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West Dayton Stories is a community-based story-telling project centered on the people and places of Dayton’s vibrant west side. WYSO brings together community producers to tell stories reflecting its proud history, current complexities, and future hopes.

West Dayton Stories: The Joy Of Celebrating Black Trans Excellence

Leah Byrd

Here on West Dayton Stories, we’re exploring the concept of Black Joy. With so much focus on the trauma of race in America, we turn to this important source of celebration, resistance, and healing. Community producer LB, who’s also known as Leah Byrd, takes us back to the time he found the joy he didn’t know he needed in his life.

I grew up going to a predominantly white Catholic school. I spent 13 years there and somehow, still turned out as Black and gay and trans, as I am.

But anyways, because of this upbringing at school and being raised at home by predominantly the white side of my family, I had a disconnect with my identity. I was in denial of this disconnect with my identity until a Black professor pointed out my internalized anti-Blackness for the first time when I was an undergrad. This professor also recommended that I submit my thesis project to the BlackStar Film Festival, which I did. And to my surprise, my web series got into the festival lineup.

That summer, I flew out to Philadelphia to attend the 2018 BlackStar Film Festival. I had never been surrounded by so many Black creatives before. Just by good luck and fortune, the weekend of the BlackStar Film Festival coincided with the Trans Health Wellness Conference that also takes place in Philadelphia. I got to attend a Black trans party this same weekend, and to this day, that night changed my life.

I had never been to a Black trans party before. In Ohio, it's hard to find LGBT events that center Black folks, let alone an event specifically for Black trans folks. It was something my Ohio mind and white conservative upbringing couldn't even imagine!

The amount of joy I felt that night was only going to increase when, by word of mouth, me and my friend get invited to a ball happening at the convention center. We gather up our edibles and cocktails and head to the ball with our new friends we made at the Black trans party. Now I'm no queer elder, but ball culture is something in the LGBT space that's historically Black and Brown. It's a competition, and honestly, it's a lot to explain, so please just watch Pose.

Anyways, we leave the Black trans party and go right to the ball and it's sickening! The performers dancing and giving it their all was so amazing to watch. The room is filled with Black and Brown folks in the energy is contagious. My jaw was hanging wide open the whole time as I watched different sized Black and Brown bodies, twirl and dip and give us everything we needed. I remember I was so mad my phone battery died that night because I knew it was a night not to forget.

Black joy is only being in spaces where my full identity is seen, heard, and respected. Black joy is not giving my time and energy to anyone who isn't loudly supporting my Black trans excellence.

West Dayton Stories is produced by Jocelyn Robinson at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices and is supported by CityWide Development Corporation.