As I write this, a whopping eleven states, led by Texas (who is by far big and cosmopolitan enough to know better), have opened suit against the Obama administration for declaring that appropriate bathroom access for trans people (as in, trans women in women's rooms, trans men in men's rooms) should be national policy. (You can read about this story HERE).
As there are apparently millions of people in the country of my birth who want me to pee in the men's room (I am a trans woman, and thus not a man), and who are extremely keen on painting people like me as predators and pedophiles (oddly, the exact same line they used against "merely" gay people a few decades before...), I'd like to share a few glimpses into what it is like to live as a trans person in America. Consider the following vignettes. All are from my life. All are true. Quotes have been reconstructed as closely as my memory allows. (As bad as my memory generally is, some things stick in the head like a barnacle. This sort of unpleasant experience is hard to dislodge.)
[Jersey City, NJ, 2000]
I am in preparations to begin my transition. I begin to take baby steps, like growing my hair long and asking to be called the gender-neutral nickname "Jess". My work performance falters and I lose my job immediately prior to the holidays. A while later, I find that one of my former co-workers has set up a website specifically to mock me, my presentation, and my appearance. (To his credit, I was able to convince him to take it down.)
[Manhattan, NY, 2001]
I come out to my new employers as transgender, by means of a short but plain letter. The letter makes clear my female name and my wish to use female pronouns.
I am pulled into a meeting with HR. The head of HR continually refers to me using male pronouns. Referring back to my letter, I ask her to please stop calling me "he" and "him". She retorts, "Well, what SHOULD I call you?" I say "Well, I asked you not to call me "he", so..." She decides, instead of the obvious alternative ("she", as I specifically asked in my coming-out letter), that she would use "Jess" as a pronoun instead. ("Well, Jess said in Jess's letter that Jess would [x].... so Jess should do [x]... etc.").
The company refuses to allow me to use the ladies' room. I am adamant and refuse to use the men's room any longer. The company offers an alternative: I can (every single time I need to use the restroom, which is quite often for me) go down the elevator a number of floors and use a small unisex stall on an entirely different floor. I protest; they offer another alternative, a "unisex" handicapped stall located on our floor. I ask where said stall is. "It's behind the door to the men's room, but just outside the rest of the men's room proper." I refuse. Lacking any alternatives that don't involve walking through a men's room door, I start peeing 5-10 floors down from my office every time, every day.
[New Jersey, on NJ Transit, very early 2000s]
I am traveling to or from my therapist's office. I see a co-ed group of older teens (or possibly twenty-somethings) apparently very curious about me, talking animatedly and sometimes glancing in my direction. One or two of the girls sits next to me and opens a general discussion— what do I do, where am I going, and so on.
I get off at my stop. One of the males from the group is there, waiting by a pay phone. He asks "Do you have a quarter, bro?" I say (truthfully) "No, and I'm not a "bro"." He angrily retorts, "Yes, you are, bro! And you always will be!" As he walks off, he adds something along the lines of "More than you can ever know!" or "You have no idea, man!".
[Another NJ Transit story, some time in the 2000s]
A group of young males (again, late teens to early 20s) openly mocks my appearance. As they are exiting the train, one comes up to my window, knocks on it loudly to startle me, and says something foul. He walks off into the night, apparently satisfied that he's upset me.
[New Haven, CT, early 2000s]
My mother comes to visit me. At one point, I go to the ladies' room to relieve myself. As we are leaving, my mother tells me that she witnessed a little girl saying to her mother, "Mommy, why is that man going into the ladies' room?" There is sadness and concern all over her face. I'm embarrassed and heartbroken.
[Manhattan, NY, mid 2000s]
I am heading through Penn Station and badly need to use the bathroom. I head towards the ladies' room. Outside is a man who looks vaguely like a janitor or other maintenance worker. He addresses me as "Sir" and says I can't go in there. Another apparent Penn Station employee joins the conversation. I produce my driver's licence (which identifies me as a female). The second employee, an apparent female, apologises profusely.
As I am exiting the restroom after doing my business, the man from before calls after me, again calling me "Sir". I walk away, mortified, vaguely afraid he'll chase after me.
[Brooklyn, NY, around 2007]
My girlfriend and I are in the market for a new apartment, seeking out a roomie on Craigslist. I find what looks like an amazing place, just across the river from Manhattan. As the current tenant (my would-be roomie) is showing me the amazing rooftop view, he confesses to me that he is gay. I confess that I'm transgender. He didn't realise so. We have a lengthy conversation; he's accepting and curious, but it takes a while for me to explain the difference between gay male "drag queens" and trans women. But we get along well, and the space is great. It looks like my sweetie and I have found our new home.
A week or so passes. I can't reach him. I finally manage to get him to respond to an email or call. He admits that while he wanted to lease the room to me and my girlfriend, his boyfriend was absolutely 100% against the idea. He was afraid I'd try to steal his boyfriend (who is only into men, and stated quite clearly that he saw me as a woman) away.
I end up finding another apartment.
[Orlando, FL, early or mid 2010s]
I'm traveling through Orlando International with my parents and grandmother. When passing through TSA, for whatever reason, I'm flagged for a patdown. TSA calls up a male agent to check me. I protest, stating that I'm female. The TSA agent says something to the effect of "Well, the person operating the scanner tagged you as male." I have to argue with TSA about my own gender. I refuse to be patted down by a male agent, but I am embarrassed as hell in front of my own family.
[Baltimore, MD, summer 2013]
BronyCon. The vendor staff promised that my badges would be waiting for me at the vendor hall, but this proves to be untrue. They send me to the reg line. I stomp up to the reg clerk in a huff and explain that I need my badges to unload in the vendor hall. The clerk addresses me as "Sir". I correct her. She continues to call me "Sir" (I think at one point, she even responded to a correction with "I'm sorry, Sir." This happens. Repeatedly.) I correct her two or so more times, growing increasingly angry.
I ask to speak with the clerk's supervisor. I inform him in no uncertain terms that NOBODY (not merely the convention's founder) should be repeatedly misgendered after repeatedly correcting people. He agrees and asks her to apologise (possibly only to placate me, but whatever.) Her apology begins with "I'm sorry, BUT..."
I cut her off, furious, and say "No "BUT"s." I make it overwhelmingly clear that when you misgender someone, you simply apologise— and CORRECT yourself. No "but"s, and "But you looked male" is not a valid response. The only valid response is "I'm sorry, Ma'am."
BronyCon does not issue a formal apology until two years later, when they are promoting their latest transgender inclusion policy on Twitter, when I remind them of this incident.
[The Internet, late 2013]
An episode of "The People's Couch" is aired covering (and mocking) "Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony" (a.k.a. "BronyDoc"). One or two segments focus on me. Several males and one female verbally debate whether I am a man or a woman. One loudly states, "THAT'S A *MAN*, BABY."
I take my complaint to my local meetup group, Bronies-NYC, in an effort to organise a protest outside NBCUniversal headquarters in midtown Manhattan. While the group leader is generally sympathetic, two co-orgs are less sympathetic, and refuse to allow the group to endorse my protest. This sparks a furious online argument which culminates in me being banned from the group for a year, which is later extended to permanently.
Lacking support for my protest, I end up taking the subway to NBCUniversal headquarters alone, with no ID and no possessions except a MetroCard (as I anticipated being threatened with arrest). Not only am I threatened with arrest, but I cannot even gain an audience with NBCUniversal, being unable to get past the lobby.
I contact several prominent LGBT rights groups; they tell me they can't help me. My case isn't big enough, or the right kind of case, or they're too busy; any number of excuses are offered.
I grow suicidal and obtain a book of suicide methods. My life is saved by my mother and several friends from the brony community. Many within the brony community generally agree that what BravoTV did is wrong, but my efforts to mount an organised protest fail.
[Brooklyn, NY, 2014 or 2015]
USPS has once again failed to deliver a package. The tracking indicates that the package should be back at my local post office. I tromp down to said post office and the elderly clerk rudely informs me that my package is not there. He addresses me as "Sir." I tell him that I am not a "Sir", that I'm a "Ma'am." He says "You LOOK like a Sir!" and continues to address me as "Sir". I grow increasingly upset. He begins to literally laugh as he continues to call me "Sir" over my increasing protests. I tell him that as a public employee within the city of New York, he's literally breaking the law by discriminating against a transgender person. He doesn't care. He invites me to file a complaint, laughing all the while.
I refuse to leave the building until he addresses me, once, as "Ma'am", which he finally does. I walk out, barely able to contain myself.
[San Francisco and San Jose, CA, 2015]
I've just moved to the Bay Area. My first job is with a major consulting firm named Taos Consulting, who I know for a fact has employed and DOES employ a number of openly transgender people.
While awaiting my first on-site assignment (I pass their clients' tests with flying colours and am excited to be about to rotate out to the field), Taos is finalising my background check. HR has a special staffer whose job is to work with the background check firm; she says that she needs a copy of my High School diploma, which at that point is approximately 18 years old. I write an email stating (twice) that I am embarrassed to note that I am transsexual, and that my diploma is in my old name. I specifically request that she respond via email, and note that, as the topic is so embarrassing, I'd prefer NOT to talk on the phone about this matter.
The HR staffer immediately calls me. Flummoxed and panicking, my heart racing, I tell her in no uncertain terms how uncomfortable I am. She says she's "just following policy." Filled with rage, I say "I'm Jewish; my people have heard from groups that are "just following orders" before. You picked the WRONG phrase to defend yourself here."
After the phone call, I send an email making it clear that I DO NOT want my "deadname" (my old, "male" name) released to ANY other people within the company. But incensed by my Holocaust allusion, the HR staffer sends the entire line of discussion, including me outing myself as transgender and presumably including my diploma (showing my deadname), to the head of HR.
The head of HR lectures me over email about behaving more professionally, and refuses my request to work with a different HR person, as opposed to Ms. "just following policy".
These are just SOME of the incidents I can easily remember. Added on top of this rather sizeable heap are the tons of snickers, smirks, repeated misgenderings ("Sir, [x]" / "I'm not a sir." / "I'm sorry, Sir"), "gaslighting" ("Sir, [x]" / "Please don't call me "Sir."" / "Ohhh, I didn't call you "Sir", I said "Ma'am") and so on, to say nothing of endless mockery on 4chan and 8chan, in comments on Horse-News, and so on and so forth. Oh, and people telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I am a man, a manly man, and always will be. And perfect strangers asking me about my genitals. And people lecturing me about chromosomes, and how they matter more than my brain wiring. And so on, and so on, and so forth. (And don't even get me started on the "God doesn't make mistakes" crowd.)
And do you know what the punchline is?
I am one of the "lucky" ones. I never actually got so far as attempting suicide. I've been suicidal— many times— but never actually had a gun to my head, or an overdose in my stomach. I actually can earn a living wage and support myself. While I often don't "pass", I am at least large enough that most people leave me alone. I've never been raped or had anyone attempt to rape me; many of my sisters are not so lucky. I've never been physically attacked, only menaced and mocked. Relatively speaking, I've led a charmed life.
But all this crap above? It still sucks, and nobody should have to go through it.