What It’s Like to be a Trans Jewish Woman of Color

Growing up, I was always told that I was not enough. I was never black enough as a mixed-race person (African American, Ashkenazi, German, many other things) to be considered truly black. And I was never masculine enough to be a considered a real man. In truth, I never wanted to be considered a man — it just did not sit right with me in any way.

I decided several years ago that I could no longer live a lie. And in October of 2015, I finally began taking the steps to be who I really am.

Life is completely different for me now, and I have to say, being a transgender woman is not at all the glamorized experience that is frequently shown in inspirational articles and lifestyle television programs. My days are not filled with being celebrated for living as my true self. Instead, my life is a mixed bag of normalcy and oppression.

Starting my day is seemingly normal enough; like many women, I spend time doing my makeup in order to prepare for the day that lies ahead of me. Only, whereas the process of applying makeup tends to be an optional activity for most women, it is a necessity for me. In the past I have been lucky enough to receive laser hair removal sessions for my facial hair, but only a handful of them. Medical transitioning (I am on a steady diet of pills called spirolactone, progesterone, and estradiol) has shown little to no effect on the growth of facial hair. Even after shaving (oftentimes so closely and with such fervor that I’m usually sporting a good amount of cuts afterwards), a beard shadow is very much visible, and showing just that simple facial feature can mean the difference between life and death. At this point, I am entirely unsure how I managed to survive before I discovered the appropriate type of color-correcting concealer for my skin tone, as well as setting powder. I have to count myself as one of the lucky ones.

Being a woman with visible facial hair shadow causes people to pay more attention to you, and that typically will lead to the discovery that you’re transgender. The sort of violence that can occur from just being seen like that in public is terrifying, and it’s even worse if you’re a trans woman of color, as you’re subject to racial violence, misogyny, and other things.

Early on, I figured out that dressing in a hyper feminine yet understated way would be one of the keys to my survival on the street. This has led to several years of dressing in the most uncomfortable ways imaginable, all in an effort to ensure that I reduce the possible harm that could befall me simply for leaving my home.

I have always had to wear a painfully confining bra up until recently when I finally began to have a small bit of confidence. I can never wear loose fitting clothing, and any muted or dark colors I wear must scream “feminine” as loudly as possible. Even my typical outfit for work falls into such standards. My t-shirts tend to be low cut to expose cleavage, and my jeans are high-waisted. The process of “tucking,” which involves wearing a thin garment called a gaff over my undergarments in order to give off the appearance that I am in no way, shape, or form assigned male at birth, has proven to be a crucial daily step as well, regardless of how intolerably painful it always feels.

Additionally, I have to carefully monitor every single movement and sound I make when I am around strangers. I cannot ever let my voice drop below a certain pitch, or let myself walk in a way that would be easier on my body, and the idea of accidentally coughing or sneezing in a public area is a recurring nightmare for me that I will contend with for the rest of my life. Any little thing could tip off to people that I am not a cis-gender woman, and that could very well be the end of my life.

Within a few months of transition, I experienced first-hand just how dangerous life can be for a woman like myself. Getting stalked by strange men all the way to the door of my home was a regular occurrence. Men would corner me on the street or in the laundromat to ask me invasive questions about my body and proposition me for sex, explicitly letting me know that they are very much interested in “things” like me. On more than one occasion, a car full of men has passed me on the street, chasing after me while yelling homophobic slurs and threatening to murder me. I was once attacked in a drive-by hate crime when a man threw a brick at me. He aimed at my face, but I turned at the last moment and ended up suffering the brunt of the damage on my shoulder. It bled for a week and the bruise lasted for over a month.

My life outdoors is nowhere near as violent now that I have progressed much further in my transition, but the danger is always there, lurking in the shadows and waiting to strike at a moment’s notice.

It is not all bad, of course. I am much happier now that I am freely living my true life, and I have reached a level of personal confidence and self-love that I never knew could be obtained in my lifetime. We just have to have a very frank and serious conversation about the dangers of the world when you are an out trans woman, and we must do everything we can to protect women like me.

There are many ways that we can do our part to make this a safer world — like in-depth education in schools and work places about transgender people, no more media depictions that cause the public to believe that we are just strange perverts, and direct action from allies, namely offering to walk with us to our cars or destinations when it is dark out.

The world is dangerous for any woman, but I would honestly give anything to only experience the level of danger a cisgender woman faces on a daily basis.

Header Image via Rebecca Hendin on giphy.

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