“I fight for me, I fight for us” (Moka Dawkins, 2018)

I fight for you, for us, because too many of our community members have taken their lives because they weren’t free to be who they felt on the inside, and other countless reasons. It’s time for the world to recognize not what we are, but who we are. Not where we come from, but who we’re aspiring to become in the world. I don’t know how much merit my voice or story is going to have in this world, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try to be heard.” – Moka Dawkin

CW: Violence against Black and Indigenous trans women and sex workers, description of assaults.

Support Moka Dawkins and Black Trans Women by donating at this GoFundMe page.

Dawkins, Moka (2018), “I fight for me, I fight for us,” in Cell Count 87, PASAN. Available online: https://www.scribd.com/document/420954541/87-updated-and-final-pdf (Accessed 1 May 2021). Reprinted with permission.

My fight began on August 3rd, 2015 and is still ongoing 3 years later, the day today is November 15th, 2018. My name is Moka Dawkins and this struggle of a story is still current and ongoing in my life that I’m about to share. What I first want to let you know is that I am a transgender woman, meaning I was born male externally but born with a female spirit/soul internally. Others may object to how I explain being transgender, saying that ‘it’s a choice one makes in life’, but I can assure you that’s not the case for me, I was straight up born this way, baby. Going back to making life choices, I’ll be the first to admit that I made some bad choices in my life, and the worst choice I made landed me in the situation in which I am in now; but, before I tell you what the choice was, first let me tell you what the best choice I made was. It was not giving up. I didn’t give up on me, I didn’t give up on my faith (Christianity), and I didn’t give up for my future brothers and sisters, or LGBTQ+ members who may find themselves in a similar situation that I am in now. I fight for you, for us, because too many of our community members have taken their lives because they weren’t free to be who they felt on the inside, and other countless reasons. It’s time for the world to recognize not what we are, but who we are. Not where we come from, but who we’re aspiring to become in the world. I don’t know how much merit my voice or story is going to have in this world, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try to be heard.

On August 3rd, 2015 I was living in the shelter for females in the city of Toronto, Ontario. Fun fact: I’m originally from Montreal, Quebec, born and raised. On August 3rd, 2015, I was working as a sex worker both online and on the street corner. The weekend of August 3rd, 2015 there was a big celebration in the city of Toronto called Caribana, one of the biggest Caribbean festivals. Another fun fact: I’m half Jamaican and half Nova Scotian, and that night I keep referring to, August 3rd, 2015, was the closing celebrations of Caribana, and was supposed to be a night of celebration. It actually turned into the most horrific and traumatic experience of my life. In the evening hours of August 2nd, 2015, I was getting ready to go meet my friends who flew in from New York for Caribana at the club. As I was getting ready, my friends and I were messaging each other over Facebook. My friend had informed me that he would be at the club around 1:30am and asked me if I could get some weed. I told my friend that I will see what I can do about the weed and that I would be at the club for 12:30am because in Toronto, the bars/clubs stop serving alcohol at 2am, and I’m the type of girl that likes to get turnt up when I go out. I was getting ready for the club when I received a call from a client of mine, whom I’ve had previous sexual encounters within which I provided a service, asking to see me. His name was Jay. I told Jay that I already had plans for this evening, but I could see him after I’m done with my friends at the club. Jay then informed me that he had some weed and lines of coke and we can have fun. I informed Jay that I needed some weed for my friend who’s visiting and asked if I could get some off of him. Of course, I was trying to see if I could get some free weed, but I was more than willing to pay for it, if need be. At this point, Jay then informed me that he wasn’t home, but to call him when I was leaving to see where he was so that I could meet up with him to grab some weed. When I did call, as I left the shelter, I didn’t get an answer, so I thought something came up for him, or whatever, so it’s a flop. I went straight to the club, bought my drink, and was sipping on it when my phone started to ring. 

It was Jay calling me back,
“Hello, hey! Where you at?” Jay asked.
“I’m at the club,” I replied.
“Sounds live,” he said.
“Yeah, you should come,” I told him.

That’s what I remember fully of one of the many phone conversations I had with Jay that night. I remember him being persistent about me coming to see him, and me refusing. There was a point where I even hung up on him and he called me right back. After a bit of going back and forth on me coming to see him, I finally gave in. I took a look at the time and said I have a few minutes to spare until my friends get here, and Jay doesn’t live far from the club. Okay, maybe I can make everybody happy: I can leave now, meet Jay quickly, let him see me for a quick minute, I could grab the weed, set up an appointment for after the club, if anything. So I told him that I could only come for a few minutes to pick up the weed. He agreed and told me to come pick him up. He was down the street from where I was, so I went to pick him up. To make a long story shorter I’m going to be skipping over a few parts. We get to Jay’s apartment and we started making out and fooling around in the bedroom. I should mention that Jay was drunk when we met. Some time passes by and I’m like okay, I have to go. Jay was already naked on the bed with me, but I didn’t take off my clothes cuz that’s not what I was there for. I was trying to get up off the bed to leave. Jay tackled me to the ground to keep me there with him. I was able to get him off me and get back to my feet and out of the bedroom. Now here’s where the worst mistake I made comes in. Working as a sex worker you know (or learn to know) that no matter what room you go into from the living room to bathroom, or bedroom to kitchen, and you’re with a client, you always carry your purse with you. See, what I did was leave my purse in the living room when I first got there, because I thought I could start to trust Jay. We connected so well in our past encounters and I wanted to show him that I trust him and that’s why I left my purse in the living room. Worst mistake ever!! Why, you say, is that the worst mistake I made? Because when I got out the bedroom, ran to the front door and put on my shoes, I didn’t have my purse with me. If I did, I would have been out that front door. I had to turn back around and go into the living room, passing by Jay as he stood there mumbling something to himself. I got my purse and started going through it to start making sure my money and everything was there, and checking my phone to see if I had any missed calls or text messages. I noticed on my phone that it was 1:28am. At this point, Jay had started yelling at me, saying he didn’t want me to leave, along with a bunch of other stuff. I continued to go through my purse to gather whatever items I needed, such as perfume and so on, to the top of my purse so it would be accessible for me to use as I’m rushing out the door. I also wanted Jay to let out whatever he has to say so he can calm down, after all, I knew he was already drunk and it was the alcohol talking. But Jay just kept going on and on so I offered Jay to come to the club with me, after all, I was already going to be popping a bottle, so free drinks for him, no issue. But he said no. I told him I would pay for him to get into the club, again he said no. Mind you in between me trying to calm him down, he was still ranting on. I even offered to come back to see him after the club if he wanted to spend time with me, and again he said no. I tried to switch the conversation and ask him if I could get some weed, even if I have to pay for it, but still Jay kept on saying things like ‘I told you, you could live with me and that I’m not going nowhere.’ 

As I went into my purse to make sure everything was ready to go, I heard something that sounded like metal forks, spoons and knives moving around in a cupboard, but I didn’t think nothing of it, cuz when I picked up Jay he had come with some takeout food in his hand. I thought he was going to eat something, which would be good for him to calm him down and maybe he would change his mind and come to the club with me. But boy oh boy, was I ever wrong. The next thing I knew, he was standing right beside me, and he says in a tone, which caused me to look up, “you’re not going anywhere.” He stabbed me in the face. He put the knife through my face under, my left eye and then pulled it back out. I backed up, screaming in a fearful manner for my life, and that’s when Jay launched the knife back at me again, trying to cut me open from my stomach. Just writing this alone still gives me the shakes, and tears come to my eyes. I’m still in shock. I can’t believe Jay did that to me. I have so much respect for him, you know, I even confided personal details about my life to him, and how my ex-boyfriend, who I was living with, treated me, and the things he has done to me. Jay in return shared personal information and struggles he was having in his life with me as well. My heart is so broken and hurt over this. No one will ever understand the full extent of the traumatic impact this has had on me. Three years later I still get jumpy and scared when people move a certain way around me. 

I can’t remember much of what happened after he came at me and stabbed me in the stomach. All I remember was putting my hands up to grab him so he would stop stabbing me. There was so much blood coming out of me, my eyes were blinded cuz blood was in them. At that point I didn’t even know if my eye was in my head. There was a great struggle in that living room cuz Jay was super strong. He had a great shape body cuz he worked out a lot. I don’t know how I was able to get the knife from him, honest to God, but I did. When I had the knife, Jay continued attacking me by kicking and punching me, so I swung back in self-defense. I remember every time I felt a hit from him, I fought back, trying to protect myself from him. I didn’t even know, when I was swinging back, if I was making contact, cuz Jay wasn’t saying ‘ouch’ or anything. He kept hitting me. He was doing everything to get that knife back from me. He was so drunk and angry. It was so scary. I never had to defend myself like this before.

I’m skipping over some parts now cuz it’s just hard to keep reliving. What ended up happening is I called 911 to get help for the both of us. When the police arrived, they pepper sprayed me in the face for no reason, after I told them I was the one that called the police, and that my attacker, Jay, is still inside. You don’t even want me to get started on police conduct towards me and the way they treated me because I’m transgender. Moving on, when the police got to Jay he was bleeding and had lost a lot of blood, but when they identified themselves to him, he ran away from them and tried to hide himself in the garbage chute that was in the building. What I learned later on during my prelim, is that Jay had only been out of jail for nine months for, again, unprovokedly stabbing someone, which explained why he ran away from the police. But by him running away, and it taking them a bit more time to find him, Jay ended up bleeding out and dying, leaving the police to charge me with murder in the 2nd degree. 

Now this brings me to my second fight behind these prison walls. I was the first transgender person to be held here in the Toronto South Detention Center. I can’t begin to explain how hard it is to be stripped of your hair, makeup and clothes, to look in the mirror and not be able to recognize yourself. It hurts so bad. I cried every night my first few months here when I first came in.

They put me in segregation for the first few weeks and left me there. It wasn’t until my third or fourth week, until a social worker came to see me and told me that if I wanted to get out of seg I would have to sign into protective custody, and if I didn’t sign in I would be left in segregation. So I checked in cuz I wanted to get out of seg. When you’re in seg, the only mirror there is in the shower room, you don’t have one in your cell, so when I got on the range and they put me in my cell, that’s when my mental health really started to go down. 

I hated who I was seeing in the mirror every time I went to wash my hands, or brush my teeth. On top of that, they only gave me razors twice a week, every Wednesday and Sunday, and most times they would only give it once a week despite my request for them. My facial hair drove me crazy. I was used to shaving my face every day, sometimes twice a day. I started wrapping up a t-shirt around my head to imitate a wig cuz I felt so naked. Doing that became a grave problem for me. Guards were locking me up for the day, calling me hateful names, because I refused to take off the head wrap. The guards got tired of me refusing and then locking me up, so they put me on misconduct and sent me back to seg again. Every time it was my turn to shower, on days they let us have one, I would wrap my hair and go out, and the guards would give me hell. They would push me and yell spit into my face. They would go into my cell and throw out whatever stuff I would have in there. They would even take my mattress and give me this doggy pad type thing to sleep on. They did everything they could to me, except try to understand me and what I was going through. With the guards doing all those things to me, inmates would join in the hateful bashing, yell ignorance at me and throw things at me from their hatch. 

I was so broken on the inside it hurt, I couldn’t understand and still don’t, why this happened to me. Why did Jay do this to me? What did I do to deserve this? My pain has pain, even my tears would hurt coming out of my eyes and streaming down my face. It wasn’t fair, I’m human also. Why did I deserve this type of treatment? Just because I’m a trans woman? You don’t know how many times that I wish I would have just allowed Jay to kill me that night, or how many times I thought about killing myself but couldn’t bring myself to inflicting more pain upon myself. There is so much more difficulties and hardships that I face, but if I was to write it all out, it would take a good month to finish. Plus, it hurts to relive all of this so the less pain the better. 

Let’s fast forward to where I am today in my fight, first I want to let you know what I was able to accomplish from those times I was telling you about. The first thing that I was able to accomplish was graduating and getting my GED during all of that. I moved on to doing post-secondary education, I completed a business fundamentals course with Centennial, I completed the abnormal psychology course through Northern College and I’m currently doing a principles of psychology course through Centennial College, in which I just got back my rst assignment, and I got a 26 out of 28 so I’m feeling proud of myself. I was able to accomplish getting Stacy Love Jolie Coeur into this institution to have LGBTQ+ programming and support needed for our community members and myself. My fight for her was a two-year long fight along with being allowed to have a wig and order makeup on the female institution canteen list. It was emotionally distressing going through all of it but I must say it was a positive step forward in recognition for our community behind these Walls. Now going back to my fight in which I’m facing now. So I had my trial and I was acquitted of second-degree murder, but found guilty of manslaughter, which, frankly I shouldn’t have been found guilty of anything. But I had Justice Robert Clark as my trial judge and anyone who has experienced this man for themselves knows he’s a hot-headed mean judge. He excluded more than half of Jay’s criminal records which involves a series of attacks on people for no reason, and of course, his weapon of choice was a knife in previous incidents. The judge also didn’t allow me to have an expert testify who specializes in violence against the LGBTQ+ community and sex workers. The jury wasn’t provided with the whole truth of everything and that’s not fair to me. My sentencing was November 6th, 2018 and I got sentenced to a total of 8 years, but only have 18 more months left, which leaves me in the provincial system. I had 3 years and 3 months in on sentencing day and the judge gave me two for one on my time which added up to 6.6 years and gave me 18 more months, to add up to 8 years. People keep telling me that I’m lucky but I don’t feel it, I feel hurt and broken, I feel like when Jay said, “You’re not going nowhere,” he meant it with his life. 

He still has me captive, he’s still taking shots at me, and won’t let me go. I just want to be free from him, free from all of this, and sometimes I feel like death is my only way out to be free from him. But someone told me that if I kill myself I would only be joining him instead of getting free from him, so here I am still fighting him. 

I applied for my appeal and here I am fighting with the institution again, to keep me here. They want to ship me out to Penetang, where I would be stripped of the wig and makeup I fought so hard to obtain. I would be forced to wear orange, and not green, what female inmates wear. Most importantly, I would not be able to connect with a lot of my mental health and community workers such as 519 Church, Maggie’s, Cota, Stacey and PASAN, as well as my CAMH workers, because most of them informed me that they don’t go out there. My school wouldn’t be able to be continued out there cuz the organization in which I’m doing my education with, doesn’t go out to Penetanguishine. My family and friends who come see me here won’t be able to travel out so far to come visit me. There’s a lot for me to lose, which could affect my rehabilitation back into the community once I get released. On top of all that I would have to deal with a whole new set of inmates and guards. 

I’m tired you guys, but I’m not giving up, because of all your love and support and with that said I would like to end this by thanking Rosa and Jay from 519, Melissa from Cota for all your hard work and assisting me reaching out to everyone, Ellie, Micah, Monica and Aanya and everyone from Maggie’s. Stacy Love Jolie Coeur and everyone who doesn’t even know me, but heard my story and came out and protested and showed support for me during my trial. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, it’s your love which gives me strength to carry on. I also want to thank Eveline, Aanya and Sena and everyone at PASAN for allowing me to share my story, and thank you readers for taking the time to read my story, and I pray that it may be a source of strength for you and whatever life trials you may be going through.