I’m Trans and I Didn’t Do Anything for Trans Awareness Week
It was Trans Awareness Week in mid-November, culminating in the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20. I didn’t do anything to commemorate the occasion. I didn’t change any of the profile pictures on my numerous social media accounts. I didn’t light a candle. I didn’t write an article, even when encouraged to do just that for my own self-serving interest in exposure for the “trans” memoir I just published. I just let it pass.
I had wanted to do something. I’d planned on doing something, but upon reflection, it has occurred to me my feelings about the event may have been more complicated than I had realized. All week, I felt emotionally paralyzed by the complexity of my inner conflict, so nothing came out.
I am trans. At least, that is the part of my identity one might assume would unite me to the spirit and intentions of Trans Awareness Week. One could also presume my membership in the distinctly marginalized “T” of the historically disparaged acronym, LGBT, would grant me legitimate access to the warmth and conciliatory comfort of solidarity within a community distinguished by exceptional resilience and rare beauty. To think that would not be inaccurate, but it would not be the entire truth.
I am white. I lived most of my life as a white female. I was masculine in features and demeanor. I was a butch dyke. I experienced a typical amount of harassment, contempt, and violence as a female in American culture. As a lesbian, I was banned, removed, dismissed, and assaulted within the standard variance of frequency and magnitude according to the zeitgeist of the decades. The harshest reprisals for the sin of my existence were always reserved for my masculinity, but I endured no surprising treatment at the hands of popular American brutality.
The contradiction presented by visible breasts, a smooth and rounded jawline, and high voice against cropped hair, boxy clothes, defiant posture, and hubris is the locus of rage and terror for those that cling to arbitrary imperatives. But, that objection to my masculinity as a woman did not merely exist in others. The truly sinister consequence of the antediluvian fraud of cultural gender norms is developing as a human with that same rage and terror woven into one’s own self-perception. Those that have wanted to destroy me do not appreciate how much work I’ve done to destroy myself. It is impossible to decide whether more damage has been done by the world or me.
After four decades as a circumstance, a setting for antagonism, humiliation, fetishization, or confusion, I conceded. I concealed the contradiction, the source of my exhaustion. I started injecting testosterone into my muscles. My muscles grew and my ass shrank. My voice dropped and my jaw squared. Within a year, I had a full beard and a receding hairline.
I am a fifty-year-old white man in America. When I walk down the street, people move out of my way. When I go into a store, all the clerks ask me if I need help. I am not interrupted. I use public restrooms without incident. If I think another middle-aged white man is behaving inappropriately, I can confront him, and he will pay attention to me. The only confusion that surrounds me now is why I don’t have more money.
I am a queer elder in a vibrant, urban queer community. I have a home and loving partnership. I have supportive and loving parents. I am well-educated and privileged with enough time and resources to create. Within my expansive network of warm, intelligent friends and acquaintances, I am openly trans. I do not anticipate discomfort or discourtesy in my daily life.
Ashley Diamond is a 42-year-old Black trans woman. I have never met her, but I can’t stop thinking about her. I think if we met over cocktails, we might enjoy each other’s company. We might tell each other about our lives. We could share stories of being female or male, growing up confused, and what it’s like to transform ourselves. We could likely identify profound experiences of despair, courage, and love we have in common. We are both “trans” after all.
Ms. Diamond is currently suing the Georgia Department of Corrections for their appalling failures in maintaining her most basic human dignities. This is the second time she is suing them. The first time she sued them for depriving her of the hormone therapy necessary for preserving her hard-won sense of self. She not only won that suit and was paroled, but a new policy was enacted guaranteeing hormone therapy for trans inmates in Georgia. This time, the focus of her suit is the ongoing deprivation of her personal safety. She has been sexually assaulted over a dozen times in the past year, by both inmates and staff. She has been raped fourteen times by the people she is housed with and the guards paid to safeguard her.
Ms. Diamond was initially sentenced to ten years in prison for trying to pawn a saw she had stolen. I cannot find the details of the original offense. I don’t know what kind of saw it was. I just know she was sentenced to ten years in prison for stealing a saw. She was released after a couple years, then reincarcerated over an undisclosed parole violation. Both times, she was sent to a men’s prison in Georgia.
Transwomen experience among the highest levels of employment discrimination. The politics of passing are evident in these statistics. It is generally easier for a person assigned female at birth to pass as male with hormone therapy, even without surgeries. I went from being a source of social disorder to the pinnacle of social privilege when I transitioned. Being visibly trans severely limits one’s employment opportunities. Misogyny, still a pervasive obstacle in employment equality in general, is even harder on transwomen. Fear and loathing of the feminine becomes more pronounced when the scant safeguards of polite propriety towards women are undermined by trans bias. When racism is added to the data, it makes the employment discrimination facing Ms. Diamond nearly insurmountable, statistically speaking.
Transwomen of color must often rely on alternative economies for survival. Poverty and Blackness are excessively policed in America. Black Transwomen are disproportionately represented in America’s carceral population because of this.
In May of 2018, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era guideline that allowed gender identity to determine the facilities in which Trans inmates are held, sending Transwomen back to men’s prisons. In June of 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision, narrowly ruling in favor of a cakebaker in Colorado who refused to make a gay couple a wedding cake.
It could be argued both events held significance for the LGBTQ community as a whole. I remember widespread indignation and activism for only one. I will never forget the volume of angry face emojis in my Facebook feed when a wealthy, white gay couple experienced discomfort and inconvenience and our judicial system said it was okay.
I do not want to minimize the pain and adversity experienced by anyone in the greater Queer community, not even my own. When I was going through pronounced periods of anguish and self-hatred in my younger life, it certainly felt like the only pain in the world. I am Trans now, but that is the part of myself that’s given me peace and privilege. I must make a daily effort to remember what that pain felt like, to honor it.
The same system that bestows entitlement on my plausible maleness now made me hate myself then. Trans Awareness Week is an important innovation of Trans activism. Transgender Day of Remembrance is essential. But vigilance is paramount when marginalizations are teased apart, lest they be mistaken as monolithic. If I am to commemorate an awareness of my Transness, my efforts should be dictated by reflective responsibility.
Each pillar of our collective American subjugation is critical to the integrity of its structural stability. The entire infrastructure is rotten. American capitalism is brutal and corrupt. Racism and misogyny are indispensable in maintaining acute wealth inequality. Dominant gender and beauty norms preserve the dominant culture. Hating yourself for falling short of those norms keeps you from transgressing the boundaries of those norms.
We are all harmed by the same system. That dictates the commonalities I share with Ashley Diamond. The injury disproportionately inflicted upon her commands my commitment to center her experience. The fight against the personal prejudice of a Christian cakemaker is hollow and ultimately fruitless until Black Transwomen are guaranteed economic stability and a life free from state-sanctioned torture. Trans Awareness Week is a logical consequence of the indifference of the larger queer movement. I would never deny my Transness to the detriment of my Trans siblings, but it is imperative my Transness be in service and not the spotlight.