The Risk it Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation

By Raquel Willis

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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The Risk it Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation
By Raquel Willis
St. Martin’s Press
$29; hardcover; photos

Black transgender writer Raquel Willis has emerged as a fearless advocate for GLBTQ+ issues, with specific focus on for transgender, nonbinary and queer youth who are under direct attack from politicians drafting bills that seek to strip away their rights of bodily autonomy and medical privacy..

Willis is an award-winning journalist, former executive editor of Out Magazine and National organizer for Transgender Law Center. She has just published “The Risk It Takes To Bloom,” a memoir that chronicles her own fight for visibility, dignity, and her fight for Transgender civil rights. Like most transgender, nonbinary, intersex, and genderqueer Americans, she has faced antigay and transphobic intolerance throughout her life. Her book is a manifesto of hope and a survival guide for those who face rejection and hostility in schools, churches, public spaces and even in their own homes.

Growing up in black Catholic family in Augusta, Georgia, Willis realized that he had to hide his true nature. In her moving opening chapters, she writes about her former secret life. “It was before the world began shouting at me to straighten up, walk differently, speak differently, be different. Then, I was just a child with light brown eyes drawing attention with quiet wonder.”

. By the time Willis was in high school he was subjected to bullying and gay slurs and was living a very isolated home. He was close to both his parents he wanted to come out to them but was worried about possibly being rejected. He and his mother were volunteering at a community event when he was 17, when a fight broke out over after a student called another boy a faggot. His mother intervened and told the offender to apologize.

Later that day Willis, then 17, came out to his mother. She was understanding but insisted on him keeping it from his father for the time being. Soon enough he told his father who reacted with such anger that he smashed a chair.

Willis was just starting her college life, and now on her own, started to accept the fact that he was transgender. Willis found acceptance and the freedom to embrace her sexuality in drag culture performances at a club. And eventually, Willis embraced her trans identity and came to the brave and liberating decision to live fully as a Black Transgender woman.

In her memoir she articulates the psychosexual dynamics of her transition episodic chapters such as ‘For Women Who Had a Boyhood, The Playground of Gender’ and ‘My Interior World‘ The Playground of Gender’ to mention a few, as she details what she was feeling and why, what she faced medically, as one aspect of a many faceted, complex lived experience

Her earliest national appearance was at The Women’s Day March’ Willis describes a turning point in her activist career, addressing a national audience, in a speech at the National Women’s March on the day of Trump’s Inauguration in 2016. She recalls “At the dawn of a new era slated to be considerably more oppressive than the previous one., injected a mix of frustration and stage right into my veins. It didn’t help that the legendary Angela Davis had just addressed the audience to thunderous applause. How would I follow the brilliance of this social justice tighten and adjust? And did I even belong here –a 20 something black transgender activist from the South who had only recently expanded her local community organizing lens to a more national one?

“Despite having traveled a different path to my womanhood, I trusted that we mostly shared similar values and concern about the direction the United States was heading.. I think about historically trans women of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, who lit the fire on the LGBTQIA rights movement. And they were quickly kicked out and erased.

“Black women, women of color, queer women, trans women, disabled women, Muslim women, and many others, are still asking many of y’all ain’t I a woman? So, as we commit to build this movement of resistance and liberation, no one can be an afterthought anymore. We must hold each other in love and accountability….” Willis was about to get to the core of her speech, she writes, when her microphone was cut. She had been silenced in real time as the rally went on without her voice.

But, fearlessly, so did Willis, establishing a national platform of her own, speaking her truth to power leadership in the fight for LGBTQIA rights and dignity.

Raquel Willis is on a book tour through Dec. 6. Check Raquel Willis: The Risk It Takes to Bloom – Macmillan Publishers

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