Sylvia Thomas: Transgender, multicultural and former sex worker

Meet Sylvia Thomas. She is an American transgender woman who doesn’t just want to share her story, but needs to. She grew up in a multicultural household and temporarily lost her family after coming out. We have had the honor of interviewing Sylvia Thomas who is one of the main acts at Copenhagen Winter Pride 2018.

Sylvia Thomas: Transgender, multicultural and former sex worker

Sylvia Thomas made her way as a sex worker through which she found her community. While working to survive, Sylvia kept herself alive by writing. She wrote about what she went through, what she had witnessed, and her experiences. She went on to articulate her experiences on the streets and at open mics. Eventually she enrolled into Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis where she finished her studies to receive a Bachelors in History.

Sylvia spent her early up-bringing on a Native American reservation in Oklahoma, USA, and moved to Indianapolis where she currently resides. Her mother came from an Irish family and her father is coming from a Native American background and she was raised in an environment that embraced the outdoors and nature in a spiritual way.
”I grew up hearing stories from my father. I was encouraged to create by my mother, whether it was art, stories, music or poetry”, Sylvia explains when asked about her up-bringing.
”When coming to Indianapolis, I learned more about American culture and its treatment to people who were different. It was an adjustment for my family. Especially coming out in a new environment”.

Coming out as transgender
Sylvia is a queer, transgender woman. When coming out to her parents the relationship got complicated and it took some time for them to gain knowledge and understanding of Sylvia and her gender identity.
”When coming out as transgender, most parents are angry or ashamed but my parents were afraid. They didn’t know how to interact with me, they thought that something was wrong with me. They believed I needed attention and care that they could not provide. Thus, my parents did not address my identity with respect”, Sylvia explains and continues:
”However, with time, patience, and the willingness to educate themselves, they became more supportive of who I am. I eventually moved back to living with them. As a young person who is transgender, I had fear of not being taken seriously for my identity, since I wasn’t considered mature. However, through self-affirmation I was able to get past these thoughts”.

Community through sex work
After coming out her parents did not know how to support her and she learned to provide for herself through sex work – a job that helped her find her way into a supporting community.
”I was with a client who led me to another transgender woman like me and I learned that I wasn’t alone. I found my community through sex work, a community that supported themselves and found empowerment in each other, Sylvia recalls.
”We were transgender women who were given money for being ourselves and our bodies. Although it may seem like a contrary position because men seemed to have control of our bodies and our finances, but I felt empowered by feminism with what I was doing”.

A strong community voice
Sylvia is currently enrolled as a full-time liberal arts college student and has also been a Social Justice Scholar at Indiana University studying history. When asked why she studied history as a spoken word artist, she says:
“I chose to study history, not because I enjoy the subject, but I wanted to know how I can change it and make sure that everyone’s story is told.”
She has become a strong political voice in the local community and has taken her personal story to a political level.
”Being transgender in Indianapolis is the definition to how the personal becomes political”, Sylvia explains while digging into how politics has played a significant role in worsening the lives of LGBTQ+ people across the US.
”Our current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, used to be the governor of Indiana. Under his reign, he supported policy that harmed LGBTQ+ populations, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which allows individuals and companies to assert that their exercise of religion has been, or is likely to be, substantially burdened as a defense in legal proceedings”.
She exemplifies this by explaining that business owners are legally allowed to deny LGBTQ+ people due to religious beliefs.
”It is clear that in Indiana, as LGBTQ+ people, we were isolated from creating change. We feel as isolated as people currently do under Trump’s reign. Transgender people in Indiana are not surprised by the acts of our current national leadership, because we have expected nothing less from our current Vice President”, Sylvia says.

Being transgender is political
Sylvia is working to improve lifes of LGBTQ+ persons on a local, political level. She has worked with other student leaders on her campus to provide an LGBTQ+ Center along with establishing all gender restrooms. She has been featured and has facilitated panels focused on student involvement, sexual assault and LGBTQ+ youth. In addition, she is a part of various social and advocacy groups in the Indianapolis community focused on people with queer and/or transgender identities.
Sylvia underlines that it is extremely political to be out as transgender in Indianapolis, and a strong trans community is vital.
”Our transgender community has each others back. We come from different classes, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, but are able to unite and be there for one another. Transgender community is very sacred to transgender people”.
She is juggling two jobs to make a living and besides her studies she is dedicated to her craft of performing spoken word poetry – a craft she will bring to Copenhagen Winter Pride Week 2018 where she will be performing and telling her story.
Sylvia’s mission as a spoken word artist is to empower people to tell their stories, especially those who are marginalised and oppressed. To fulfill her mission, she shares her own story through spoken word poetry and storytelling.
“People should recognize how their story can create change and ignite self-empowerment.”

Sylvia Thomas on Copenhagen Winter Pride Week
Sylvia is one of the main acts at Copenhagen Winter Pride Week where she will be performing with her spoken word poetry at both Studenterhuset and Poesiens Hus (Copenhagen House of Poetry).

You will be performing during Copenhagen Winter Pride Week in February 2018. Tell us a bit about what you plan on sharing with the Danish crowd.
I am very excited to be performing during Copenhagen Winter Pride 2018. I’ve performed for a diverse international audience before, but I have never performed for a predominantly Danish crowd. I look forward to connecting with my LGBTQ+ family on an international level through my spoken word poetry.
I plan on sharing poetry that I have written through the challenges and triumphs of my experience coming out as transgender, being a former sex worker, the power of pride and our community’s history, and living in an intense United States political climate. I also look forward to bringing printed copies of my poetry exclusively for Winter Pride attendees to buy.

What do you look the most forward to when visiting Copenhagen?
I look forward to exploring the city and museums with whatever free time I have available, meeting and building a community with
LGBTQ+ people in Copenhagen, and I look forward to making close relationships with people.
I’m honored to come to Copenhagen and just be there, I am very thankful and blessed.

See the English Copenhagen Winter Pride Week Program here

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