September 15, 2014

Commentary | January 13, 2014
The other side of freedom
An open letter to CeCe McDonald
Written by | Visual by Alice Shen | The McGill Daily

Correction appended January 13, 2014: the date of release in the endcap has been corrected.

To: CeCe McDonald
OID#238072
Minnesota Correctional Facility – St. Cloud
2305 Minnesota Boulevard S.E.
St. Cloud, MN 56304
United States of America
The Other Side of Freedom

Re: The Making of Heroes

How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
retaliation?
Shall we pick a number?
[…]
And if I
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
out.
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies
June Jordan, “I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies”

Dear CeCe,
Hi, I’m Kai Cheng, a transfemme Asian writer and student living in Montreal, Canada. I’ve wanted to write to you for a long time now. It’s hard to put the feelings I have into the appropriate words, when we’ve never met and we’re so far apart. How do you write to a political icon and personal hero without sounding presumptuous or ridiculous? How do you say something meaningful to someone like you, who has lived through so much with such grace? When I read about you in the news, or think about your story, I am inspired to be brave, to be real, to speak and act in solidarity with my sisters in community. So I’m writing you this open letter to thank you for that, and to try and spread the gift of your story a little farther in the world.

For over a year and a half, the trans* community has waited for this day: the day you are released from a prison that you never should have been placed in, that should never have existed in the first place. Although I wish that there were no need to celebrate moments like this, that transphobia and racism and the prison industrial complex did not conspire to contain, incarcerate, and murder people for the ‘crimes’ of difference and fighting for survival, I can’t say that I’m not thrilled you’re getting out. It’s a complicated feeling, I suppose. Maybe you have complicated feelings of your own. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that on this day, as on all days, I honour your strength, your courage, and your will to live and love. I honour the words and the wisdom you have given to queer and trans* communities through your blog and public statements. I honour your – I honour you.

When I read about you in the news, or think about your story, I am inspired to be brave, to be real, to speak and act in solidarity with my sisters in community.

I started this letter with an excerpt from June Jordan’s “I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies” because I always appreciate the power and beauty of the poems you include in your blog posts. You remind me that poetry – poetry that tells it like it is, that makes space for our voices, that dreams for us a less vicious world than the one in which we currently live – is as much a part of fighting for life and revolution as other kinds of struggle. That poetry is, as Audre Lorde says, “not a luxury,” but a bridge between us. Jordan’s poem always makes me think of you.

I think about how three years ago, on a dark night, you were harassed and attacked by white, cisgendered men and women for no reason other than that you were there, and different; how you did what you had to in order to survive. How, for once, it was the white man who did not live, and how the judicial system – the institutional systems supposed to uphold justice in America – reacted to this outrage, this audacity of yours to live when statistics say you should have died. Just by living, you became a ‘menace’ to the state, to cisgender and white supremacy.

And I think about Islan Nettles, who was beaten to death in the streets of Harlem on another dark night this year. I think about all the unnamed trans women of colour who have been harassed and violated and attacked. I think about my own dark nights. It’s a strange, dark fairy tale of transformation, transition, and violence that we live and die in, CeCe. And yet, still, you find the light and wisdom inside yourself to talk of love, to write and tell us that love is unending.

I thought that freedom was keeping my head down, not rocking the boat, blending in as much as possible. I thought that you were free as long as you were quiet and followed the rules. I wish we had known each other then.

When I was growing up in Vancouver, I thought that I was totally unlovable – or at least, parts of me. All the part that walked ‘funny,’ that lisped and liked to put on makeup and dresses. The part that dreamed of kissing boys. The narrow eyes, the tan skin. Who was going to care about a queer freaky cross-dressing kid from the immigrant neighbourhood? Straight people love straight people. White gay men love white gay men. I thought I had to choose between loving myself – my gender, my sexual preferences – and freedom. I thought that freedom meant trying to carve out a place in the middle class. I thought that freedom was keeping my head down, not rocking the boat, blending in as much as possible. I thought that you were free as long as you were quiet and followed the rules. I wish we had known each other then.

I bet you didn’t intend or expect to end up becoming the leader and icon for trans* folks and queers of colour that you have – your words are always so full of grace and humility, your writing always remains mindful of the community, those who didn’t make it, those whom we’ve lost. But you did, you became a kind of hero for me and for others because yours is a story from the other side of freedom. Dear CeCe McDonald, I remember and stand with all imprisoned trans* people and against the prison industrial complex. I am so happy that you are free (or, a little freer). You’ve been teaching me about freedom for three years.

In love and solidarity,
Kai Cheng


CeCe McDonald will be released January 13. She will write a public statement once she is rested and has spent some time in privacy with people she is close to. Those wishing to send CeCe McDonald messages of support or financial/material solidarity are advised to watch the “Free CeCe McDonald” Facebook page. Also consider sending a donation to other incarcerated people or abolition movements.

According to her close supporters, “CeCe has one more request: after her release, she’d like to make a scrapbook documenting the worldwide support she’s received. If you’ve organized an event, held a sign at a rally, or created art inspired by CeCe, please send it to mpls4cece@gmail.com.”

From Gaysia With Love is an epistolary exploration of intersectionality by Kai Cheng Thom. They can be reached at fromgaysia@mcgilldaily.com.

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