by Ellie Irineu
When I came out to my aunt as a transgender woman, the first thing she told me was: “Do what you want, but remember that you’re poor.” She brought up the example of a transgender woman, daughter of some celebrity, who had recently traveled to Europe in order to go through SRS. “You’re not like that,” she said. “Your family can’t pay for these things.”
Of course, I knew that. I was already struggling quite a bit in order to afford hormones in the first place. But it’s interesting to think about her reaction. She doesn’t know much about trans people – what she knows, she has learned from the media. First, she remembered that genital reconstruction surgery is expensive, and a privilege reserved for the upper classes. And second, she remembered that poor trans women of color are often assaulted and murdered, and that nobody seems to care. She was worried about me.
Those two facts were rather ingrained into her brain, and it’s not difficult to see why. If you watch enough TV, you’ll soon believe that the only way to happiness is being wealthy and white. This is especially true for queer people. We barely have any representation, but when we do, it’s almost never poor people of color. I recall a story about a trans couple that was all over the internet a while back. In fact, I recall more than one. And they were all white, rich, heterosexual, and attractive (read: passing). It’s good to know that trans people have been getting more attention lately, and that cis people are becoming more aware of our struggles. But I can’t relate to those people. I’m not white. I’m not straight. I’m definitely not rich. And I don’t always pass. We might share our trans status, and all the oppression that results from it. But the struggles of poor trans women of color are unique to us, and we will only feel represented by people like us.
BGD is a reader-funded, non-profit project. Please GIVE today and help amplify marginalized voices.
It’s one thing to be raised in a supportive environment, with parents who will accept you as you are and pay for your treatment from an early age. It’s a wonderful thing, and I hope it becomes the norm in the future. But at present it’s not, and I can guarantee that it’s not what happens to most trans people. The norm is to be beaten and humiliated by your family, rejected by your friends and kicked out of spaces where you thought you belonged. To be unable to find a job who will hire you as you are. Not being able to afford medical care. To, when you finally manage to see a doctor, have them not understand what being trans even means, and to refuse treating you unless you go through an endless stream of gatekeeping procedures. And it hurts. A lot.
So when I open a news article and I see a photo of a gorgeous trans woman and a handsome trans man, smiling and holding hands, talking about how great their lives are now that they’re together, I’m happy for them. But it also saddens me to know that this is the only way trans people are allowed to be if we want anyone to hear about us. They’ll not give a voice to those of us who are sad, poor, and struggling with various layers of oppression. They don’t want to hear our stories. They don’t even want to admit that we exist.
Being trans is being invisible. People will hate you for who you are – while vehemently denying that you are who you are. Being trans is being told that you’re not what you claim to be, that it’s not biologically possible, that you’re tricking people, that your identity is a lie, that you’re fooling yourself by thinking that you could ever be anything other than what you were told you are at birth.
And what’s even more difficult than being trans? Being trans and poor. Trans and black. Trans and hispanic. Trans and disabled. Trans and non binary or otherwise gender non-comforming. Trans and neuroatypical. Every day in the life of a trans person is a struggle to reaffirm their identity in the face of a world who’ll try anything to delegitimize it. And it is truly important to understand how the experiences of trans people intersect with the experiences of various other oppressed groups. Without intersectionality, our struggle is meaningless. Because fighting for the rights of wealthy, white, heterosexual, passing trans people is not fighting for the right of all trans people. And until that changes, until we’re allowed to speak for ourselves, there’ll be no true progress. I will never support any movement that silences another opressed group while fighting for their own rights, because they are no different from our oppressors. And it is only when people realize that, and give voices to those that lack them, that real change will come.
BGD accepts writing and video from queer and trans people of color! SUBMIT your work.
Do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.