The following is a post from #cut50 Empathy Ambassador Tray Johns and their experience as a formerly incarcerated male identifying women. After serving nearly nine years behind bars, Tray has spent the past few years running their own non-profit, FedFam4Life which focuses on providing resources and social justice advocacy.
Tray is also The South Florida Criminal Justice Organizer for the New Florida Majority and is leading a series of symposiums called ReformHER across the State of Florida that will bring the plight of incarcerated women to the forefront of the Criminal Justice Reform conversation.
As a formerly incarcerated person, I don't take freedom of expression for granted. It wasn't long ago that I myself was hesitant to share this part of my identity. After prison, I was unsure of how the world would perceive a formerly incarcerated male-identifying black woman veteran. Society has a history of disregarding people who look like me, purely on the basis of race – yet my sexuality has given me strength, hope, and resilience to live my most authentic life. Part of that hope comes from the relationship I have with Foxxy.
Foxxy and I co-founded Fedfam4life and have devoted our resources, time, and energy to fight for women who look like us, live like us and love like us, to ensure they have a successful life upon reentry into society. That’s why I’ve partnered with #cut50, an initiative of the Dream Corps, to keep fighting for Dignity for Incarcerated Women.
Ten years ago, Nina and I met in federal prison – like most people, we didn’t expect to find love and comfort in such harrowing conditions. While I was incarcerated, our time together provided hope for what our life together would be like post-release. I was released two years after we met and I waited five years to marry her.
This year, I attended Pride in Miami, FL. I’ve attended Pride events in Chicago, Washington D.C, Knoxville and Nashville. Nothing has been more meaningful than attending this year with Foxxy for her first Pride event. The previous events were powerful but nothing compared to the recent moments we spent together. Throughout the entirety of our relationship, we’ve seen each other through the ups and downs, but this past weekend– we celebrated our love in an authentic and unapologetic way.
As a black, same-sex, formerly incarcerated couple we fit the mold of people who are outcasted from society. But I want people to think about us when they think about marriage. I’m living my best life with the person I love the most, the person I’m enjoying the most things with, and the person who has been a guiding force in my life. Because of this relationship, I feel empowered to be a proud, gay, black, male-identifying woman and activist.
In July, Foxxy and I will be celebrating our two year wedding anniversary. Pride means something different to me after my marriage because of the love my wife and I share with each other. Now, I’m celebrating Pride no matter who is watching; I’m not afraid or cautious to hold my wife’s hand in public anymore and I’ve embraced who I am.
Despite the current climate of hate and discrimination, I feel safer than ever. While I was once embarrassed by uncertainty about gender and sexuality, I’m now comfortable with and emboldened by it. In a large part, my confidence comes from my wife and the support we’ve provided each other with.
For me, my identity means that I can speak out openly as a formerly incarcerated gay black advocate despite the layers of oppression in my life that stem from race, gender and sexuality. I have dedicated this Pride month to fighting for my black and brown transgender brothers and sisters who are being brutalized and killed – inside prison and out. I’ve always felt like my identity has been discounted because of who I am and who I love, and I will continue to fight against the systems in place that attempt to silence who I really am.