Devin Michael Lowe is a first-generation Jamaican-American, queer man of color and person of the transgender experience. Lowe is the founder of the Black Trans Travel Fund, which provides money to members of the black trans community so they could coordinate private car rides and avoid the danger they often encounter on public transportation “I was attending a lot of rallies and vigils for black trans women in the community who had been murdered within a short span of time,” Lowe said. “At one point it was three black trans women who had been murdered within the span of eight days.” Lowe’s partner is a black trans woman as are some of his closest friends. “I was attending these rallies, and people were saying we need to support and show up and protect them. I was getting angry because we were, like, saying hashtag-protect trans black women, but what were we doing?” Since founding the fund last summer, he’s raised $75,000. Here, we talk to Lowe about the importance of self-care and wellness as a trans person of color in a world that feels increasingly unstable.
In what ways do self-care and wellness serve you?
Self-care has been so crucial to me being able to continue the work that I do. I work with a lot of queer and trans youth, especially trans people of color, black and brown folks. I run different LGBT support groups so I hear a lot about the traumatic experiences that my community is dealing with on a day to day basis: housing insecurity, job insecurity, food insecurity, different mental health issues, negative conflicts with their family and friends, transphobia. I’m constantly being bombarded with this information and it can be really draining. Social service work, the work that I do, is not a typical nine-to-five where I clock in and clock out, I’m always on. People will reach out to me at all hours of the day and night and weekend. They recognize that I’m a resource. So I need to figure out what my needs are and set boundaries for myself. When I’m not taking care of myself and not making room for me in my schedule, I become really overwhelmed. I have to try to focus on little things, like my skincare, taking the time to read a book, doing something that’s not related to work.
What are some rituals that you rely on that make you feel more yourself?
I like to spend quality time with my partner. Focusing on my skincare regimen is really important, taking the extra time to cleanse my body. Dealing with spirituality, cleansing my altar, cleansing my space, my apartment. When I have a clean space around me, I can think straight. Cluttered space, cluttered mind, you know? And just learning to say “No” more.
As you mentioned, many black trans people have to deal with necessities like finding shelter and food. So how do you talk to them about wellness and self-care, which may seem like a luxury?
I run weekly support groups, and every week we talk about different topics. And we speak specifically about what self-care looks like. I run groups for transmasculine people, non-binary folks. So we discuss what self-care looks like for them, how they’re taking care of themselves, what are healthy relationships, making sure they are engaging with people on a daily basis in a healthy way. Trying to make sure that they are remembering themselves, helping them figure out different modes of support when the organizations they rely on are not open — people they can talk to, things they can do for themselves, specifically things that don’t cost a lot of money.
Many acts of self-care are perceived as gendered. How do you discuss them with the trans community?
I keep it in mind but not in the ways you may think. My groups are centered around redefining healthy masculinity. We talk a lot about breaking down the binary and what is gender versus gender roles and gender norms. We talk about how those things are … made up. Healthcare is not gendered, clothing is not gendered, skincare is not gendered — none of these things have a gender. Taking care of your body and keeping yourself clean and taking care of your mental health are not feminine things or feminine traits. These are things that all people need. Really making sure that we’re constantly unpacking that and not trying to, as transmasculine people perpetuate these same stereotypes that have been placed on cisgendered men or masculine folks in general. Those things harm all of us, as masculine people and the feminine people around us. The way we have to take care of ourselves and not put that emotional labor on our partners and loved ones and the feminine people in our lives, to be our rock. We should be doing that for ourselves and taking care of each other as masculine people.
Well, self-care is so individual.
Right. And we tell people, “Oh you need to practice self-care,” when what they really need is community care. We need each other, as human beings. Individualism is going to be the death of us, and we can see that right now just with the
How do you think self-care and wellness overlap with the internet and social media?
It’s hard to answer. The internet is definitely tied to self-care because it’s a place that I’ve been able to build community and find community in a way I hadn’t before. It’s how I’ve been able to find resources. I’m in New York City and I’m grateful that I had the capacity to move out here and gain a community and direct access to people on a face to face level. Other folks in different areas may not have that same access to a community hub where they can be around other people, it’s so vital. Especially given the fact that we’re currently in quarantine, it’s going to become even more vital to my mental health and help me stay connected to people. The other day I found an app called Houseparty where I can have a group chat with ten people at once. Small things like that are going to be important to help make sure I don’t feel isolated in my home and other people don’t feel isolated. People are scared. I’m scared. And I want to share that with people so I don’t feel like I’m talking into the void. The internet is definitely a great way to feel seen and heard and also pacify anxiety with fact-checking.