Courtesy of Pamela Rocker

Meet Pamela Rocker, the Black Trans Woman You Didn’t Know Was Running for President

“I've definitely got some flavor I could bring to the White House.”

America has never seen a presidential candidate like Pamela Rocker before.

Everything about Rocker’s campaign feels homemade, like a pillow cross-stitched by a favorite aunt. The 35-year-old outsider prospect from Cincinnati, Ohio, announced her run for the White House in December with a YouTube video made on iMovie. Set to a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a Michael Bay blockbuster, the 58-second clip is cut like a movie trailer. Urging voters to “join the movement,” it advertises that Rocker’s campaign is “coming soon to a city near you.”
 

Her announcement video also features footage of Rocker determinedly exercising on an elliptical machine and recording music in the studio. Before running for president, she moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist. The rap song “Eat Sushi,” which she recorded as “Pam Jones” for the 2008 film Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom, extols the virtues of manicures and Japanese food.

While unconventional, Rocker is in full control of her brand. “It’s good when you add flavor,” she tells NewNowNext. “I’ve definitely got some flavor I could bring to the White House.”

Rocker has enough flavor to fill an all-you-can-eat buffet. When NewNowNext reached out for an interview, she responded in a 4am text message, later explaining that her sleep schedule never recovered when she moved back to Ohio. Each of Rocker’s texts end with the phrase “SECRET SERVICE” in all caps and surrounded in asterisks, and her plans for the Oval Office include mandatory recycling and free cars. She hopes to pay for the “freedom car” initiative by legalizing marijuana in all 50 states.

A recent trip to Washington State—which brings in over $300 million annually from marijuana sales—with her husband, Victor, proved to her it could be done. The visit also convinced Rocker that America needs someone to bring new ideas to the table. While hiking up the side of a mountain, she claims she had a “spiritual breakthrough.” She thought to herself, “The time is now—everything is aligned.”

“I felt like this is the perfect opportunity to not just sit on the sidelines, but make a difference,” Rocker recalls.

But after 2016, Rocker felt she didn’t have a choice—she had to get involved. As a black transgender woman, she says President Trump’s policies have continually targeted her community, citing the trans military ban and the passage of FOSTA/SESTA, an anti-sex trafficking bill which forced Backpage.com to shut down. The website helped sex workers safely seek out clients.

Courtesy of Pamela Rocker

“We are the community that’s impacted the most when it comes to sex work,” Rocker claims, citing the trans women she has known who have engaged in sex work to make a living in a world that grants them few opportunities for survival. “That sense of security when it came to sex workers, it was out the window—just gone.”

While Rocker has not engaged in sex work herself, her often tumultuous upbringing gave her insight into the struggles other marginalized people face. After her parents surrendered custody when she was just 8 years old, she claims she went through 10 different foster homes before turning 18. Struggling to find herself as she constantly changed schools, transitioning was still an impossible dream. At the time, she recalls that her nascent gender identity felt like a “curse.”

Even if the word “transgender” wasn’t yet on the tip of her tongue, life had already proven how unkind it could be to people who are different. While taking a shortcut through Tower Place Mall in downtown Cincinnati after school, one of her classmates was jumped by gang members who “smashed his glasses and stomped him to the ground,” calling him a “faggot.”

“I had to run from the scene because I knew my life was in danger,” says Rocker, who was with the student at the time. “To this day, I tell my closest friends, ‘Be careful when you’re out and about. Don’t go out late at night, especially when you’re alone.’”

Even while discussing profound personal trauma, Rocker’s billboard-sized personality peers over the hedges. She casually mentions that she’s now a licensed gun owner, claiming every human has “an animalistic, divine right to defend themselves.” But despite calling herself a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Rocker advocates for regulating AR-15 assault rifles and banning bump stocks, which allow gun users to turn their firearms into automatic weapons.

Rocker, however, has found a renewed strength since coming out as a transgender woman more than a decade ago. She claims that starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in her mid-20s (with pills she got off the “black market,” she notes) brought out a fierceness in her; it’s that drive that she hopes to bring to the presidency.

“There’s something fierce about just living your truth and feeling comfortable in your skin,” she claims. “I felt very much liberated and that I could accomplish whatever I want to accomplish.”

But in fulfilling her dream of becoming the first black transgender woman to sit in the Oval Office, Rocker faces stiff competition among a tremendously crowded field. As the Cincinnati Enquirer noted in an earlier profile of her candidacy, 670 people have formally thrown their hats in the ring for the 2020 race. Most recently, former Vice President Joe Biden entered the fray following months of speculation about whether or not he would run; even Biden appeared to be unsure at times.

Among the major party candidates, Rocker is competing with a number of other Democrats hoping to make history next year. California Senator Kamala Harris would be the first black woman and person of South Asian descent in the White House. Pete Buttgieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is a gay man in a same-sex marriage.
 

Rocker is aware she’s a long shot, even if she doesn’t say it outright. Outside of ambitious policy proposals and a flair for winsome non-sequiturs, her resume is fairly thin. She’s currently unemployed and has no political experience. When the Enquirer questioned the candidate about claims that she’s helped organize LGBTQ pride events since moving back to Cincinnati, Rocker told the newspaper they would have to “take her word for it.”

Rocker is currently headed to Iowa to raise visibility for her campaign. No matter where she ultimately finishes in the polls, she will have opened a door for other trans candidates in the future. Still, Rocker warns not to count her out, noting that she’s beat the odds before. It’s what got her this far.

“Even being in 10 different foster homes, I managed to somehow stay focused,” Rocker claims. “I still managed to graduate from high school. I will bring that to the table when I come to the White House.”

Nico Lang is an award-winning journalist and editor. His work has been featured in INTO, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Esquire, and the L.A. Times.
@Nico_Lang