What It’s Like to Be Transgender

You live every day knowing that being different could mean harassment, abuse, even death.

Before I start, I want to acknowledge in no uncertain terms — Black Lives Matter.

Riah Milton of Ohio and Dominique Fells of Pennsylvania were two black transgender women. They were murdered last week, within 24 hours of one another. Early death has become predictable as part of the trans experience, often seen as inevitable, especially for black trans women. We, the trans community, are fighting for our lives every day.

I have been “out” as transgender for a little over six years now. I have both the privileges of whiteness and a supportive family. I am generally financially secure, comfortable in my own home, and happy as I campaign for the Wisconsin State Assembly’s fifteenth district. I am also aware of how that can change based on who I am, and that my decision to live my most authentic life may mean sacrifices in things that others may take for granted.

Every time I pull into a store parking lot, I take a deep breath to settle my nerves before I walk in. I try to dispel my worries of whether or not I’m “clockable” — recognisable as transgender —  before I walk in to shop for clothes or groceries or office supplies. Will people be disgusted by my appearance? Will they wonder if I am just a crossdresser? What can I say or do if someone calls me out? That experience is not unique. This is the everyday reality of thousands of transgender Americans who live, shop, and work among their cisgender counterparts, whose sex characteristics match their gender identities. To be transgender is to leave the house every day knowing that these differences may result in harassment, abuse, or in many cases, death.

Four days ago, President Donald Trump green-lighted a more “strict” interpretation of rules set forth by the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, healthcare programs that receive federal money were not to discriminate on the bases of color, disability, race, or sex, but the definition of sex was interpreted to include gender identity. Under the Trump administration, however, sex is to be determined only by primary and secondary sex characteristics. As a result, no program that discriminates against a patient for their gender identity will have their federal funding revoked. Yes, that means that a health clinic that would turn me away based on my transness, would not face any repercussions from the government.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 ruling that employers cannot discriminate based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The majority opinion was based on Civil Rights-era
antidiscrimination law. Previously, my home state of Wisconsin only prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Over a dozen other states allowed discrimination against both, and many more only protected public employees before this ruling.

This week has been one of mourning and rejoicing, victory and resilience, pain and relief. It is exhausting to constantly fight for our rights, overcompensate in our looks and behaviors to be believed as valid men or as women, sometimes still not be validated at all, and generally live with worry. As every day passes, America is deciding whether or not our lives are at all valuable to our country, and the fight takes its toll every time a trans person is abused by a romantic partner or family member, harassed on the internet, kicked out of a restaurant or other establishment, is denied food, shelter, or care, or found dead by their own hand or another’s.

In all of this, there is still some light. It’s Pride Month, and through the visibility and education that the month brings, more people will join us in solidarity. We will dance, sing, amplify the voices of LGBTQ+ people, and celerate. At the end of the day, I am not ashamed to be trans, and I have no intention to hide who I am. America is also my home, and I will live and breathe and triumph asmany have before me and as even more will after. As we remember the precious lives of Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, we will march on until every trans person is as free as cis person is, here and everywhere.

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