Black Trans Artists Honor Victims Of Transphobic Violence In Powerful Music Video

Curtis M. Wong
·Senior Culture Reporter, HuffPost
·3-min read

A trio of Black transgender women traverse a pandemic-shuttered New York in “But... I Survived,” a music video project aimed at honoring victims of transphobic violence.

Set to the tune of Sia’s “Alive,” the “But... I Survived” video stars “RuPaul’s Drag Race” veteran Peppermint, singer-songwriter Mila Jam and makeup artist Deja “The Lady Deja Davenport” Smith.

As they stroll through parks and ride the subway, each of the women glances wistfully at photographs of transgender people who have been murdered in recent years. They then drape themselves in an enormous transgender pride flag, surrounded by a troupe of masked dancers engaged in a socially distant routine.

Watch the “But... I Survived” video above.

Unveiled Friday to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20), “But...I Survived” was directed and choreographed by John Alix in conjunction with NMAC, formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council.

Together with director of photography Josh Drake, Alix said he wanted to “pay respect to the transgender women who are no longer with us, and also scream to the viewer that trans women are alive, they are here, they’ve always been here, and it’s time to pay attention.”

“We want people to see the humanity in these women,” he told HuffPost in an interview. “We so often put labels on who they are before we even know their story. They are strong, amazing, driven individuals who show us their soul every day, whether you recognize it or not.”

Deja "Lady Davenport" Smith, Peppermint, and Mila Jam.  (Photo: Josh Drake)
Deja "Lady Davenport" Smith, Peppermint, and Mila Jam. (Photo: Josh Drake)

Peppermint, who in 2017 was the runner-up on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and made her Broadway debut in the musical “Head Over Heels” the following year, shared similar sentiments.

“The video either directly or indirectly addresses the lives of trans people of color, who are still today affected by an incredible amount of grief,” she said in an email. “And as heavy as this is on my heart, being able to gather with friends and fellow artists to create this meaningful video feels wonderful.”

The release of “But... I Survived” comes at a challenging time for the transgender community. A Human Rights Campaign report published Thursday found that 2020 has already been the deadliest year on record for trans and gender-nonconforming people, with 37 known victims of violent deaths so far.

Many members of the community have also been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with their access to both social support and gender-affirming health care significantly diminished.

Still, many transgender people say they’re optimistic following Joe Biden’s defeat of President Donald Trump earlier this month. The president-elect’s Nov. 7 victory speech was the first ever to single out trans voters.

On Friday morning, Biden acknowledged Transgender Day of Remembrance with a poignant note on Twitter.

Regardless of the political climate, the cast and creative team behind “But... I Survived” said they didn’t want the video to feel like a “sob story.”

“Even though we are still being murdered at extremely high rates, we are letting our presence be known,” Jam said. “We are fighting for our happiness. We must celebrate our resilience.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.