by Monica Roberts
This month I’m celebrating an anniversary.
It was 20 years ago this month, on April 4, 1994, that I began a major phase of my transition journey by walking into Houston Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal C and clocking in publicly at work for the first time as Monica. I was unsure about whether I would still have this job when my shift ended.
It was a very public transition that occurred seven years into my airline career and made me feel at times like I was in a fishbowl. But I had reached a point in my life in which I could no longer stand being in a body at odds with my gender identity. I needed for my own happiness and well being to make the body congruent with the gender identity between the ears.
It took a while to get to that anxiety filled sunny 1994 day. I muddled through much of my childhood knowing I was different, but not having a word to express exactly what that difference was until I saw a 1975 KTRK-TV news report about trans woman Toni Mayes’ successful lawsuit to stop HPD from using the anti-crossdressing law then in the Houston city code that would die five years later.
There was Renee Richards suing the USTA three years later for her right to play in the US Open as a female. I was about to enter high school, not feeling like one of the guys, but so near and yet so far away from the young women I depressingly saw blossoming into their womanhood in front of my eyes.
This was also the pre-Internet era in which the info about trans people was either covered in newspaper articles that I clipped, sensationalized in the news or popped up in the rare documentary. The people I saw or read about also didn’t share my ethnic background.
That led me to ask a question that I would repeatedly ask until the beginning of the 21st century: where are the transpeople who look like me?
They were around, as the November 1979 JET magazine article featuring Detroit’s Justina Williams was evidence of. They were just hiding in plain sight because of the transition rules in place in the late 70’s. You transitioned to your targeted gender, hid, and never let anyone know you were a woman or man of trans experience.
But that first week seemed like it took a century to pass.
BGD is a reader-funded, non-profit project. Please GIVE today and help amplify marginalized voices.
I made it clear during our briefings I‘d be happy to chat about the transition during our break times. One of the first conversations I had during that week was with my flight attendant homegirl Maxine Farrington.
She was a former fashion model who was the face of major ad campaigns in the 70’s and 80’s. Because of her time in the fashion world, she’d busted me as trans and I valued her opinion about my evolving femininity. I still laugh about the day she elegantly stepped off her flight, saw me handling my gate business, hugged me and said “What took you so long?” and before rushing off to work her next one told me we needed to chat.
During that chat a few days later, she expressed her concerns that I wasn’t ready to handle all the stuff that life in a Black feminine body would throw at me. I told her in response that one of my goals was to be considered a compliment to Black womanhood, not a detriment to it, and reminded her even she read me as trans.
During those conversations, there were some very interesting revelations that popped up. One lamented the fact I was taking ‘a good brother out of circulation’ because she wanted to date ‘The Twin’ as I call old me. Others had questions about the science and medicine behind my evolving in front of their eyes self.
But the one universal comment I kept hearing was that they could tell I was happy.
One of those conversations was an epiphany moment. I was talking to a Newark based flight attendant who said to me during the conversation that she and I were the same.
I looked at Lanice (name changed to protect her business) and said, “How are we the same? You were born female and have been raised and encouraged by friends, family and society to live that gender role.”
“That’s true”, she replied. “We’re the same because neither of us can have children. Just because I can’t doesn’t make me a man, and don’t let anyone try to assert that you aren’t a woman because you can’t have children.”
And right on cue, somebody in my department tried me with that attack line. During that first week I had a group of white female fundie employees try to get me banned from the women’s restrooms, to which my bosses said no.
The ringleader of that effort then confronted me in the ticket counter breakroom one day and tried to play the ‘You’ll never be a woman because you can’t have children’ card. I remembered the conversation with Lanice and this person saying a few days previously that her mother was going through menopause. I shot back, “So are you going to start calling your mother sir because she no longer has the ability to bear children?”
She turned red and stepped away. Game, set and match to moi.
That first nerve racking week became two weeks. Then it became a month. After a while I faded from being the major headline in the company rumor mill to settling into being just another employee and focusing on becoming the evolving person I am today.
When I took that first step to transition, my own life not only finally began, but 20 years later it has led to some amazing personal opportunities like this Trans*cend column. I’m happier, healthier, comfortable in my body and love being on the feminine side of life. It has allowed me to witness some remarkable trans human rights advances firsthand and meet some wonderful people I may not have met otherwise.
It has also allowed me to witness some not so wonderful transition moments as well. I immediately discovered sexism and misogyny are serious issues that are amplified when you are a cis or trans woman of color. I learned in 1996 that as an estrogen based lifeform, attention to your personal security is now a major concern. Any lapse can lead to injury, sexual assault or death.
And yes, I learned that men can be pigs at times.
But the most wonderful thing about this now twenty year and counting journey is I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. By owning my personal power, I have the ability to help others do the same.
All work published on BGD is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.
Monica Roberts, aka the TransGriot (Gree-oh), is a native Houstonian and a trailblazing award winning trans community leader. Her writing about trans issues from an Afrocentric perspective has appeared at Ebony.com, Loop21.com Transadvocate, The Huffington Post, Racialicious, Feministe, Global Comment, The Bilerico Project, Elixher, What Tami Said and Womanist Musings.