Tiq Milan is the founder of Milan Media Group, a content creation and consulting firm that is dedicated to creating narratives of queer people and their allies. Tiq speaks and writes about intersectional leadership, transgender rights and racial justice. He shares stories of his life and how his transgender experience has informed his views on masculinity, race and the gender binary.
In the keynote address at Out Leadership’s OutNEXT Global Summit in 2018, Tiq spoke about true allyship: “Allyship is not an identity, it’s a process. It’s something that we have to work towards every single day. It’s not enough to say, ‘You know, I don’t have any problems with trans people. I don’t have any problems with black people.’ We have to examine our own prejudices and figure out how we can walk in allyship with people every single day.”
Describe how you came out:
I have two coming out stories. When I first came out as gay, as a lesbian, I was 14 years old. Despite some hard conversations and awkward moments, my family was really accepting and got it together fairly quickly.
I came out as transgender 10 years later, when I was 24. I was just starting out in my career in music journalism as a hip-hop writer, and I was really androgynous in my appearance, very butch lesbian. Being in those spaces, though nobody was outwardly violent towards me, got really hard. People would point obviously, and there were whispers, “Is this a he, is this a she?” And I decided to take a step back from music journalism, and look for a space within the LBGT+ community to work, where I could transition without having to deal with those issues.
So, for me, working in the LGBT+ community while I was coming out as transgender made it a smooth transition for me. That’s the privilege that I have of living in New York City, where there are so many different LGBT+ organizations to work for, all of whom were nothing but accepting, which is certainly not the story for everyone else.
Who was an important mentor to you?
The mentor who sticks out to me the most is a woman named Bolly White. She was my supervisor when I was working at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the home of the Harvey Milk High School, and I was working there running a program as a case manager doing individual counseling with LGBT+ youth. This was when I made my legal transition—I still wasn’t really out to my family, things were really hard, and it was affecting my work. Instead of chastising me about it or threatening my position, she sat with me and told me, “I see you, and I see what you’re going through, and I understand that.” She gave me the space to go through these things, and made me feel safe at work to deal with what was happening to me personally and still be able to do my job effectively.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from people you work with?
I always say that my most inspirational work that I’ve done has been with LGBT+ youth. In the work that I do now, I get to do these big conferences, I meet celebrities, the money is great, I get to travel all over the country. But it was the grunt work that I did on the front lines in nonprofit with these young people that most inspired me. All the young people who have been completely disowned by their families, people who are HIV positive because they had to engage in survival sex work, who are homeless—they would come to the center and laugh and smile and twirl. They found a way to create families and to love each other, and to love themselves, and that inspired me. If they could come in here and still have a smile on their face, then damn it, so can I.
The best piece of advice I ever received was:
My mother used to always tell me to follow my first mind, which is basically saying to trust your gut, trust your instinct. I learned to trust myself and to trust my decisions, and it was that piece of advice that gave me the strength to transition. I didn’t know how my mom would react but my first mind was telling me is that this was something that I had to do for me. When it comes time for big decisions, I don’t doubt myself. I say, “This is what has to happen.” And usually I’m right.
If you were planning a dinner party and could invite any five people from history, who would they be, and why?
Jesus. I’m not religious, I’d just like to ask, “Is this real? Is that true?” President Obama. Marsha P. Johnson, who was the mother of the modern LGBT rights movement. Oprah.
And my mom – I lost my mother four years ago, I would love to have dinner with her one more time.
The three books I would take to a deserted island are:
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It’s really a science fiction about the absurdity of racism. When you start to think about racism, it’s just stupid. The book really demonstrates that and makes it accessible.
The Master Key System is the book that inspired The Secret. I think I would need it to keep me sane on a desert island, like, “I could just think my way out of this. That’s all I’m gonna do, I’m gonna think happy thoughts and just be present.”
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I could just read over and over again.
What would be the opening song in a movie about your life, and why?
There’s a song by Nina Simone called “Pirate Jenny.” It’s about a black woman who’s a pirate working undercover as a maid at an all-white hotel on the coast. In the song, she burns down the hotel and kills everybody, but it’s such a beautiful song. It’s the inspiring idea of radical politics—not even the violent aspect of it, but the idea of doublespeak that we have to engage in as black people. As a black trans person, I’m constantly in spaces where I have to code switch as I see injustices and discrimination around me that I can’t confront in the moment, it’s more about the strength to get through it.