For the past two years, Diamond Stylz and her podcast co-hosts Mia Sloan and Zahir Alexander have been providing space for black people to liberate themselves from transphobia.
They want trans black people to speak freely about their experiences without the pressure of accommodating the white gaze. They want cisgender people to have a space where they can shut the fuck up and listen, so they don’t ask trans people uncomfortable questions about their body parts and other shit they have no business asking them.
Diamond, the founder of Marsha’s Plate podcast, wants you to unshackle yourself from the white supremacist gender binaries that keep black folks harming each other.
When I first started listening to Marsha’s Plate last summer, I was looking for a podcast where I could hear black trans folks talk about their experiences without having to infringe on their time. I mean, there really aren’t a lot of spaces where cis and trans black people can meet around the trans experience that don’t invariably veer into toxic, male-centric, transphobic trashiness. Diamond, Mia, and Zahir remind you of your cool-ass cousins you can wild out with and recall the wildest of stories reminiscent of that long Twitter thread that stripper Zola wrote in 2015.
The trio talks about how hard it has been for them to maintain relationships with family members unwilling to accept their gender identities. Or how the murders of trans black women impact them personally. They talk about lighter, funnier topics, too, like their experiences with sex work and some of the hilarious (and horrifying) situations with their clients. If you go to episode 100, you can listen to Diamond, using a video game role-play format, tell a fictional story of a black trans woman chopping down a mountain of patriarchy and the tribes she encounters on her quest.
But, most importantly, Diamond told me that the podcast is really about giving trans black people a space where they can center themselves in a wide range of conversations without the fear of being pigeonholed.
“During the 2016 election, when (media) talked to trans folks, they talked to them about the bathroom, and we care about more things than the bathroom,” she told me last fall during dinner with Mia and Zahir in downtown Houston. “We care about healthcare. We care about housing. We care about workforce discrimination. We care about anti-violence initiatives because we’re being targeted by people. That’s what we care about. They weren’t asking us what we cared about. So I wanted to create a platform for black trans folks, where we can talk about what we care about, what really affects our lives, and our survival.”
While she centers trans black people, cishet people can learn a lot of Trans 101 without having to stress out transgender people on Twitter and Instagram.
“What we do is give a space where they can listen to our discussion instead of coming up to us, asking dumbass questions,” she said. “They can actually just sit down and passively listen and learn through our conversations without making us do the labor of answering your silly-ass questions that I think are 101, or I think that you said in the wrong way. And when you say it in the wrong way and I correct you, we’ve got to go through this apology, and you explaining, and we never really get anywhere because we’re stuck on the basic level. You’re not seeing my humanity, and you’re still trying not to offend me.”
If Pose introduced us to the daily lives of trans black women, then Marsha’s Plate, named for trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, is one of the few podcasts where people can tune in each week to hear three trans black people talk about themselves.
Diamond, 38, is widely known as one of the most influential voices in the trans-black community and has helped shepherd in the current environment in which trans people are slowly becoming more accepted in society. Her activism started back in 1999 while she was a high school student in Indiana, where she was born and raised. She wanted to wear a dress to prom but her school would not allow it. So she sued—and won. It was one of the first cases recorded where a trans person successfully sued a public school institution. (The Root did not link to articles of the case as they misgendered her and used the name she was assigned at birth.)
She went on to Jackson State University, where she was the first trans student on campus and eventually graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2004. At one point in her life, Diamond resorted to sex work after a family member who was a coworker at one of her jobs disclosed that Diamond was trans and she was subsequently fired. Her experiences would eventually help shape her policy views on why sex work should be decriminalized and how politicians too often conflate sex work with sex trafficking.
In 2007, Diamond started a YouTube channel to talk about her experiences as a trans black woman. She joined a few other black trans women on the platform, pushing conversations on trans issues that people weren’t ready to hear but they kept pushing anyway. YouTube during the mid-2000s and early 2010s was one of the few spaces where trans black women could express themselves unencumbered—until it wasn’t.
“I remember when I started on YouTube it was like the wild, wild west,” she told me. “It was like anything goes. You can do whatever you want to do. But YouTube has become really commercialized now, and kind of not that free anymore. I think podcasting is that realm now where anything goes. Whatever your creative juices flow, you can create your space. It hasn’t been monetized in the same way that YouTube has. So because it was an audio medium, and because it was so free, and not as restricted, it was just the perfect medium. Because, as a trans person, there’s a lot of gatekeepers that can stop us from being seen, where podcasting, because it’s so open, it allows us to have a platform that can be shared all around the globe without somebody saying, ‘Oh no. You’ve got to be this certain way, you’ve got to look this certain way.’”
Seeking a change in environment, Diamond moved to Houston in 2007 from Mississippi where she was working and found the Texas city big enough for her to build friendships and open enough where she could exist as a trans woman. Soon, she would meet Mia and Zahir, who are both trans and in a relationship with each other. Diamond initially wanted the podcast to feature three black trans women, but that idea fell through. So, in 2017, Diamond, Mia, and Zahir launched the podcast, learning to feed off their unique life experiences each episode.
Zahir and Mia help Diamond break down the topics of the week, often leading segments on news items. They also share their experiences of being a trans couple, touching on very personal aspects of their lives—including that time they had a threesome with a client when they performed sex work.
“We come to the podcast just to be open,” Mia said. “I want people to feel comfortable and be able to relate and feel like you’re having a conversation amongst friends. That conversation really wasn’t supposed to be talked about on the podcast. Me and Z were supposed to keep it private, and at the time, it kind of gagged Z. But we have actually done that to each other a couple of times where he’s presented some information and I was like, ‘Oh my God. Oh, so we’re going to have this conversation?’”
One thing that all of them have in common is that they’re light-skinned, which often leads to conversations about colorism and the privilege they carry in black trans spaces.
“Sometimes, it’s hard for me to navigate between being light-skinned and trans because it’s two battles,” Mia said. “It’s like dealing with the way people treat you because you’re light-skinned and then dealing with the way people treat you because you’re trans. So it’s like you have two battles. I don’t know, I want people to realize that no matter how I present myself, I should be respected regardless.”
You see Zahir’s depth in episode 108, when he interviews his father. While Zahir and his dad have a good relationship, his father still doesn’t fully accept his trans identity and referred to him by the name he was assigned at birth throughout the nearly three-hour episode—which Stylz edited out. It is one of the rare times cisgender people can get an inside look into the trauma trans people suffer within families who don’t fully accept them for who they are.
Zahir told me he appreciates the chance to talk about being a trans black man on the podcast because people don’t often get to hear their perspectives. But the epidemic of trans black women being killed is close to his heart and he makes sure to address it whenever he can.
“I personally take it to heart because I treasure black trans women,” he said. “And that’s mostly the ones that are getting killed. The life expectancy for black trans women is 35 years old. So, just thinking about my partner who is trans and her not being able to live past 35 is terrifying. And then, having people like Diamond in my life who are very educational, who are pillars of the community and doing work, just thinking about their lives aren’t treasured. Just all this information. Like imagine if Diamond were, God forbid, were to be taken today, it wouldn’t be Marsha’s Plate anymore. If Mia were to be gone, it wouldn’t be Marsha’s Plate anymore.
“It’s not as dangerous for me navigating the world because of the lack of knowledge of (trans black men), of course. And the double-edged sword of being visible is when we do become visible, those attacks can go up for us—especially if you’re a black person,” he continues. “But trans men do experience violence, and a lot of the common violence is sexual violence. I just try to use my privilege to operate as a stealth man to protect myself. Sometimes, you have to use your privilege to help other people, and that’s basically what I do. I’m visible at the right times.”
Like most folks running podcasts, Diamond, Mia and Zahir have day jobs and rely on Patreon donations to keep Marsha’s Plate going. With more donations, they hope to one day have enough financial support to visit all 50 states and collect stories about trans black people and do live shows. Diamond told me the podcast is gaining more traction after running for two nonstop consecutive years, and that she sees the results.
Folks are realizing that for black people to be free, we all need to be free.
“I just want people to broaden their scopes and enrich their work by including trans people in their analysis,” she said. “I think that we are a collective of people who are trying to do this type of dismantling white supremacy work, dismantling patriarchy work. We’re just a collective that’s in this whole internet realm of people. We’re not the only ones. We’re just a really specific one. We all have the same mindset about how to liberate us. I don’t think we’re unique in that. We’re just a unique branch of that liberation. Our goal is just to widen everybody’s mentality about transness so that we can really make all black lives matter. Like, all of them.”