In certain healing circles, Tourmaline is a gemstone believed to have special properties, including elevating inspiration and happiness, minimizing fear, and building one’s confidence. It’s no wonder, then, that it also happens to be the namesake of the filmmaker and activist formerly known as Reina Gossett. Her gentle spirit and fierce determination have been consistent threads in a multifaceted approach to her movement work, aiding her service as a historian, community organizer, scholar, and revolutionary.
Born and raised in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Tourmaline’s mother, Maureen Ridge, and late father, George Gossett, worked in the Labor and Black Power movements, respectively. With their influence, she developed a deep commitment to social justice and empowering marginalized people. As a college student, she became particularly drawn to the experiences of incarcerated, queer, and trans people. This led to her dedicating much of the last 15 years organizing with New York-based LGBTQ+ organizations like FIERCE and Sylvia Rivera Law Project, teaching at Rikers Island, and working with elders like Miss Major. “For a lot of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people of color, we didn't [initially] know about the prior generation of activists because their stories had been erased,” she says. “I think about not just people being pushed out of the movement, but how did HIV and AIDS — like criminalization, not just the epidemic — play into the erasure of us ever knowing of so many people who came before us?"
While working in nonprofits, Tourmaline began to see storytelling as a way to build up the trans community. She soon pivoted to cultural organizing, which led to the creation of Happy Birthday, Marsha!, a fictional short film chronicling the events prior to Marsha P. Johnson’s involvement in the Stonewall Riots. “The more we know about Marsha, the more multidimensional she gets to be, because she was an organizer with STAR and at Stonewall, but she was also an AIDS activist, an artist, and a performer,” she says. “I think the more we get to know her story, the more she gets to live. But historical erasure is so real, and it's only been in the past five years that we've grappled with her legacy.”
Tourmaline’s expansive artistic vision (which includes film and video installations) has only grown in popularity and critical acclaim over the last few years. In late 2017, she received a Queer|Art|Prize for the animated short film The Personal Things and co-edited Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility. Last year, she received the 2018 Publishing Triangle Award and a special mention at the Outfest Film Festival. Now, with a Shandaken Project residency emphasizing the history of Governor’s Island, she is elevating marginalized experiences in a new way. “It's really important that we expand what it means to be part of this work. It doesn't just mean being part of an organization. It doesn't just mean being on the streets — even though those things are very important,” she says. “How we think about and resist the state in our heads and hearts is as equally valid as doing some of the more visible, flashy things in terms of what is known and understood to be activism.”