Visibility Versus Being Seen: In Conversation with Dr. Nathan Alexander Moore

Since I was a little girl I knew that I would be on TV. I knew that I would be a star. I just knew it. And I believed it, too. I believed, so greatly, in my talents and creative spirit. That I could sing the people happy in church on Sunday, sing the classical music in the chorus at school, sing the songs on the radio and dance to them (and everythang), and that I could dream up in my mind some of the most fantastic stories and imaginations. Isn’t that something? 

Today, I still carry that colorful childlike imagination and belief. And now that I’ve been on TV, I have learned the many ways it eats at the child like a monster crawled from underneath. It takes away more than it actually gives, and that ain’t no kind of life. Here I am, visible, in the homes of America’s television. Here I am, for a second, living the dream? Here I am, also, disconsolate. Here I am, like the scripture says, “not at ease, nor am I quiet. And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”

This brings to mind ‘Transliminality.’ Here I speak with Dr. Nathan Alexander Moore (NAM), whose brilliance is both creative-critical and fierce. Listen as she speaks.

FJ: Thank you for the gift of transliminality. It is a gem. Today I want to start with two things: 1. placelessness; and 2. ‘uncertainty is the standard, not the exception for Black transfeminity. Precarity is the rule, not the exception.’ What do you make of these things present day? Is there any particular moment that makes these words ring loudly in your ear/mind?

NAM: Firstly, thank you so much for speaking with me and engaging with my work. I’m so happy that people are reading and connecting with my theory of ‘transliminality’. But to answer your question, I don’t know if I can pinpoint just one moment that really hits on the placelessness, or should I say the need to make place for Black transfemmes. It’s become so regular to hear about this girl or that girl who is houseless, or about to be, who has passed away or is missing. And that’s what I was trying to get at a bit in my article: it’s not really just one moment, it’s a long history of Black transfeminine subjects being displaced, erased, and made invisible. 

FJ: You reference in the article an interview with Che Gossett and Juliana Huxtable about visibility and representation being offered in place of substantive care, housing, and critical, material resources that actually contributes to real needs beyond the smoke and mirrors of the screen. How do you think we can approach this history and attempt a wake work (à la In The Wake)?

NAM: So what I’m trying to work out in the article is the difference between being ‘visible’ and being seen. I think the former notes a type of intimacy that I hope will initiate an action. ‘Visible’ seems very flat, very outward-facing, not for us or in service to us. But to see ourselves and one another, should mean to act, to recognize a need and then do our damnedest to fulfill that call. And to me, that’s a similar kind of work to Sharpe’s articulation of wake work, right? It’s about caring with and for, and working with and for. It’s about attending to these harrowing conditions we find ourselves in and acting, thinking, writing, and creating in service of one another and in excess of the violence that is meant and manufactured to destroy us. 

FJ: What, would you say, makes you feel seen (and cared for)?

NAM: Wow, this is a great question! And it really strikes me because at first, I can think about all the ways in which I do not feel seen. I can enumerate many, many, many ways in which I do not feel seen, or recognized, or cared for. But to answer your question, I feel the most seen when the only thing being asked of me is to show up as myself. We are asked as Black transfemmes to give so much and expend so much energy, so I feel the most seen and cared for when I am asked to just simply show up and be met as myself, as my full, messy vulnerable self. 

FJ: Yes, indeed. Are you at all terrified by the self you’ve met: full, messy, and vulnerable?

NAM: In the beginning, yes, absolutely yes. I was terrified to see myself in that way, to be fully vulnerable and reckon with all the parts of myself, especially those that I wanted to hide. From childhood, I had been taught how to be strong, tough, resilient, and uncaring for both myself and others. I didn’t have the practical skills of caring for and meeting myself without judgment. But now that I have grown, gone to therapy, and am willing to be more vulnerable with myself and others, I am delighted to meet myself. I am enamored with myself, all I am, and all that I am becoming. And part of that is the gift of being trans, of being in transition, of shifting and understanding that flow and instability and flux are the standard. And now that I can more fully dip into that space and that thinking, I can be more careful and care-filled in my work with and upon myself. I can be okay with meeting the parts of me that are bruised, depressed, scary, messy, unbecoming. And I can meet them with grace and gratitude, because they are all a part of me and they are all worthy of my care and attention. 

FJ: I am so glad that you’ve offered both grace and gratitude to yourself in what is most tender and precious. To end, I want to speak to the form of creative-critical, or perhaps the creative theoretical (from the recent conference title). I am glad that the world (and academe *giggles*) is catching up to art, cultural work, poetry, and creative endeavors as theoretical and knowledge production.  

NAM: Yes, this is such a necessary shift in attention and production. I think for too long we have thought of theory and art as separate, but that is just not the case. To think back to Barbara Christian’s work, Black folk have always been theorizing in ways that are creative, and especially ways that are narratively driven. For me, I’m just glad that all of my ways of writing and thinking can be in conversation with one another and seen as valid and valuable. I’m also thinking about the ways that opening up our thinking allows other folk to come to the table, or build their own, in terms of knowledge production and deep thinking that we often call the ‘theoretical.’ Audre Lorde says that poetry is not a luxury, and if poetry is also theory, then theory is not luxury either, and it is not all that uncommon as well.


FJ: Is there anything else that you would like to share?

NAM: Only that I am so grateful to have spoken with you. This was truly one of the best conversations I’ve had in a while. I can’t wait to see the rest of what you have offered all of us in this issue and look forward to speaking with you again.  

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