I first met filmmaker and activist Tourmaline in 2012 through her Tumblr “The Spirit Was …,” a visual archive centering folks who had been left out of the whitewashed historical narrative of the LGBTQ+ movement. Because of Tourmaline’s fastidious work digitizing archival materials that might otherwise have been lost to time, I got to actually watch videos, read newspaper clippings, and view never-before-seen photographs of trans icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Because of Tourmaline, my particular experience as a Black trans woman also speaking uncomfortable truths was validated and affirmed.
She wielded us with actual proof of our collective existence, our lives and our contributions. Tourmaline gave us evidence of our lineage, and in a culture where histories of marginalized people—particularly Black trans and queer people—aren’t preserved in mainstream storytelling, Tourmaline is a force showing us to ourselves, proving to anyone paying attention that trans people have always been here.
Tourmaline continues to create reflections of our community in her most recent short film, Salacia, which centers Mary Jones, a Black trans outlaw living in the free Black community Seneca Village in the 1830s. This summer, the film was added to the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Because of Tourmaline, Black trans women exist in a mainstream art institution, where thousands will witness us taking up space, centered in the frame as our own heroes. Tourmaline is a beacon in the foreboding darkness, lighting a pathway toward better tomorrows.
Mock is a writer, director and Emmy Award–nominated producer