Trans people deserve the right to live the lives they’ve fought for
Look, I don’t know anyone who wants to be transgender. I did everything I could to not be. To deny it. To hide it. To defeat it. I mean, here I was in my early 50s. I had a nice house, a job I’ve always dreamed of, a nice car, and a family. Who in their right mind wants to burn the whole thing down and rebuild from the ashes?
That old life was familiar. There was much of it I would have dearly loved to preserve — my 4,500-square-foot house in Flower Mound, my well-paid job programming radio stations for CBS.
I just needed to live my life as the woman I truly was. And to do that, I had to let go — of all of it.
Think to yourself how powerful self-preservation is. Imagine letting go of everything you know and starting over, from scratch. Imagine denying yourself everything you’ve ever known and plunging head first into the abyss — a refugee in your own country.
Then there is the ridicule. Surely you don’t think I never heard the jokes about and mocking of transgender people. The ol’ “guy in a dress!” joke — har-har-har. That one is never not funny, right?
I didn’t want to be laughed at. I didn’t want to be murdered. I didn’t want to lose my job. I didn’t want to be alone.
Part of starting from scratch was learning how to dress, accumulating a wardrobe and all the accessories, getting my name and gender markers changed, learning how to act, walk, talk — and overcoming the terror of learning my place in women-only spaces. I’m six feet tall, and I have big hands and beard shadow. Where to even start?
Would I be laughed at? Ridiculed? Arrested?
I had no one to lean on. I was utterly alone.
I started growing my hair, a six-year process. Then there was two years of electrolysis, every six weeks. It was insanely painful and cost about as much as a Hyundai. I added cross-sex hormones and, for me, the next step was surgery — which was not covered by insurance.
In fact, none of it was covered by insurance. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, transgender people couldn’t get health insurance. Period.
I knew I was transgender from a young age — around age 5 was my earliest memory. Except the word transgender hadn’t been coined yet; they were still using the other one: “freak.” I learned to keep my mouth shut but the feelings never left. My first radio job was in Jackson, Wyo. I remember once, when my wife was away, sitting in a closet wearing one of my wife’s old bridesmaid dresses, crying.
I was fighting a silent war with myself that I thought I could win, over something I knew was there but I didn’t understand. This was long before support groups or the internet.
I was so terrified to present as female in public. I failed the first time I tried. I drove to the Grapevine Mills Mall the sat there and cried for a half hour — screwing up my courage and then losing it all again. I drove home in defeat.
But I came back the next day, more determined than ever and this time, I got out, walked inside the mall and did a whole lap.
I didn’t choose to be female. I had no say in the matter. What I did have control over is whether I would try and live with the body I had. And I tried hard; I really did.
But choosing to transition, for me, was deciding to live rather than die.
It’s funny: When I was little, I always knew I’d transition, though I didn’t know that was the word for it. I figured I’d live as a hermit, in a home, alone, far from the nearest neighbor. I’d live as a woman, in peace.
That’s a strange dream for a kid. But I had it all worked out. I just couldn’t imagine being able to live around other people because I was so afraid of being laughed at or ridiculed or hurt.
I was a kid with every advantage; pretty much anything was possible. Yet the pull to be my real self was so powerful, the need so great, that sacrificing everything was worth living an authentic, if isolated life.
Today, I’m not alone. My wife, Katie, and I live in a house in Dallas County. But I worked hard, saved money and transitioned late in life. So 7-year-old me had about half of it right.
There are days when I have survivor’s guilt. Why am I alive when so many of my sisters are not? I’m not special. I think sometimes it’s an odd part of sexism that provides my safety: I’m old. Men, if they see me at all, don’t give me a second glance. I’m invisible.
For the most part, I’m OK with that, because there is safety in invisibility. I just try not to draw attention to myself any more than my six-foot frame already does. I won’t win any beauty contests, but I have enough privilege that I can move through this world in relative safety.
It is a privilege not every trans woman enjoys. Every year on Nov. 20, we remind ourselves of that fact. Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to count our dead. We tend to express these deaths in numbers, but those precious brothers and sisters have names and faces. They have families, friends, people who love and miss them. Their lives had value and meaning. They didn’t deserve their fate.
In the United States of America, according to the Transgender Law Center, the life expectancy of an African-American trans woman is 35 years old.
That has to change!
Who is Artegus Madden? She’s a trans woman found dead in Denton County on Sept. 1 of 2013. Five years later and still no suspects, no investigation, no justice. Gwynevere River Song was shot to death in Waxahachie on Aug. 12, 2017, by her father. A grand jury recently declined to prosecute him for her killing. There will be no justice for her either. Transgender lives matter! At least the killer of Karla Pavon who was murdered in Dallas this past May will face justice.
The grim roll call of murdered trans people continues on. It’s why we must resist attempts by those in power to erase us, to erode our civil rights, to pretend we don’t exist. If we do not loudly proclaim that our lives have value, that they are worth fighting for, then our trans brothers and sisters will continue to die.
And we must have allies join in the struggle, for it’s their voices that will amplify our own, sending a powerful message that we matter. Our lives are not disposable.
The political attacks from the Trump administration carry a toll, as well. When the Department of Health and Human Services; decision to try and erase transgender people became public, calls to the Trans Help Line quadrupled! We cannot and will not let this stand.
We do exist! We will NOT be erased. We deserve nothing less than full participation, not just in American society by also in access to the American Dream!
Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.