Life as a Trans Woman Ain’t Easy

Hi, all, I'm RachelPhilPa (a totally goofy, non-clever handle, I know). I've been reading and commenting on Shakesville for a couple of years now, and recently started my own blog. I'm honored that Melissa asked me to write a guest post about a series of articles about harassment on my blog.

By way of (brief) introduction, I'm a trans woman in her late 40's; I started transitioning 4 years ago. I'm white, middle-class, Jewish, queer, dealing with multiple disabilities, and a survivor of long-term adulthood sexual abuse. I identify strongly and proudly as a feminist. I don't classify my feminism (second-wave, third-wave, etc, etc), but I think that I take a decent amount of my thought and ideas from radical feminism (even as I argue with some radical feminists over trans issues).

Now on to the subject. As I have progressed in my transition, I have become increasingly aware of, and subject to, both sexual and transphobic harassment. Like many women, I live with an undercurrent of fear. It's not at the level that makes me want to hide and withdraw, but is at the level that it influences the decisions that I make every day and that affects my mood throughout the day. I've read many posts and comments from women (and not a few gender-variant and/or gay men) expressing the same fear, here on Shakesville and throughout the feminist blogosphere. I've also read the comments of many men (and a few women) who are dismissive of this and accuse us of exaggerating or making this stuff up. For myself, and for many other trans folk, my fear is heightened by the transphobia and cissexualism that is inherent in our patriarchal society.

So, I decided to keep a log of incidents of harassment, both to help myself quantify what I'm facing, and to have something to refer people to when they say "It isn't really that bad." Not all of these incidents targeted me directly. But when a judge says that a sex worker can't be raped, or Michael Savage viciously slanders trans people, they are telling all women, and all trans folk, that we are less worthy, that we had better shut up, that we had better hide ourselves.

If you want the details, head on over to my harassment log. What I want to do here is to highlight a few ways in which I am impacted.

Every day, I must be aware of the threats around me and make conscious choices that non-trans people don't have to think about. Does this restaurant that I want to go to have gender-neutral bathrooms? I want to wear a skirt today — do I have the emotional strength to stand up to the stares and snark that I'll get? What's the safest route for me to walk from point A to point B? Can I cross that intersection diagonally like I usually do, with that cop sitting there? Is today going to be the day that a cop pulls me over and sees the female name and male gender marker on my license, and will he do a freakout all over my body? It's pride day — why did those two lesbians just mock me on the very day that we are supposed to celebrate our diversity? What's the chance that I'll be harassed by assimilationist gay men if I volunteer at that GLBT community center? (Pretty high, I've found.) Will I be welcomed at this or that women's event? (Very unlikely, though it has happened). Am I willing to take the risk of commenting on a feminist blog — and deal with the inevitable "aren't you just reinforcing gender norms" and "why do you have to mutilate yourself" questions? (not here on Shakes, thank the G-ddess and Melissa, but it's happened on nearly every other feminist blog I've commented on.) Will this gym allow trans women in its women's locker room? (Fat chance.) And on and on and on...

I want to touch upon just two other areas — bathroom access and medical care. Although I could list hundreds of issues that trans people face, these two areas are fraught with danger for every trans and gender-variant person, whether they're trans men, trans women, genderqueer, two-spirit, genderless, intersex, or just simply go against patriarchal norms that dictate what genders are permissible and how people of those genders are expected to behave and present themselves. These issues are most difficult for those who (like myself) cannot "pass" as their target gender, and for those who choose not to. Four years into my transition, people still gender me as male more often than as female. I am awaiting the day that our society breaks its dependence on assigning gender to every person that we see, but until that happy day comes, I'm stuck in the middle; neither male-gendered ("What are you, some kind of faggot?") nor female-gendered spaces ("Ohnoez, penis on the land!") are safe for me.

And that includes bathrooms. For gender-normative people, especially men, using a public bathroom is so run-of-the-mill that it's almost an automatic act. At worst, it's something that is mildly unpleasant (Ewww! Stinky!). But for a trans or gender-variant person, public bathrooms are dangerous places, exposing us to harassment, ridicule, physical and sexual assault, and arrest and abuse by police. I avoid most of this harassment simply by avoiding public bathrooms where I can. But I can't alway do that. Sometimes, I do get called for jury duty, and the worst part of jury duty is the tension and fear around using the bathroom in a building (courthouse) that is swarming with police.

Before I transitioned, I was an avid traveler and hiker. I drove cross-continent from Philadelphia, PA to British Columbia. I drove to Utah. I thought nothing of taking a long weekend in Virginia or upstate New York. No more. This is a big part of my life that I have lost, and it's because of the public-bathroom issue. Am I exaggerating the situation? I don't think so. Every time I read about another person who was beaten or arrested just for using the bathroom, my level of fear goes up a notch. And I read about those cases again and again and again.

I think that it is pathetic that, should I need to travel, or I decide to just do it and take my lumps, that I'll need to search this site to find a safe bathroom. No one should have to do that.

On to medical care. I hope that you are at least somewhat familiar with the story of Robert Eads, the trans man who died after dozens of doctors refused to treat his ovarian cancer.

I am fortunate to live in one of the very few US cities that has a clinic that provides health care (trans-specific, gynecological, and general health) for trans people. That takes care of my routine health care and my hormones. But this clinic can't do surgery or diagnostic tests (other than blood and urine tests). So, again, there's frightening questions for me to answer. I have a prostate, and it gets infected and enlarged, and is vulnerable to cancer like every other prostate. Will I ever find a urologist who will treat a woman with prostate enlargement? An oncologist who will treat a woman with prostate cancer, should I get it? Will my insurance cover the treatment? (Not likely.)

I have breasts. My doctor has recommended that I get yearly mammograms, especially with the history of breast cancer in my family. Will I actually ever find a radiology technician who will treat me with respect?

I've developed cramping in my calves when I walk fast, and my doctor has recommended that I get a Doppler study to see if any of the arteries are blocked. I've put this off for four months, because the radiology departments at most hospitals require patients to change into gowns, and where do you do that? Gendered locker rooms, of course.

And G-ddess forbid I should have a heart attack or get into a very bad accident. Will the EMS technicians just let me bleed to death while laughing at me? Will the emergency room personnel just shove me to the side and treat the other people, the ones that are worth saving in their minds? Guess who won't be bothering with calling 911 if / when she has a heart attack. If it is this bad in Philadelphia or Washington, DC, or Jersey City, NJ, what's it like for people living in small town, in rural areas, in areas dominated by xtian fundamentalists?

You might ask, "Why did you transition, if this is what you wind up facing?" My answer is simply that I would not be walking on this Earth today if I did not transition.


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