Transcending Conversation: Tom Cat
Before we get started, what name do you currently go by?
My name is Tom Cat.
Has your name changed throughout your life?
Yeah, from Thomas to Tom around high school. I stopped wanting to sound like a dead white guy. I had to change my name – it just doesn’t fit me. People see me and they don’t think my name is Thomas.
What are your pronouns?
How do you identify?
I identify as an androgynous trans-feminine person.
Could you speak to what was your transition process was like?
It’s fucking annoying. It’s really inaccessible. I have to redefine what transitioning means to me, so that way I can be okay with saying that I transitioned because on a financial level—it’s just like the small things, like laser hair removal or wanting to get my sperm frozen before I start taking hormones. All these things that people don’t talk about is a lot of money and work. For me, transitioning has become more about accepting myself and presenting myself the way that I feel comfortable with, rather than worrying about the medical aspects. And I’m privileged because I get to live in a world and time where people are also encouraging that.
That’s why I identify as trans-fem because I don’t feel like I’m transitioning into manhood or womanhood—I’m just transitioning into myself. I started doing hormone therapy, and had to stop because it requires a lot of disciple and a lot stability that I just don’t have right now. I definitely had to redefine transitioning for myself.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you in the past month?
I took my younger brother to Homecoming. That would be it. I don’t go home often; my parents are both pastors so it’s very weird, but I had to go home recently and I got to take my little brother to his first Homecoming. He’s a freshman—the light of my life! Me and my parents have issues, but my younger brothers are my support systems for me still.
Who or what influences your writing?
Toni Morrison is the only author for me—her and James Baldwin. I come from D.C. where they’re really hardcore about black literary excellence. I want to write things that prove that we were all here and that I was here and people like me were here. Right now, the real goal and inspiration is making sure that queer narratives are not [only] validated, but respected and understood in the publication world. The publication world is so elitist and there isn’t space being made for these queer narratives and that’s why I want to write.
When I’m Go-Go dancing I have a notepad and I’ll just write. People always make fun of me for going back and forth between the bar and writing stuff, but I just want to prove that we were all here.
How has performance become apart of your practice as a poet?
It has always been a thing because I was on the D.C. Slam team, so as a kid it was kind of required. I didn’t know a separation. And when I came to New York, I said I wasn’t going to do poetry for the first two years of school, but I had a mentor who blew my mind when they were like everything you write has to be performed. So I spent my first two years without going to any performances or open mics, and now I’m able to blend the lifestyle that I have created for myself here in New York with the tools of classic spoken word. There’s a great picture of [my friend] Brandon pouring wax on me while I’m on a rooftop; he's pouring wax on my ass and I’m doing poetry about white men bloodying me. It’s become more performance-art based.
A lot of my work now is formed by real life experiences rather than slam poetry culture which gives kids three minutes, has a lot of rules and sociopolitics behind it—not to mention that it also boxes artist in. As of recently I’ve been like, fuck this it’s all performative, and not profitable for the most part. But it makes me feel really good.
On your Instagram we noticed you’ve rocked so many looks, how has your style changed over time?
I stopped giving a fuck. I started wanting to please myself and the amount of confidence I’ve had from being in a community of people who are like–minded and who will also support me has been amazing.
Truth is there are a lot of people who look different in the daytime then they do in the nighttime. And I got the privilege to live in queer housing where I could just be myself 24/7. To be able to know that I am in a room full of people where I can dance with my eyes closed and my ass out and I’m still safe, that means the world to me! I’m not going to get objectified by some random dude. Being able to find a community that I feel comfortable with changed my style so much. The expression of being to able to be ‘you’ and not having to worry or fear is something that I have never really known and something that I’m very grateful for.
What scares you the most?
Not getting ‘it’ done... whatever the ‘it’ is. There’s a bottom line for me. I feel like I’m moving towards something. There’s so much heavy lifting and work to do within this community. I want to document the fact that we were here. I want to create the first hardcore black queer publication house, so other queer writers can get their stuff published without it being as difficult as it is for me. Just not getting it done scares me. I’m really happy with the way I live my life. That’s one thing my mentor has driven into me—I live a life I’m proud of, uncompromisingly. My greatest fear is not death—it’s being inept at what I want to succeed in.
Any parting words for any younger people who are embarking on a similar journey/struggle to understand their identity and where they fit in their lives or in specific industries?
Write. Write about yourself, so that you can know yourself better. All that matters is being yourself, that really is the bottom line. Life is like your movie and everybody else has to be, at some point, outtakes or extras.
If you don’t think that way as a trans person, it’s dangerous. If you don’t love yourself the right way and you go looking for that love and validation in other ways, you can put yourself in dangerous situations. Getting to know yourself, preferably through writing and art would be great, and then moving through that with confidence.
How can everyone do their part in helping the trans community?
See us. People see what they want to see and that doesn’t necessarily mean visibility. I really want to abolish the idea of "passing," and androgynous people are doing a lot to dismiss the notion of passing. There’s trans people everywhere all around and in all different class sets. Just making space for us to have equal opportunities or better opportunities! At this point, equivalency is not what I’m looking for. I need more than that. My sisters are dying! I come from a place where, Baltimore has had three black trans women die this year! People need to just see us and acknowledge that we're here and make space. So much space.
In one word, what does the future look like?
Exciting. I think so even if it's bad, I’m still excited to see what happens. I guess not exciting when I say it out loud. No, I feel apprehensive about the future.