Talking about violence

Here’s a quick note.

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. This tradition started 16 years ago, and at the time, I was three months into my freshman year of college. I had just learned that being transgender was something one could be.

I am an LGBTQ person who has identified with each of those letters at one point or another. Violence is something I think about. We all do. For trans people specifically, violence and the threat of violence comes at us from all directions – family and friends, employers and educators, health care professionals, religion and the media, institutions and governments, people we know and strangers. It is sometimes loud, sometimes quiet.

I remember pleading with an ex-girlfriend before I socially and physically transitioned, for what seemed like the millionth time, to tell me if she thought I looked more male or female that day. I was going to a new place later and wanted insight on which bathroom would be a better choice. We’d had this conversation many times before, and she exasperatedly told me she doesn’t see gender on me, that I’m just Shayle. She refused to answer. I begged her to try to be objective. She wouldn’t. At the root of my pleas was fear. I was asking for help, help in making a decision in hope of avoiding any restroom altercations (verbal or security), but I was also reaching for any thread of control I could have in the situation. I was asking for the safety of reassurance. She could have said male or female and that would have been fine. It would have helped me make a choice when there wasn’t an answer that would guarantee safety anyway. Instead it would have provided me with the feeling of control, because if I made a decision, even the wrong one, I would have the opportunity to make a different decision in the future. Things wouldn’t just happen to me.

I am really lucky. I’m thinking a lot about this today. Most of the verbal and physical hate I’ve experienced was when I teetered on being visibly identifiable as queer. I’ve learned that people don’t like to be confused, and when they are, they might lash out. I learned to walk away from invitations to fight and to nurse my pride when I was safely at home. When I did begin my physical transition, there was a long stretch of time when I couldn’t predict which gender strangers would identify me as or how people would react. This was during the time when I just started testosterone and hadn’t had surgery or changed any of my legal documents. Something interesting I experienced in these moments was a new safety net. Before, being on the more masculine side of female was what made people uncomfortable. Now, in these more loaded moments (for example the TSA), when push came to shove, my drivers license still resembled some sort of semblance of what my body could represent. The times have changed since my freshman year in college, and at the end of the day when it came down to it, most strangers who aren’t familiar with trans people felt apologetic if they “sir-ed” me before realizing I was legally female. I was willing to trade dignity for safety in some of these moments. That all changed the day my new drivers license showed up. By then, my voice had dropped, I’d bulked up, and had scars across my chest. This was it. If I am in a car accident and the paramedics arrive, if my shirt is ripped off in a fight, if the TSA wants to know what the “anomaly” is in my pants, they’d know I am trans.

In my last blog I talked about how since moving to Hawaii I have a new social privilege of being socially identifiable as the gender I identify with. Part of that makes me safe. Being FTM is more invisible, but also makes me less prone to violence than my MTF sisters. Today, blogs from all over the country posted the names of the transgender individuals who were murdered this year. This issue is a big deal. It is scary when large groups of people do not want you to have rights. When they want to kill you because of your identity. We are seeing a lot of this in the US right now, and in the world. And we are seeing the ugly side of a lot of people with extreme power. When I say I’m scared, this is the violence I’m thinking about. It’s not my everyday, but I think about it, and it will continue to play a role in where I live, who I work with, and where I travel. For my friends who aren’t trans, take a moment today if you can, and read an article or two about the violence against trans bodies this past year. It’s real. These people were trying to live authentically, just like me.


This was taken from the Advocate’s article on Trans Day of Remembrance.