Molasses is a collective of Chicago artists and activists who’ve come together to create space and platforms that create opportunity for local Black and Brown transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Through activities such as club nights, self-defense courses, and mutual aid initiatives, Molasses’ organizers aim to empower Black and Brown trans people and build community while providing tools that protect and save lives. For more information, visit www.molasseschicago.com.
Bone Reader (Choya Webb): Molasses came to be because Zola saw many Black trans people not being visible in club space in Chicago, and more importantly, not taking care of themselves in terms of developing resources and arming themselves. She felt like there was potential for a group of Black, trans, and genderfluid people to come together and make that possible, and she saw figures in the nightlife scene that were able to do that. It coalesced one night at Berlin, but it really came together when Zola brought Lucy and I together to talk about having a club night. After that first night we recognized the power that we needed to tap into—namely Cae Monae—and now it’s coalesced into several different modes of making this work possible beyond club nights.
Lucy Stoole: At first we didn’t actually know exactly which direction it was going to go or how we were going to do it, but we knew that we were very powerful together and that we could make a lasting change in the community by teaming up. We noticed that there weren’t enough Black trans people in power or in control of nightlife. You see a lot of people being called in to work or entertain, but not being put into positions that would empower them, or let them control events they’ve been asked to put together. That was one of our biggest goals: to be able to celebrate Black and Brown trans people in a way that Northalsted doesn’t usually do.
Zola Makeda: There’s a feeling of home and belonging that you find with your kin that is unmistakable—a feeling of protection and of value. It’s imperative that we have spaces that are led and run and predicated upon Black trans livelihood, preservation, and power, because the spaces that exist do not center us, and do not have us in their mindsets in terms of protecting us.
LS: Black trans women are being killed very often, more often than any other trans people. Here we stand as Black trans people in our community trying to figure out the best way we can go about keeping our sisters alive.
Cae Monae: It’s as simple as this: How do you feel around your people? How do white men in suits feel around other white men in suits? Do you feel great? How do lesbian women feel in a room full of other lesbian women? It’s almost as simple as like, A plus B equals C. Of course we feel more empowered around ourselves. Of course when I’m able to look at someone like Zola or Lucy it makes me smile. I see myself and the people that I love within them. When it comes to ‘Why is it important to understand the sacredness of protecting Black and Brown trans people?’, it’s as simple as: Do you not protect those who can’t defend themselves? Do you not defend those who are not as easily able to survive?
LS: The self-defense courses sprung out of another tangible way for us to be able to empower our community. Everything kind of fell into place. Thorn Self-Defense Project, who is doing amazing work here, was able to team up with us, and we’ve had a pretty diverse mix of people show up. We have two different instructors this time around. One is Ms. Toto, who was a drag performer in the city. Her class goes over lots of strength training and simple ways that people can build strength at home, which is very important because a lot of trans people have some reservations about going to the gym, or don’t have the resources for it. And our good friend G from Queer Kickboxing Club is teaching how to protect yourself in these awkward situations. G is so good at breaking down everything from your stance, to how to respond, to how loud you need to be, and what to do afterward—literally everything that could save someone’s life, or get someone there to help them.
ZM: This summer we’re going to be in the parks on the south side of Chicago, in the local community outdoors with Black trans people. We’re finding funds for them to perform, and for their artistry. We’ll also be collecting money to give back to others who are in need of mutual aid. We’re also investigating ways to do more regular events, which will be more like what people are used to seeing in terms of social engagements. We also have a couple of collaboration events coming up that we’re really excited to do.
BR: The self-defense series is continuing on through July. Cae Monae just designed some amazing merchandise for us. That’s a great way people can support us if they’re not comfortable with donating directly, which they should be. If not, we have gorgeous merch they can buy if they’re interested in supporting Molasses and rocking that kind of identity.