When we think of the LGBTQ community, it can be easy to to assume that our struggles are the same. While banding together for solidarity purposes, since our communities overlap in so many ways, is always a good idea, we can’t let that blind us to the differences in our struggles. In particular, recent developments in the political arena throw a spotlight on the different circumstances transgender people are forced to cope with.
At a time when all but the most right-wing fringes of American discourse see gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as respectable members of the community who deserve civil rights, transgender and non-binary people still face discrimination, harassment, and violence in their daily lives, just for being themselves. Politicians have no problem using their trans constituents as a wedge issue to divide and conquer.
The difficulties facing any trans person living openly today were even visible as I worked on this article. Some of those who participated were only willing to do so anonymously; others I spoke to ultimately chose not to participate at all. From trans people who have chosen not to disclose their status to co-workers for fear of job loss, to non-binary people who must choose to pass for cisgender in order to avoid discrimination, many of the people quoted within this piece face real consequences if their identities are even made public.
Therefore, while it’s disappointing that most people who argue over the civil rights of trans people have never met or talked to a single openly trans or non-binary person, it can’t be too much of a surprise. For that reason, it seems more important than ever to give the trans and non-binary community of the Richmond area a chance to speak for themselves. We asked three simple questions of a dozen different trans and non-binary Richmonders. In their responses, they express their fears, voice their concerns, and in spite of everything they have been through and still must deal with, show their pride. –Marilyn Drew Necci
How does your gender identity impact your daily life?
“It’s a struggle for basic recognition on every level of interaction. The language of erasure is as insidious as walking this earth every day. It is in the innocuous way we think we are speaking to one another. It is perpetuated by people we love, who both actively and obliviously participate in trans erasure of the people they love. If you try to tell someone else what their gender ‘really’ is, then you are not loving someone.” –Ray, non-binary
“There are many days that I wish I could walk out of the house after waking up and throwing some clothes on, but unfortunately that is never the case. I have to concern myself about what I see in the mirror, and how others are going to see me throughout the day. If I have stubble I have to shave, if I have five o’clock shade I have to cover my face in makeup, if my real hair looks like a mess I need to throw on one of my wigs. It’s a process every day and it gets to the point of being exhausting. And because of these daily steps I have to do, it means more money is coming out of my pocket.” –Kristina, trans woman
“Because I pass as a cis woman, I’m able to walk through life without experiencing the same level of harassment or the threat of violence that openly trans women have to deal with. I have to be very careful about the words I use to describe my identity to my students and coworkers. I’ve mentioned my status as a bisexual non-binary person here and there, but if I were to come out more openly, I know for a fact that my identity and pronouns would not be respected by everyone in the building.” –Emily, non-binary
“Gender impacts my life constantly, moreso because of outside influence. I’d never given much thought to how my gender presentation changes so much from day to day, or how jarring that is for people to see, because I’ve just always been this way.” –Levi, non-binary/trans masc
“Being non-binary affects my daily life in multiple ways [due to] dysphoria and struggling with wanting to present more ‘masculine’ some days, ‘feminine’ other days, or even both at the same time. I worry about not being queer enough or trans enough to be valid. It doesn’t matter what people think at the end of the day; I love who I am and since realizing my gender I’ve become so much more comfortable with myself.” –Lil Cal, non-binary
“In reality I do not pay much attention to my gender identity on a daily basis. I work in a male dominated field, and most everyone knows I’m trans, but I am looked at for my abilities with no regards to gender.” –Keri, trans woman
“I don’t like to think about my gender identity. It causes me great stress. I used to be very dysphoric, and so I took hormones (T). Turns out I’m very sensitive to hormones (both T and E). My emotions were crazy. I couldn’t handle it. Since I quit, I try to make peace with how I am. There was this one time, because my voice is very deep (sans testosterone) and my face is very androgynous, I was mistaken for a trans woman. I was talking to this guy at a bar. He started to feel threatened, getting freaked out, which freaked me out. The only way I could calm this guy down was to tell him I took testosterone for a year. Then he was like, ‘Alright, alright,’ and I got the fuck out of there.” –”Agent Mulder,” non-binary
“In my late teens and early 20s, I was exploring my identity a lot in my drawings and paintings. I would do many self-portraits of myself as a ‘man,’ or where there were two of me—presenting both feminine and masculine within one piece of artwork. At the time, I didn’t know what it meant. It took me years to figure out it was because I feel both feminine and masculine. I am constantly being told I am someone who I don’t feel I am, and that can be really disorienting at times, although I have a lot of privileges passing as cis and straight–which I’m very aware of, and think is always important to mention.” –anonymous, non-binary
“I’m very privileged that most people I interact with on a daily basis, coworkers and strangers alike, aren’t aware of my trans status. It’s nice to go through the day and be who I am, no questions asked. And really, that’s the goal of transition, isn’t it? It is, however, impossible to ignore the impact of being able to pass through the world being see as who you’ve always felt yourself to be. There is a night and day difference between how people respond to me now and how they did when I was still presenting as male. Prior to transition, every interaction with others bummed me out a little. I felt like I had to filter out so much of who I was that by the end of the day I felt almost invisible. It’s lovely to finally be seen.” –Sara, trans woman
“Sometimes people call me ‘ma’am,’ sometimes ‘sir,’ sometimes they can’t decide on one so they alternate until I react. Sometimes it changes when I speak. Some guys will speak at me with a familiarity that they don’t express with other women or femmes, like I’m one of the bros. Sometimes I have a difficult time discerning genuine compliments from pity. Sometimes it’s work maintaining the resolve to assert my identity outside of my immediate social sphere, and sometimes it falters.” –Sophia, trans woman
“I’m only out to a handful of close friends. Those who don’t know probably just think I’m a kinda weird dude. It can make outer presentation a challenge, as the degree to which I feel trans tends to fluctuate. Around the house it’s not a problem; I live alone so I can dress as femme or masculine as I feel. It’s when I have to go out in public and I’m feeling more feminine that it can be difficult to find a suitable balance. I have to wear something that I feel comfortable in, while not attracting unwanted attention. It means I have to constantly be self-aware. It can get exhausting at times.” –anonymous, trans woman
““When I dress in a way that makes me feel good, I feel like the stares pierce my body. Thousands of holes being drilled into my very being. Maybe I’m more sensitive than others, but I’ve tried for so long to accept or ignore that people are going to stare at people with a gender they don’t understand, and it hasn’t gotten much easier. I am treated far more like a human when I am wearing shorts and a shirt as opposed to a dress.” –Walter, transfemme
What’s one thing you wish people understood about life as a trans/non-binary person?
“That we aren’t sick, or confused, or looking for attention. I wish people realized how hard it is to be honest about your identity in a world that doesn’t even try to understand. I wish they understood how emotionally taxing it is to constantly wonder if your queer and trans friends are gonna get home safe; if they’re gonna make it through this round of depression alive. It can be so exhausting.” –Emily, non-binary
“People need to understand that we really are no different then they are. We have a different history but we want the same things in life as they do. How we identify gender-wise defines what we are, but not who we are. We are people. Human beings that are trying to, and deserve to, live our lives as the person we were meant to be.” –Keri, trans woman
“I wish more people knew how hard it is being trans. It takes an emotional and physical toll on one’s body and mental health. It cost an excessive amount to be able to feel whole, and most people don’t have the opportunity to continue forward.” –Kristina, trans woman
“I wish people understood that the way I view myself as an nb is still a trans experience. I’ve gotten a lot of people who would be and are accepting of binary trans folks, but I get a lot of pushback. I feel like I have to dress a certain way when I tell people that I’m trans masc/nb or they won’t take it seriously. I love makeup, flowers, getting my nails done, yes. But I’m still a boy… a really pretty one.” –Levi, non-binary/trans masc
““It’s important to realize that we’re not a monolith. I’ve heard a lot of people say things like, ‘Well, my trans friend said this, so…’ or ‘most nb people don’t care about pronouns so whatever.’ We all have different experiences, and we’re all growing and learning (and unlearning). Please don’t be surprised if you hear conflicting things. I know it can be confusing but just sit back and listen if you want to learn. Don’t invalidate another’s experience.” –Lil Cal, non-binary
“That being non-binary is real and is a legitimate gender. Often, people think we’re in a phase and I know I am not in a phase. This is something I have felt my entire life, I just didn’t have the language for it until now.” –anonymous, non-binary
“Practice restraint upon meeting a trans/non-binary person. Learning and asking us questions might be interesting for you but it’s not conversation most of us want to have when we’re trying to chill. Being trans is personal. Those of us who don’t ‘pass,’ in order to feel comfortable socializing, [have to] out ourselves, which might make it seem not very personal, but it is.” –”Agent Mulder,” non-binary
“I am not confused. Science is continuously being redefined–that is the point of good science. Just because your education is behind the times does not mean I’ll engage in convincing you of the existence of factual information. What you know may be wrong. Allyship is accepting that outright. There is no debate when you are debating the validity of my existence.” –Ray, non-binary
“Every day feels like a matter of life and death. It is often terrifying. It is constantly exhausting. I want people to have empathy and compassion. We are just trying to exist and it isn’t easy.” –Walter, transfemme
“I think there’s a big misconception that being trans is the focus of our lives, rather than merely being a single aspect of who we are. Until the surge in anti-transgender legislation over the past several years, I hadn’t thought much about being trans in a while. It’s not that I deny it or have any desire to hide, but I’m too busy finally enjoying life, as well as dealing with the rigors of daily life that everyone faces. The banality observed in the actual daily lives of most trans people would make those who misunderstand us and those out to legislate us out of existence bored to tears within twenty minutes. If the aforementioned parties would take the time to get to know us, they would find it far easier to relate to and understand us than they had ever imagined.” –Sara, trans woman
“When trans people speak up about being respected, it’s not because we are seeking attention, but so that we may even begin to take part in the discourse on level ground with other participants. When a trans person corrects you on their name, or pronoun, it is so that they can focus on a conversation or task at hand without bottling up the disregard for their own being and having it rattle about in their mind, creating anxiety and other distractions. When we speak up about covering bases concerning trans and queer rights in community spaces, it is because we have to advocate for ourselves in order to ensure our own survival and livelihood.” –Sophia, trans woman
“Sometimes someone will call me ‘sir’ and it makes my skin crawl. But I can’t be mad at them, because they’re just being polite and respectful. For the vast majority of people these centuries-old terms are a non-issue. They have no way of knowing that ‘sir’ may or may not be an appropriate descriptor of me. I just wish that society could get away from gender-specific words like sir and ma’am, but I know that that’s not likely to happen in my lifetime.” –anonymous, trans woman
What’s an aspect of your life that you’re proud of that has nothing to do with your gender?
“I’m lucky to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children every day. I’m proud that I’m able to create a safe place for them in my classroom, where they can explore their own identities without fear of judgement. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at handling tough conversations with them, and making sure they leave our space feeling good about themselves.” –Emily, non-binary
“I am so proud that I have been able to help others navigate through difficult times in their lives. I look at all sides of what issues they are confiding in me, and try to come up with an action plan that can help them stay on a positive path, to reduce the anxiety and stress being caused by these issues.” –Keri, trans woman
“I’m proud that I have found someone that loves me for me. Growing up, I feared that I would never be able to experience a normal relationship. I’m proud that I have a good paying job; I’m proud that I’ve lost a lot of weight that I had as a child. But my gender has affected me all of my life, so truthfully I’m proud that I’ve gotten as far as I have.” –Kristina, trans woman
“I’m finally who I’d always imagined I’d be. I know that if my past self met me now, I would be so impressed. I come from a rough home life, I’m a dumpster fire of emotions, I have a laundry list of mental and physical illnesses, but I’m finally authentically myself, and I’m so so proud of that.” –Levi, non-binary/trans masc
“I have a very fulfilling career that allows me to help people in the event of a catastrophe. I’m proud that I have such a desire to keep learning and a desire to help my community. There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed on in this city and society a whole, and I want to work as much as possible to make changes.” –Lil Cal, non-binary
“I’m really proud of myself for fighting depression as well as I have, that I can see the light at the end of this super long fucked up tunnel. I’ve been making art, but I’m making it when I’m sober most of the time now, and I’m starting to enjoy it again. I’m getting those pleasure beacons firing by themselves again. I think that’s pretty fucking awesome.” –”Agent Mulder,” non-binary
“My passion is working towards social justice through art. It gives my life meaning and purpose, and allows me to use the skills I have within activism. My work has focused on combating sexual violence while empowering survivors, elevating the voices of and commemorating queer folks in the midwest and on the east coast, and within the last couple of years, I’ve been working with incarcerated youth in Richmond with ART180.” –anonymous, non-binary
“Being a multi media designer, artist, and music maker has always been my entire life. When I’m not working on one of my 50 passion projects, I’m riding my wave in a dedicated creative team developing someone else’s. I love that. Communalist production really burns my wick. I need to build up my community like I need air to breathe.” –Ray, non-binary
“I’m a very handy person by nature; my first therapist once called me a ‘Jill of all trades’ and I wear that with pride. Due to largely being raised by my grandparents and their 1950′s style of parenting, if I wanted to build, make, paint, or take something apart, I was more than welcome to. As long as what I wanted to do didn’t cost much money, I was free to follow the creative path I wanted. More often than not, that path led me directly to my grandfather’s shop behind the house. Once, someone gave my grandmother a birdhouse that was built to resemble an old country church. Before it could even be put up, the roof panel fell off. It didn’t take me long to volunteer to fix it. Not only did I repair the roof, but I also built pews and a pulpit for the birds from scrap wood I found. It was a weird little kid thing to do, but that lust for fixing and being creative has assisted me throughout my career and my life in general.” –Sara, trans woman
“Creating, and sharing music and art with the many talented people I’ve met and befriended in Richmond’s robust DIY scene has been very fulfilling. Having an avenue and platform for self-expression allows me to connect with others in ways that are both rewarding and validating. I have to thank local collectives like Ice Cream Support Group, Great Dismal, Soft Web, and Animal for helping me to find an audience and other creatives who make me feel seen for my value and vision. Their work elevates the voices of artists often drowned out by homogeny, or who feel alienated from scene institutions, and provide space for new voices to emerge. I’ve grown leaps and bounds as an artist and individual thanks to the friends I’ve made among their ranks, and the access to resources that they’ve facilitated.” –Sophia, trans woman
“Everything I have accomplished, everything I own, has been a direct result of gender. Had I not figured out how to overcome all the depression, anxiety, and other mental issues that my gender identity has been the core of, I would not have survived this long. I’m proud of the independent life I have built for myself. I’m proud of my ability to keep on trudging along no matter how hard things get.” –anonymous, trans woman
“It’s hard to write about something in my life that is completely separate from my gender and my performance of my gender, because it’s all interconnected in one way or another. Through struggle, you find your strength. The universe has brought me together with some incredible people and I am proud to be who I am.” –Walter, transfemme