February 5, 2021

Raquel Willis on the future of feminism

President Biden may have signed new protections for LGBTQ people, but there’s anti-trans legislation being proposed in over a dozen states—and trans and gender-nonconforming people still face dangerous realities everyday.

What will it take for trans women—especially Black trans women, who are most at risk for violence—to live safe, free lives? This week on UNDISTRACTED, Brittany Packnett Cunningham sits down with activist and writer Raquel Willis about the struggle for transgender rights in America, and the importance of leadership opportunities for Black trans women.

Willis, one of the organizers of the June 2020 March for Black Trans Lives in New York, has worked for the Transgender Law Center, the Ms. Foundation and OUT magazine.

Packnett Cunningham and Willis dig into her work on the Trans Obituaries Project, spiritual trans ancestry and her “expansive new vision of feminism.” Highlights include:

  • Willis on centering the humanity (and not just the dangers) of the Black trans experience: “A lot of times in our society, we don’t consider that trans people have lives, have loved ones, have family, have partners, have parents that want to make sure that we’re safe. So we’ve got to consider the humanity of the Black trans experience as well.”
  • Willis on Black trans power: “Black trans people often amongst ourselves feel our power, but don’t necessarily really feel like other people see our power, see our potential for crafting a world of liberation.”
  • Willis on an “expansive new vision of feminism:” “The new vision, particularly in the feminist space, is reckoning with our history. So if we can consider that some of those early [feminists] were just white supremacist as hell, then we also need to be able to consider that there has often been a trans misogynistic underpinning to larger feminist fights…It is a problem that we see public figures like J.K. Rowling, or even to a lesser extent, a Chimamanda Adichie, who espouse misinformation about trans women and try to pit trans women against cis women. Yes, trans experiences and cis experiences often are very different…That does not mean that our experiences as women are less valid or more valid than any other group of women.”
  • Willis on the Black trans ancestors that guide her: “One of the most beautiful things about being trans or being queer in general is considering ancestry from a more expansive lens…There is a spiritual lineage that connects me to other queer and trans folks throughout history. I had to seek out their stories…the Marsha P. Johnsons, the Sylvia Riveras, the Crystal LaBeijas, the Mary Jones and Frances Thompsons—all the way back in the 1800s who are documented. I connect with them and I call on their ancestral power to get me through today because…there have been Black trans and gender-nonconforming folks throughout time.”

Listen on Apple Podcasts,  SpotifyStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


The Meteor is guided by our collective; here’s what one founding member is up to this week.

Jessica Valenti profile phtoo

Hi, I'm Jessica Valenti and I'm excited to share some of my pandemic self-care recommendations with you—though I can't make any promises about my taste level!

I’M WATCHING  I’m rewatching every apocalyptic movie and television show I can think of. (Think: The Leftovers, Contagion, etc.) Somehow it makes the current dystopia seem a little bit better when you can remember: hey, at least it’s not zombies.

I’M READING I just started Anna North’s new book Outlawed and it’s just terrific. The only two words that you need to convince you: Feminist. Western.

I’M DOING MORE  Giving myself a break. When Covid-19 hit, I was determined to be as productive as possible, even if I was home—nearly a year in, I’ve thrown that bullshit out the window. We’re all doing our best, there’s no reason to make life even harder by telling myself that I need to work even more.

I’M DOING LESS  Worrying about my daughter’s screen time. In the same spirit of giving us all a break, I’m not going to stress over whether or not my kid is playing Minecraft or chatting with her friends on FaceTime. Whatever it takes to make her feel connected, I’m all for.

I’M GETTING MY JOY FROM  Walking! It may be freezing in New York but I’m trying to take a walk every day to get myself out of the apartment and to do some much-needed socializing. I’ve challenged myself to take at least one walk a week with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while and it’s been the best.

Jessica Valenti is a columnist and the author of six books, including Sex Object: A Memoir, a New York Times bestseller. She also co-edited the anthology Yes Means Yes! and founded one of the first feminist blogs, Feministing.com. Subscribe to her newsletter here.