Black Queer Trans Activist
Aurora...who IS she?
“Value black trans women and know that if you're not valuing us now you will be left behind when people do realize how much we can hold in our beings.”
These are the words of Aurora Higgs, a black queer trans activist, who is proudly born, bred and bloomed out of Richmond, VA.
While still residing in Richmond, she is a revolutionary...a mover and a shaker, creating waves of justice for her communities. She has a voice to be heard, a mind to be spoken and a vision to be shared. Higgs’s journey thus far has been a challenging yet exhilarating trek. While climbing a metaphorical mountain range she can see the promising horizon line of aspirations in the distance. At 30 years old, she wholeheartedly is able to identify with herself, more than many are willing in their lifetime and has the ability to share not just her own but other people’s reflections with the world. Her strength to do so comes from sacrifice, pride and a love for others.
“As much as I don’t believe the cause should’t be riding on anyone’s shoulders, I do think if you have the capacity right now then you should be lending it.”
Advocacy is critical in making change. We must recognize the defaults in our society, the oppressions we have created, and generate an impact. This is a hard position to fill, as there are so many risks you must be willing to take. It’s vulnerable, you are exposed and it comes with a variety of pressures. So how does one create that change; making that, ‘smooth as glass’ silent, undisturbed water form into ripples, generating a wake of being woke? It’s not easy to advocate for change, be a communicator and a leader. It’s only possible with the support of others, a community. There is nothing without that.
“At the end of the day, injustice makes me really angry, at a really superficial level.”
Currently, Higgs has her hand in a lot of pots. For years she was taking the safe route, working for companies that felt socially correct, comfortable...responsible. It seemed like the right thing to do, a stable and honest living. It wasn’t fulfilling, as she knew she could be influential and do more good, contributing to her community in proactive ways.
Her life was mundane, in a standstill. She wasn’t being true to herself both personally and professionally.
“It’s really difficult if you are a mover and a shaker or if you are somebody who makes the vanguard uncomfortable.”
With her social media handle being, @aurorawhoisshe, it is only appropriate we ask, Aurora...who IS she?. She is a powerful, strong and beautiful black trans woman, who challenges both society and herself. She represents HER, to the fullest extent, her family, her town, her roots...her pride. She speaks for the LBGTQ community, the black community and for all minorities. She is a powerful voice for so many. This simple statement, “Who is she” means so much, as it reflects a variety of moments in her life, how she identifies with herself and the world and what black trans women go through. Historically it brings reference to how black thought and presence has been undermined in America and continues to be so. Black, queer and trans voices need to be heard, not oppressed. We need these voices now more so than ever. LGBTQ community leaders and activists across the nation are risking their own lives daily. By being a public figure and an advocate in the fight for racial equality, Higgs is constantly putting her own safety at risk.
“There’s the stress of being visible in a world that maybe doesn’t want me to exist.”
With the ongoing systematic violence in our culture, Higgs contributes by bringing peace and solidarity while focusing on justice. The moment she started honestly asking herself this question, “Who IS she,” a new force emerged, a powerful figure.
“I realized for a long time I had been living my life for other people, in this way that I did the things that were safe because I didn’t want to end back up where I started.”
In 2013 Higgs started to experiment with her gender identity and was a drag performer. Although she loved this, it wasn’t totally fulfilling. Confidence started to emerge and she was willing and ready to empower herself, to make actions with intention. It gave her the knowingness and awareness that she can be who she wanted to be, that she could be herself. In 2018, Higgs started her gender transition medically.
“I was blazing a trail for my own personal safety and in hope that someone else would come upon this uncharted territory and maybe have not so hard of a go at it.”
When Higgs came out as trans gender she had a lot of support from her community. Richmond is a cultural epicenter, making it a hub for creative, innovative and visionary thinkers. As Higgs says, Richmond has an “Edgy undercurrent artistic vibe.” It’s been a gift for her, as she explained she has had a lot of support in both her own personal transformation and all that she advocates for. Being a big city with a small-town feel, people are connected. There is a strong LBGTQ community, lending to an abundance of support. When remarking about Richmond, Higgs says it’s, “A community that was nurturing and compassionate from the very beginning, and a lot of people in my place didn’t get that. That’s my form of a silver spoon. We didn’t have money but I had a surplus of care.” Richmond has been a positive space for her in many ways.
On the other hand, Richmond was the capital of the confederacy during the Civil War. Being such an old town, and still being ran primarily by generations of inherent white wealth, there is unfortunately an abundance of racial inequality lending to a lot of economic disadvantages for people of color. Richmond's demographic is more than 50% black, which is a high representation compared to most cities but there there isn’t equal opportunity. There is a monopoly of a small sector of people who hold a high amount of authority. Much of the political unjust is kept on the surface, as the demeanor of Richmond is very polite. Higgs has had many hardships in the adversity of her identity, as she has been undermined countless times. She has taken it upon herself to advocate and fight for change. Most people don’t feel comfortable talking about racial, gander and sexual orientation biases. Being a black trans woman and a voice in a variety of spaces, she is constantly being challenged and put down by the inequalities of our culture.
“I’m black so I fight for black causes...but when I’m in black spaces I may or may not be also in queer spaces and sometimes queerness may or may not be valued in those spaces. Or, if I’m in a queer space maybe my being black is not valued because there is a lot of internalized racism within queer spaces too.”
Higgs is always trying to find a balance of living her life, and enjoying it while also advocating for so many different groups of people. She is constantly honoring and supporting her own values to bring justice for others. This balance is hard, as advocacy is time consuming, stressful and most of the work, you don’t get paid. She is always juggling the many aspects of her life. Currently she is a PhD student, and works at Virginia Commonwealth University. She does public speaking, consultations, diversity and inclusion facilitation and as much as she feels safe, she is out on the streets. Back in June, she was a prominent figure and speaker at the, ‘Say her name rally’, remembering Breonna Taylor and in the movement of Black Lives Matter. She is an artist; a Burlesque and Cabaret dancer and in her free time, she is on the Board for Virginia League of Planned Parenthood but most importantly, is a human being!
Her compassionate drive and bold actions are giving help and hope to so many people. She is a champion in protecting her communities. Along with other advocates, her mentors and grassroots organizations, she is part of a larger movement. Moxxi had the pleasure to sit down and speak with Aurora Higgs and get to know more about the Fearless Female behind all of who she is and what she does. Please take a moment, as we all question, Aurora...who IS she? Might we also add that she is such a joy to speak with, a professional and a true representation of all she fights for.
Q: What was your upbringing like?
“I grew up here in Richmond VA, very much impoverished, my parents struggled with addiction. My mom is white, my dad is black, and growing up in the ’90s that is a very interesting landscape especially here in Richmond because we are the former capital of the confederacy. Richmond’s got these deep-seeded old ideas. Growing up, I very much felt that."
She said her parents were really big on education, authenticity, and just doing what’s right, being honest people. From a young age she and her sisters were taught strong morals.
“All the things that I do, I don’t do them because I had this stellar moral compass, it’s just that I had values ingrained in me early on. Despite what people saw as an unfit household, they were making things work.”
“We were homeless a lot growing up, and we would stay in houses...and found out maybe those houses belonged to other people!? That’s the thing, you do what you have to do to survive. I applaud my parents for having to make those hard decisions but while they were doing that, they were also instilling education.”
Her mom reminds her of a kindergarten teacher who is also very edgy, she is friends with everyone the moment she meets them. As for her dad, she says,
“My dad is one of the most charming people. My dad is also the person who really taught me that people are important. If people like you, that says something about you because people are kinda cool.”
His infectious laugh resonates with everyone and holds the strongest presence in every room he enters.
“My dad did drywall and construction and my mom was an exotic dancer and cleaned houses, I bet you they were to look at my parents and think of them in a certain way but they crushed the stereotype, they were survivors, they were fighters and also are kind, generous people so yeah, I mean, I am absolutely in awe of my family.”
Q: How do you deal with all the pressures?
“I will definitely say one of the biggest knockdowns is being a black trans woman and having everyone want my presence at their table, so that they can seem progressive but not being compensated...or being undervalued. It really speaks to how they see me and how they view me. Especially, you know, if a white man were doing the same thing I’m doing they would make a premium. So there’s that! And also the stress of being visible in a world that maybe doesn’t want me to exist.”
Black trans women have a magnitude of pressures. Higgs just wants to be heard as a person, and be respected for who she is and what she can bring to the table, not how her image may benefit someone. Thankfully, she is not in this alone. She is lifted up by the power of others. The support that she receives from her community and the work of other trans women inspires her.
“The good thing about this is when you are building a community you are not just doing this one-sided work, you’re building a community, and then people are building a community with you. One of the things that sustains me is knowing that I’m doing the work that I need as a person to get by. So it’s selfish work, but at the same time people are helping and people are doing things for me, and also I’m trying to do things for others.”
If you’re doing authentic work it helps a lot. It doesn’t eliminate the burnout.
Q: What is the Richmond community like?
“I would be remiss if I wasn’t highlighting the generosity and beauty of the community here. Richmond has an amazing activist community.”
“There’s this disconnect when you look at it, you see almost all brown people yet we have so little control relative to our population size. I find myself often having to work for people in these positions of power so we can reallocate resources while also advocating completely, re-hauling the entire system. I’m trying to do the conservative thing while also doing a complete revamp. It seems conflicting in so many ways but you have to have a multi-pronged approach because folks of power are cunning, and they have power and money.
Q: What would you like to see different for activists?
“We don’t get paid for activism, (some of us do, I have gotten paid for some). If I were to rely on just my activism work, I would starve, I wouldn’t have a roof over my head. I love people that work so hard to make sure we have security but those securities should really come from our government, the places we pay taxes to, the places we are contributing to. I am really hoping for more values around socialist ideas. I hope that people value grassroots people, enough that they do bring them in as consultants, such that they are paid adequately.
"I want to see more government grassroots connections, I want to see more private sector grassroots connections, I want to see social media value activists in the same way they value the Kardashians and I want people getting cash apps and Venmo money, so they can continue to do what they need so that it’s done from a mutual aid perspective so that there aren’t any strings attached. I’m big on mutual aid, I feel like if you are somebody that has a disposable income, search the #mutualaid and donate to people.”
Q: What would you like to see different for the LGBTQ community?
“As far as the queer and LGBT community goes, I heard a statistic that said something like 98% of the funds that are given by a top health or science organization in the country goes to HIV. And that’s great...AND 98% is a little high, considering there are a lot of other challenges impacting the LGBT community. Mental health, homelessness, education, employment, other social determinants of health. HIV is not our only challenge.”
Q: What is one of the biggest challenges the black trans community faces?
“One of our biggest pandemics is murder. Relative to the size of our community, we’ve seen 40 murders in 2020. It was one of the deadliest years, or the deadliest year we’ve seen for black trans women since 2013. Any time I want to see my sisters on TV it’s in memoriam, otherwise, you don’t see us represented and you don’t see trans men ANYWHERE.”
Q: What are some of your hopes for the future?
“I would love to see an education fund for especially black trans people, trans people, queer people of color...I would love to see vocational training, I would love to see more about us in the media and with diverse stories. Not just about our transition or our genitalia or about how some of us are sex workers. Some of us are sex workers...and that’s fantastic but some of us are sex workers because we can’t get a job or education."
I would love to see people do research on what trans people do WELL, not just how we’re negatively impacted or traumatized. She went on to talk a bit about her current studies.. Higgs poses the question, “How are we maternal figures for our own community?”
Trans women play such a nurturing role for many, and mentorship too.
“I want to look at building a digital archive that honors and deifies black trans women and also the ways in which black trans women are mothers who have unconventional children and take care of our communities.“
Higgs wants to see laws that specifically uplift trans women.
“We are so down on the ladder that I feel like if we put ten laws in we would only be halfway. We need to be doing disproportionate work for communities that are so far behind.”
Q: What’s next for you?
"I want people to see, as a black trans woman I am a professional, I’m an artist, I’m articulate, and I’m a public speaker. I’m a hard worker and I’m a compassionate family person but I’m also sex-positive. I’m very edgy in that way and you know, maybe people don’t really know how to reconcile all that but I want to force that on them. Again, I’m not special, I’m just more open than a lot of people so maybe if you can see that in me, you’ll put less preconceived notions on the next person you’ll meet.”
“I think of folks like Janet Mock, who is an author, a director, a writer, a model; I mean my gosh! I want to be people like, Alok Vaid-Menon, who is an amazing performance artist. So I see these people who are folks of all trades...and I see that for me. I don’t see myself being soiled in any one area."
“I am somebody who likes to have my hand in a lot of different things. I would love to be a contractor so I can focus on continuing to do burlesque and cabaret, I want to be an artist, I want to finish my PhD and be an academic and write for things, but I’m also a performer. I want to do speaking engagements, work with corporations.”
“I want to create a world where people can take more chances and find that there is grace and there are supports out there that are just waiting for you to fly, so that’s my hope.”
What does SELF-LOVE mean to you?
“Self-love is difficult and I wouldn’t say that I’ve mastered it.” Self-love is a lot to ask for in our society. I am a big component of radical self-acceptance in that you don’t have to necessarily love all of yourself all the time...in that you're human. What if instead of being self-conscious about these things, whether it was positive or negative...what if we just accepted ourselves?”
“I’m trans and my body is not always one that is ideal for me. But what does it mean, instead of loving myself...I just let myself be? Just accept myself for who I am?” Higgs went on to say life is more about self-trust rather than self-love. “This is who I am, I trust that no matter who I am, I am worthy and I am valid. I don’t have to be any more than who I am RIGHT NOW, in this moment. In order to be loved and in order to love myself, I can just be. “
In reference to physical self-love, accepting each part of your body, she said, “I think the things we are the least self-conscious about are almost things that are invisible to us.” Such as her elbow skin. Higgs has no real feelings on her elbow skin, do you? At the end of the day, no one can make her feel bad about it. So why can’t we feel this way about all parts of our body? Each one of us has insecurities.“I want more of my body to be invisible to the judgment part of my brain.”
Higgs would like to see people of all shapes, sizes and color be celebrated. Like, why can’t people of size be represented on television more often for reasons that have nothing to do with their size. The more that we normalize all individuals on all platforms, maybe there will be less exclusion and in turn, more self love, respect and trust. She said,
“The more we stop making value statements, positive or negative about certain aspects, the more that I think we’ll start seeing more representation.”
Q: Do you have any advice?
“You know your situation better than anyone else. If a leap of faith is too much of an ask, do what keeps you safe. Also look for ways you can leap safely at the same time. If you are struggling with coming out (for example) because you live in a really conservative area and you know that coming out isn’t safe, I’m not gonna blame you for not coming out. I don't think the ideal queer person is someone who is out and proud, I think the ideal queer person is someone who is alive, living their life, and enjoying their life.”
She stresses the importance of making judgments that center around your own priorities. Do what seems best for you.
“Don’t let anyone tell you if you aren’t out, you’re not queer enough, or you don’t look trans enough, or you're not making enough contributions to your community. It’s hard out here and you know what keeps you safe better than I could, so far be it for me...to tell you how to leap. I would say if you can leap and you can do it safely and you feel it could be fulfilling and self-actualizing, do it. I celebrate you either way.“
Q: Do you have any words of affirmation you tell yourself?
“I tell myself, chase things. I choose to chase things because I have now realized that people are not going to value me just because. I have to value myself and I have to show people how to value me.” I want bigger for my life; I am adventurous in my own right, I tell myself to chase everything that I can while also being smart and safe.“
Q: What does the word MOXXI mean to you?
"It almost doesn’t have a definition. It’s what I consider, ‘The feminized UMMPH.’ When I think of Moxxi there is certain femininity that is evoked for me. I think a lot of bold women have been described through history as having Moxxi and I feel like Moxxi also has this twenties Art Deco sort of feel to it. As a cabernet and burlesque performer that is something that I resonate with. I think of bold and brazen and being feminine but not necessarily being the expectations of what femininity is, which is being submissive. It’s unapologetically effeminate. Which in this case should mean strong and bold versus submissive and placating. It’s everything I try to be. I want to be described as someone who has Moxxi.”
Q: Any other thoughts?
“Value black trans women. Black trans women are a wealth of cultural knowledge in ways that we have yet to even tap into. Not only are we black and oftentimes effeminate, (which are two things that have been ostracized in our community for generations and centuries) not only do we still live into that, but we're also people who intimately know what it's like to live on both sides of a gender binary. People don’t realize there are so few people that are socialized to be one gender but identify as another. So we have this very acute perspective on cultural phenomenons like gender or other things that are political constructs, like gender is.”
“We know that your biological sex does not define you and you can transcend out of it.” Higgs went on to talk about ballroom scenes in the media, like Madonna music videos and historic documentaries and said, “It's almost like people want to study the phenomenon and not the phenomenon makers...and we are world makers. We have to build our own worlds because we’re not safe in the ones we're given. Because of that we're also great creative minds and infrastructure builders and leaders and mother’s and activists and law changers because we HAVE to be. We know things about the laws that other people couldn't dream because they impact us so thoroughly and so many laws are written without us in mind that we need to put ourselves into the laws."
“Black Trans women are the world makers of the future and then we're not gonna be the last ones, there are gonna be others but for NOW, black trans women are the ones that need the exposure and need the opportunities.”
Q: What is coffee to you?
“As long as it’s black and as strong as jet fuel I’m happy. I love cooking because I love flavors. Flavors to me are often like sounds or notes, like music or rhythms. So coffee for me is a really low grounding rhythm. It’s earthy, it’s like the warm abyss, this welcoming...the unknown.”
These bitter earthy notes to her are grounding and make her feel safe and secure.
She mainly drinks it black, welcoming the rich and dark flavors to her pallet.
“I’m a big proponent of what I call, whimsical darkness. We all make the darkness congruent to us with bad or unsafe, and that's never how I’ve felt about darkness. I like cavernous spaces...warm cozy spaces, it makes me feel like I’m in my own cozy cave. I love that it’s hot too because it soothes me internally. This sounds crazy but when I get the caffeine jitters I love that feeling. I’m shaking but I am a force to be reckoned with!”
Written & Curated By | Krysta Kearney, Moxxi Coffee Co.
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