For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
– Audre Lorde, A Litany For Survival
I’m an eleven-year-old trans girl. An older boy shoves his dick onto me. The locker room laughs. I am shameful. I want to kill myself.
I’m a twelve-year-old trans girl. A boy stalks me through the school. A crowd forms while he beats me. My friends join in. I am a faggot, a tranny, and a queer. I blame myself.
I’m a fourteen-year-old trans girl. My mother’s husband beats me unprovoked. I am blamed, all parties are in agreement – my mother, my stepfather, the police. My grandparents turn against me too. I am aggressive, I deserve it. I begin to believe them.
I’m an eighteen-year-old trans girl. I meet a boy online, and I want to meet him in person. He is ashamed to be seen with me. He cuts communication completely. I cut my wrists. I internalize the shame.
I’m a nineteen-year-old trans girl. My date decides his family and friends can never know about me. My friends and family agree. I cry. I hate myself.
I’m a twenty-year-old trans woman. I speak out against my abusive, violent roommate. I lose all my friends. I am not surprised. I blame myself again.
I bend over backwards just to stick around.
This has been internalized from day one.
family, friends, lovers
I work my ass off for inclusion.
I’m barely holding on.
Nothing has ever told me I am worthy.
I feel unwanted.
Media representations of trans people that do not involve sex work typically go out of their way to stress the fact that transsexuality is an extraordinarily rare phenomenon, and to promote the idea that transsexuals are sexually undesirable.
– Julia Serano, Whipping Girl
Media has only made things worse.
The ubiquitous portrayal of trans women as sex workers is neither sex-positive nor realistic, it instead associates us with decidedly negative attributes: desperation, sexual deviancy, and misery.
But I find an apparent contradiction in such representation – if trans women are undesirable, why do men readily pay us for sex?
When trans women are portrayed as undesirable and/or as sex workers, media reinforces the commodification and objectification of the trans female body. It says, quite explicitly, that we are to be openly dehumanized – and treated as actual human garbage.
By communicating that trans women are fraudulent, undesirable, and potentially unstable, the media has a direct role in shaping the treatment of trans women across society, both in sexual and decidedly non-sexual contexts.
This is most certainly not for actual lack of desire. If porn statistics and the personal accounts of nearly every trans woman I know are to be believed, straight men love to fuck trans women. If the addition of the T in LGBT is anything to go by, other queer folx want us around too – at least in theory.
We are, however, fundamentally tainted goods. We are deadweight, and even those around us – family, friends, lovers – face scrutiny by association.
They return this scrutiny to us through abandonment and clenched fists – contempt and hatred in every blow.
I am terrified.
Intimate partners, particularly cisgender men, perpetrate the bulk of physical violence against trans women.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ 2015 report on intimate partner violence (IPV) in the LGBTQ/HIV+ community, transgender women were three times more likely to report experiencing sexual and financial violence. Transgender survivors more broadly were three times more likely to report being stalked than cisgender survivors.
Our ability to escape these abusive relationships is hampered by our exclusion from victim services. 44% of LGBTQ/HIV+ survivors who sought shelter were denied. The most common reason that survivors were denied shelter was related to their gender identity (71%).
Transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia, as well as the intersections of race, poverty, or ability status, exacerbate LGBTQ survivors’ experience of IPV.
As a trans woman, it is arduous to conceptualize what an equal, fair, non-violent relationship would look like. This is evidence of a broader, systematic devaluing of trans female lives, within a social structure that objectifies us and robs us of our emotional labor.
Queer communities are hardly exempt from this violence.
The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was famous (and in some circles, infamous) for its womyn-born-female policies that barred trans women from attendance.
Michfest is considered to be one of the more notorious example of trans-exclusionary radical feminist politics in action. However, I would like to draw a distinction between trans-exclusionary radical feminism and a broader trend towards trans woman exclusionary feminisms, particularly in the queer community.
The festival did not exclude all trans people – rather, Michfest was particularly motivated to exclude trans women, and trans women alone. Trans masculine folx were free to perform and to attend the festival with little scrutiny.
This is one of the more explicit of countless examples. Yet what is more concerning is that the same people who played Michfest continue to participate in the queer/trans community – these are the people we’re seeing at bars, concerts, and pride events.
Rather than change its policies, Michfest opted to shut down the festival altogether.
To the queer women and FTM spectrum individuals who enthusiastically attended this event for decades, how can we trust you when you eagerly threw us under the bus?
The complacency of those assigned female at birth (cis women, trans men, and non-binary folx) in our exclusion is best understood within the broader context of sociocultural tendencies that prevent engagement with trans femmes as authentic, complete human beings.
Othering trans femmes creates a hostile and oppositional culture that functionally excludes trans women from the queer and feminist social scene.
The vast majority of queer/trans spaces remain segregated by birth assignment. Many trans women I know – including myself – report many of the same complaints upon joining mixed or heavily trans masculine settings: disposability, thinly veiled transmisogyny, and frequent silencing of trans femme voices.
The superficial inclusion we have in queer and feminist communities today is better described as tokenism.
We are currently engaged in a political alliance that is fundamentally unequal. I struggle to imagine a world where this is less profound, and I struggle to disassociate this from the likewise unequal relationships we entertain with cis men.
I do not wish to suggest that all trans women are exceptionally well-behaved. But rather, that we should not have to be. We deserve space to live and grow.
It is particularly frustrating to approach transmisogyny in queer communities.
Transmisogyny is seldom recognized as distinct from transphobia. Without language or space to discuss trans women’s vastly discriminate treatment by society at large, the masculine is centered at the expense of the feminine.
When transmisogyny is identified, there is some notion that these groups are unable or unlikely to be the perpetrators.
This is a simplistic view shoved through a deliberately anti-intersectional, binary oppressor/oppressed lens. In reality, it isn’t just men who oppress and subjugate, it is culture – a culture that caters to their needs. When this culture is imported into queer communities without challenge, trans women pay the price.
There is privilege in masculinity, and trans masculine folx are more than willing to enact masculine privilege against trans women, while they themselves flow effortlessly through queer women’s spaces with an elegance trans women could only dream of.
When deciding whether or not to attend a trans-inclusive queer or feminist event, I am forced to confront this male-centric reality. Too often I must read trans-inclusive as trans male inclusive.
How do you fight ostracism and rumors? They leave no bruises, they just starve you.
– Porpentine, Hot Allostatic Load
Three strikes, and you’re out, so the saying goes. If you’re a trans woman, it’s a single strike. If you’re a trans woman of color, you’re probably not even there.
These are the same strategies used by families to convert us and terrorize us. It is dangerous.
Given strong social support, transgender people in general are 82% less likely to attempt suicide. Meanwhile, transgender women who lack social support are much more likely to both consider and attempt suicide.
The strategic denial of community to trans women is violence, and it is inseparable from the physical violence perpetuated by cis men.
family, friends, lovers:
Isolation is killing trans women. It’s killing me.
I am frustrated.
We are alone.
i want more than a shoreline,
i want more than death,
i want more than to survive
but i am afraid to be vilified.
i am afraid to thrive.
Header Credit: Adam Heath; CC BY-SA 2.0