A few days before pride weekend, I find myself on a bench at 28th Street and the Hudson River. The sun shines beneath a patchwork sky. It is gorgeous. Two benches down sits a young transwoman of color with honey-blond extensions looking for all the world like a young Laverne Cox, I assume by design. Her shoes are off. Next to her on the bench are all variety of bags. I’m fairly certain she’s homeless. She basks in the sun and my heart breaks. I think of the privilege I’ve enjoyed and the comfort I currently have. I want to reach out to her. Say something. Help her. I can’t. I won’t. I have nothing to give.
I see this all the time in the city. This is the reality for too many gender non-conforming males, especially from black and hispanic communities. More and more transwomen on magazine covers will not alter their fate. Awareness itself will not improve their lives. Gender is not to be celebrated. It is to be hunted down and destroyed. Yet we continue to genuflect at its altar. We bow to Laverne, to Janet, and especially to Caitlyn, as if the highest honor we can achieve is our own glossy 8 x 10. I have little ire for Janet and Laverne, even if I disagree with much of what they say. They are a part of the community. They understand what it is like to be trans without fame. Though they may do good work within the community, we do not praise them for it, nor do we praise the work of the unknown. The deeds of any non-famous person will be overlooked. Celebrity is the modern currency, and those who fail to strive for it will remain poor.
Perhaps I am the broken one. Perhaps at some point in utero I failed to develop whatever it is that compels people towards fame; the gene that manifests in an intense desire to appear on the jumbotron. I cannot help but look out at the landscape of the trans community and see how hollow it is. I can’t but look at those elevated to leadership positions within the movement and think we’re all doomed. Porn stars who accuse women of bigotry for not wanting to sleep with them. Advocates who claim they are women yet display rampant misogyny. This is the community of which I am supposed to feel pride? This is narcissism, not activism, and it helps no one.
Activism would prioritize the young transwomen on the bench. The odds are stacked against her. In this city, it is easier to obtain hormones than a place to live. The shelters are few, full, and dangerous, especially to GNC people. Looking to women’s shelters is not the answer. Women have their own needs and we have ours. Besides, women’s shelters are in the same dire straits. The trans community needs to build its own support system of shelters and programs to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters. We cannot leech off of the labor of women and take up what few resources they have. We must build for ourselves. Women did it. So can we, but we must put aside the petty politics of Twitter.
We must face harsh truths about who and what we are. If we can be honest about who we are, and be honest about what we need, we can begin to build that support system. We can start to provide shelter for those who need it. There are those who have made it, like Caitlyn Jenner who will make an estimated $100 million this year, and millions in the years to come. Caitlyn herself could eradicate so many structural problems the trans community faces, but, well, forgive me for being pessimistic.
Even if this young transwoman, and all young transwomen, should find shelter, even if we manage to stop crowdfunding one another’s facial feminization surgeries and shopping sprees long enough to establish this support system, we still face the plague of male violence. Men are overwhelmingly and near-universally responsible for the violent deaths of transwomen. And while it’s tempting to exaggerate the nature of the problem for a transwoman, it is hardly necessary.
Transwomen face violence because we are perceived as gender non-conforming males, or because we are perceived as women, both of which are undesirable under the reign of toxic masculinity. Convincing the world we are women, and have always been women, is not the answer. It is a deception too many people attempt to push to assuage their feelings. If we can accept ourselves for who we are, if we can say “We’re male, and that’s ok” that will be the first step toward redefining what it means to be male, and perhaps the first step towards curbing male violence.
If we do nothing, if we continue to push the narrative of always-was, if we push for and demand access to all that women have fought for, then we are lost. We do nothing but perpetuate the binary with the caveat that it is possible to move from one side of the line to the other. Then we will raise a generation of children believing something which may not be true. We will continue to harm women, both through our action and inaction. Worst of all, we will do nothing to stem the tide of male violence.
I want to live in a world without fear. I want to live in a world where I can walk the streets at night, where I don’t feel compelled to cross the street when I see a group of men. One where men don’t feel they have the right to bully women into interacting with them, or one where they feel it is their right to abuse a woman, to talk over them, to take up more space. I want a world where men do not believe themselves better, are taught they are better simply because they were not born female. I don’t know how to get there, but I know acknowledging the problem is important. I know honesty is important.
In that spirit, I will go first. My name is Diana. I was born male. I am male. I may be perceived as a woman by the world, but that doesn’t make it so. If you’re a transwoman like me, then you are male too. We have walked many of the same roads. We have experienced much of the same pain. I know the doubt and fear you feel. I know the anguish and the pain of not being seen how you wish to be seen. I understand all of that, and I feel for you. Gender hurts, but it’s possible to move beyond the pain. Accept what you are. Accept that you can be male and be pretty, wear dresses, make-up, and like Sailor Moon. Accept your personality for what it is and live your life. You’ll be amazed how much better it feels.
I want to believe in a world where that young transwoman I encountered wouldn’t be thrown out of her house, and wouldn’t struggle to find employment. I want to believe in a world that accepts males can be pretty and empathetic. I want to live in a world where playing with a certain class of toy doesn’t require a child pretend they are the opposite sex. I have to believe, because the alternative is rather bleak.