Some subjects are too personal to ask a stranger about. Like, what's it like to be transgender? To be quadriplegic? So, few of us know the answers.
Then there are the impersonal questions you might not have thought to ask. But we did. Such as, what does your plumber hear and see down in your crawlspace? What's it like being in front of a room full of squirming elementary school kids you want to teach but are constrained by No Child Left Behind's perpetual testing requirements? What's it like being a nurse in the operating room?
The Times lifts the veil on these matters, thanks to our anonymous sources who let us ask, as long as we kept their confidences.
My earliest memory of self-awareness that I was a person who was different was 5 years old. I think the earliest thing was me being with my godsisters, and their grandmother buying both of them a Barbie doll. They were so confused as to why I didn't have a Barbie doll. So I remember them taking them to their grandmother and saying: "Hey, why can't he have a Barbie doll, too?" The grandmother replied: "Oh, because he's a boy. Boys don't play with Barbie dolls."
Adults made me realize that I was different. I was just doing what felt natural to me. It's just like you or anybody else who is cisgender — which means your gender at birth and your identifying gender match up. Imagine if you were a man who woke up tomorrow in the body of a woman. That's our experience, from birth. I always thought I was a girl, honestly.
I'm a heterosexual transgender woman. I told my friend: "You're a heterosexual cisgender woman, and I'm a heterosexual transgender woman. That's the difference between us." A lot of times when people talk to me, they talk to me as if they're talking to someone who is gay. Or, they'll refer to a man who may be interested in me as gay. It's such a complicated thing. People can't understand that transgender women are women, period. The men who get attracted to us are heterosexual men! It's just not something that people can grasp. Everybody is used to "male" and "female." They're not used to the in-betweens and the ones on the outside, and all the mixtures. People want black and white. People want something easily explained. People want something defined. And you know what? Everything can't be defined. Everything can't be explained. And this is one of those things.
When I first started to search for a title as a teenager, the only two options that I could see around me were either "gay" or "drag queen." I knew I wasn't a drag queen. So I started to identify as gay, which most transgender people do to begin with. But even "gay" didn't feel right. Because I thought that I couldn't do it, I pushed the dream of being a woman aside. I went with "gay" because it was easier. It was the role of least resistance.
I had to play a role. I had to play the role of male. I had to check "male" when they asked my identity. That's what trapped me, because I couldn't properly express myself. Everybody expected me to act one way, but I felt another. And when I acted the way I truly felt, I was so ridiculed for it. I was punished. I was outcast. For being myself. I tried to conform for the longest time, until I couldn't conform any more because it was killing me.
Probably around 17 or 18 is when I first saw another black transgender woman in the media. Her name was Amiyah Scott. She was beautiful, and she was open about being trans. She was this great person who just lived courageously, unafraid of her truth. She forced people to deal with her. That's when I thought: OK, this is me. This is who I am.
I tried to identify with everything else before I finally accepted my identity as a woman.
I remember telling my mother, and she was very supportive. I just knew that she was going to disown me when I told her. It had just gotten to the point where I was absolutely hating what I saw in the mirror. I was screaming and crying. I was lying on the bathroom floor. I just really wanted to die, but I had to make the decision: to live that day as who I really was. I was 20 years old.
I feel really bad for transgender people who have to depend on their family financially, because they have to take disrespect in order to eat, in order to have a place to stay, in order to have love. I really feel for those who are kicked out, put out, and have nowhere else to go — who have no one to turn to. When you're a child or a teenager, you need that protection. You need that love. I really wish more people would be understanding. When you put your kid out, they could die on the streets, just because you don't agree with who they are. A lot of times, a family lets religion or how other people see them get in the way.
Most people don't realize that there's friction between gays and transpeople. Transpeople experience transphobia from gay people. We're basically viewed as the bottom of the bottom. The lowest of the low. Way back when, when gays were trying to get their rights, there were gay groups that had this idea that if they could show how normal they were to the heterosexual mainstream, they would be more accepted. So gays ended up rejecting transgender people, because they felt like we would hold them back from being accepted by mainstream society. It's still going on today. One of the biggest focuses of the gay rights movement has been marriage equality. For transpeople, that's not a big deal to us. For us, things like workplace protections and protections against discrimination and violence are more important. We just want to live. Don't get me wrong. Gays face discrimination, too. But transgender people need food on the table before we think about who we're going to marry.
People want to know about our genitalia, about our surgeries, about what we've done and how we have sex — all these very personal things. People tend to forget that there's an actual living, breathing person behind all this. It's almost sexual harassment that people feel they're justified in doing. Because we're transgender, because we're different from normal, people tend to subconsciously view us as less than human. When somebody is less than human, or at least less than you in your mind, you can treat them inhumanely. You can do things and ask them things and commit even violent acts against them because you don't view them the same as you. It's a very dangerous thing to be trans. A man is still viewed as justified if he hurts a transgender woman. There have been so many cases of transgender women being killed because men find out they're transgender, and the dead women face more backlash than the men who killed them. I have never been assaulted because I'm transgender, and I'm so fortunate to say that. But that fear exists. I feel like I can protect myself. But at the same time, I don't want to be put in that situation where I have to. It's still not a safe world for transwomen. That's why we strive to get being transgender viewed as a normal thing.