of how they treat me for the remainder of the conversation, or you know the exchange of energy. And so typically, I will just tell folks, you know, I am a Black woman, and then when conversations lend themselves to the rest of my heritage that I will make it known, which is why a lot of folks, like you, just didn't know, just because it's not a necessary conversation piece for me. And also, I'm not sure if you can relate to this Aja, or if you've had friends but I was definitely one of those people that was like, mixed and growing up when, especially like in our time growing up, it was one of those things where it was cool to say that you were mixed because we all have these very colorous ideals of what it meant to be a mixed person or what it meant to be anything but Black and getting older and realizing that was a form of self-hatred and colorism towards myself.
Aja Monet 09:11
When I hear what you're saying, it makes me curious about your engagement with activism, your engagement to understanding how to move in the world or how to fight for things you wanted to see in the world. Was this part of the beginning of that conversation for you? Or what was the thing that instigated your activism and your concern for a better world?
Hope Giselle 09:29
To be perfectly honest. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was living with my best friend in Alabama, going to Alabama State University. And it was the summer, and we had just heard about the gay marriage bills being passed and how so many people were like running to get married. But I remember getting on Facebook, and I hop on there. And there are so many Black folks, right like my inner circle. The people that I socialize with are majority Black. And so, there was still Many of these Black people just up and down my timeline, talking about how upset they were about these bills being passed. And doing so in a way that just felt really degradative to the human experience. Even though these were Black queer people that were expressing how happy they were to now be able to marry their partners, and I lost it. This wasn't the age of going live; this was the first time that we can even really upload videos. And so, when you uploaded a video back then, and it went viral, it meant something because people had to actually click on it after the fact and find interest in it. And this was a 35-minute rant that I went on to talk about, you know, the ways in which people were treating Black queer people. And, then I started to realize that I had things to say about a bunch of different things. And it wasn't always queer. Sometimes it was about Black men; sometimes, it was about Black women, it was about Black community and the injustice thereof. And I think that a lot of folks didn't really care what I had to say, which is also indicative of the work that I do. They didn't care what I had to say if I wasn't talking about queerness. And if I wasn't talking about my transness, they didn't really care, like my Black voice was only valuable to Black queer people. And that was something that I noticed, which was something that I also wanted to combat. So, there's a bunch of different nuances to the reason for why I do what I do. But it definitely started because of the right to marry people showing such disdain for it, especially within the Black community. And I couldn't say it quite anymore. But then I had to start to do research to be able to really give out messages that I thought were going to be impactful. And not just something that will help people agree with me or be my sounding board, but something that will help people educate themselves as well as me educating myself in the process.
Aja Monet 11:48
Yeah, one of the things that I hear and what you're saying is the compassion and tenderness at which you approach your activism, watching you talk with people you disagree with. And witnessing you talk to people who may very well like not fully agree, understand, or even want to understand the work that you're doing, or why you fight advocate as hard as you do, have actually, like, been amazed and in awe of the way that you can move through a conversation and bring someone who everybody would just dismiss and leave and be like you don't agree with me so, forget you, and watch them actually be confronted with their own hostility, their own inner aggression and turmoil, by the way that you just handle them with care and thoughtfulness. I think you found a way to like heal things within yourself that allows you to show up in that way from other people. I don't know.
Hope Giselle 12:42
A lot of that work had to happen internally. First, I think what I had to do is I had to find the space where I was happy with myself, and I had to find a space where I could get a grip on who I was that day like every day is different. Every day I wake up, and I'm a different person. I'm a different version of myself; I want different things. I want to feel different ways. Like some days I wake up, and I'm more Beyonce than Erica, some days I wake up, and I'm more Erica than India, right like, and all of those things are important. And so, I check in with myself. And now that I've learned to do that, I can actually do that when I come into spaces. I tell folks all the time, every battle is not worth fighting. And so, it's going to be okay to check in with yourself and say, you know what, today I do not have the capacity to deal with this bigot. Today, I do not have the capacity to teach this racist. Today, I do not have the capacity to uneducate this misled person, right? And, sit in that, and be okay with that. But also, if you are going to engage with people, if you are going to have the hard conversations, then telling yourself the truth about who you are talking to, in order to be able to have that conversation productively is going to be just as important.
Aja Monet 13:53
I wonder, who do you feel you are when you're not fighting for your right to exist? What do you choose to be in the world? Or how do you move in the world when you're not fighting for your right to exist?
Hope Giselle 14:07
I don't know. Today, I'm feeling somewhere between like glam and like loungy, and I want to be at home; I want to chill. And so that feels good. And it feels really good to be a woman that settled in herself and is willing to like navigate based on that. So, I'm really excited about just where I am. And that's who I get to be when I'm not doing the work. I get to be this loving person. I get to be this creative, that decides how I want to show up and how that looks via fashion. I get to be a music lover. I get to be a writer. I get to be a museum enthusiast because I love art. I love art so much. I guess it'd be all of those things. And I get to do so by disconnecting completely from social media, which I've learned isn't as bad as the 20-year-old version of myself would have made it seem.
Aja Monet 14:59
Yeah, do you take breaks from social media often? What is your relationship to being on and then offline?
Hope Giselle 15:07
I'm starting a new trend. I think after the summer of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and so many other folks—I was exhausted. After, you know, fighting for Black lives, there was just Black trans lives that were coming up dead and missing and disfigured and all types of things. And that summer was just really hard, travelling back and forth to Tallahassee to, you know, prepare for Tony McDade and make sure that things were happening there. And just so many different things were happening. And I worked myself to the bone. And that was like a very pivotal summer for me, as far as my career went. But as far as mentally, emotionally, and physically—I was drained. I was saying yes to everything and everybody and overworking myself, and then underdelivering in other places, which I just didn't appreciate. And so now, what I do is anytime that the work starts to become so overbearing that I feel like the only thing that I am doing is working, I take a month off. I will not post anything. I try not to like anything, I try not to be invested, I usually will delete the apps off of my phone, and I just indulge in life. And if I can't get off of work, or if like, I'm not in the space to financially take the month off of work as well. You know, I literally wake up, I work and then I do my thing. I cook. I watch my shows. I do everything else, other than social media, because I had to realize, and I have to remember and remind myself that, like, I think that my life is cool, like my life is dope. And I'm out here not living it because I'm so busy trying to create content for, you know, all of these folks that are depending upon me to be their one source, right. And I think that when I do that, and I take those breaks, it reminds folks that there are other people that are doing the work that you can fall in love with as well. And then it takes off, or it alleviates some of that pressure for me when I come back. And I do that just as often as I feel the need to adjust, as often as I feel like things are starting to become overbearing. And I've realized that now it makes so much more room for me to be able to just breathe, go on vacation, and come back and do the work ten times better.
Aja Monet 17:24
Yeah, I wanted to ask you about being in a relationship where you now feel a sense of love. And you can care for this person and give them the attention. What were some of the lessons that you or what did you have to learn? Or what did you have to unlearn? In order for you to be in a space where you could be present to the current relationship, you're in? And are there ways that this person is showing up for you that now are clear identifiers of things that you know you need in order for a healthy relationship to be sustained?
Hope Giselle 18:01
Hmm, oh, wow. Okay, first of all, I'm still learning, right. Like I am still learning myself and still learning different ways to show up in relationship. I am not perfect by any means, right. And so, I am so wounded, I have been lied to, I have been cheated on, I have been told…you know that I shouldn't value myself in the way that biological or cis women value themselves, because why would I act as if I am just as important or on the same level as a cis woman. And so, I have a bunch of baggage. And I had to admit that. But I also had to find somebody that when I said that, it didn't show up in a way that made them feel like they had to run away from me or like I was going to be a problem. I'm just open about the baggage that I bring into the situation because I want you to know what you're getting into, right. And that was that's really important for me in the beginning stages of any relationship; I'm always very upfront about the fact that I have been hurt. I am bitter. I do not believe a lot of things that people say; it is going to take me a while, and my walls need to be knocked down. If you are not willing, if these things are turn-offs for you, or if all of this just seems messy, then we are probably not going to work because this is how I come into the situation. And I prefer transparency over the art of pretending like I am perfect, okay, and I have never been hurt. And like this will never affect our relationship, but I know that it will. And I think that my partner now, the difference that he has made, is that he accepted those things, right. And he was willing to help me, like talk through them and work through it. And it felt good to have somebody that understood me but not only understood me but accepted me fully, even in spaces where I did not accept myself. I think that one of the truest moments that I had with my partner was we were on vacation in Mexico, and I wasn't feeling well, and I was wearing this bathing suit but I wanted to get in the water, and I couldn't tuck; I couldn't hide my penis. And I remember looking over him, and I was like, Babe, I don't want to tuck, I'm uncomfortable, I just don't feel like doing it. But if I don't, it's gonna be really obvious; you know what's happening here. And in my mind, what I had told myself was that I needed to ask him how he felt about this because he's going to be embarrassed, he's going to be ashamed, he's the person, that like is gonna feel weird about this. And I had never had a partner look over at me and go; I don't care. Like, if you're uncomfortable, you don't have to do it. I know that I'm dating a trans woman who has a penis; I don't care what these people think about that. I just want you to be comfortable. So, if you don't want to do that, because it hurts, so you're not feeling it today, then don't. Just wear the bathing suit, it's fine. And that was the most like, I don't think I've ever had somebody like really see me in that way and still love me and not, you know, have this vain idea of what it means to be with a person who is trans, but also have this dirty little secret as kind of a sort of feeling about the relationship. And that is just what's very different about this. And that's what feels good about this. And that's how I'm learning to maneuver in love with this one in ways that I haven't been able to do in the past, just because I feel seen by somebody, even when I don't always see myself and he's always there to remind me of that.
Aja Monet 21:45
Praise it! Praise it! I just love, I love love. I'm a sucker for love. And I'm a sucker for all the ways that love just teaches us. I think when we are truly moving and existing as love, it can really undo so much harm that the world has inflicted upon us. And I think, yeah, I love love for you. And I want love for all of us, you know, and I know that it's a struggle being in a relationship with any person, let alone a partner, but whether it be your sister, auntie, uncle, your mom…so being in a position where we can actually have conversations and be transparent about the things that we're struggling with, and someone to see us and not see us defined by that struggle or defined by that conflict within ourselves. I think it's just such an evolved state of relating and connection. So, thank you for sharing that. I was going to ask which kind of ties to what you've already shared. But maybe there's another moment for you that you could share with us about where you experienced care, a radical form of care. And that could be for me care is not there's no binary between it's not like self-care versus collective care. But that care is care. And if it's care that it's going to show up unequivocally as care and all these many facets, and I want to know, is there an example where you saw a demonstration of care that deepened your relationship to care.
Hope Giselle 23:09
Definitely, I feel like this is the season for me where I am really engulfed in my relationship because it's a huge part of things for me, but I recently underwent SRS or bottom surgery or gender confirmation surgery or whatever, you know, works best for people. And it was one of those things where I had not thought about the fact of how embarrassed I was for my boyfriend to see my vagina like almost immediately post-op because I was just like, oh, it's not gonna look right yet, like doesn't look all pretty and it's not like doing what it's supposed to do. And so, I don't want him to see it. And I forgot what the situation was but like I needed somebody to help me do something. And he immediately jumped in and changed everything and wiped everything and did everything that I needed to be done. And there was no like weird look on his face. There was no like traumatized…oh my God, I don't think I'm ready to see that like that kind of thing. Even when I was still freaking out about the way that it looked. And like how everything was like taking its time to heal, like, he was down there just fixing everything and like making sure everything was done. And once again, like, he just showed me this radical form of care, like I am going to be here for you through the good, the bad and the ugly. And I am not here because it is this perfect thing or it was this other thing, like I'm here for you as a person. And so, whatever you need me to do, I'm going to do that. And so, I think that's the most recent moment of like radical care.
Aja Monet 24:41
Yeah, it seems like the consistency and the unapologetic nature is a big part of what is so meaningful. So, for those of you listening, care has to be a bit consistent and unapologetic. It has to show up with a certain sense of assertion and pride and joy. But I wanted to ask you what sounds feel like a sense of belonging or calmness and wellness; what are sounds that really, you find that bring you peace.
Hope Giselle 25:15
I love the sound of like rain. And so, I am one of those people that will listen to the rain, or you know, just something very like constant once again, like the constant heavy sounds really make me happy. I think for me, a lot of the things that really bring me peace or calm or like sense. So, I love vanilla. I love lavender. I love honey. So all of those things combined usually do it for me like I'll have some honey or some lavender going, like I do a bubble bath or something like that and mix the auditory with the, you know, my ability to smell. And that usually brings me to a place of peace.
Aja Monet 25:57
Awesome, thank you Hope it's really an honor to be in conversation with you. And I look forward to everything that's in store. Keep me posted on other ways to support. I would love to be a part of that.
Hope Giselle 26:08
Aja Monet 26:18
It's really great to hear how much compassion and tenderness Hope has when she's approaching her activism and the conversations around the issues that deeply impact her as well as our community. That was something that I thought was really dope was when she said that you have to pick and choose your battles, what battles are worth fighting for? There is always a time that we must check in with ourselves and then there are times where we must check ourselves. And I think her ability to do both is part of what makes her such a brilliant facilitator and activist, and thinker. To know when you have the energy and capacity to deal with difficult conversations, to know what your limitations are, to create boundaries. One of the things I loved about what Hope shared was her vulnerability around love and what love looks like when it shows up proudly and boldly, and loudly. And, how all of us deserve a loud and proud love. Sometimes it only takes that one person who truly sees us and can hold us in our struggles and our most difficult moments that keeps us going, that keeps us inspired and that motivates us to truly see who we are, in the light of their eyes we find our reflection. And so that was so beautiful to hear Hope describe her current relationship with love right now and how that relationship is expanding her ideas around self-love. Yeah, Hope is really, really great at facilitating conversation and even more great at creating a more compassionate, healing radical space that I think helps us see how conversations can shift and shape us. She is a force in this peer world, and I am really grateful that she made time for us.