My Everyday Struggles and Lived Experiences as a Trans Woman Are Not Simply a Thought Exercise

I would love it if I could just live my life without being a political statement. I wish it every day. I’m not just a symbol, a belief, a topic for debate, or a hypothetical idea. I’m a person.
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Robin Tran
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I would love it if I could just live my life without being a political statement. I wish it every day. I’m not just a symbol, a belief, a topic for debate, or a hypothetical idea. I’m a person.

“What’s the hardest part about being transgender?”

It’s the most common question I get asked, and I wish I could offer one specific answer; but for me, the hardest part about being openly trans is the everyday little struggles that accumulate, and which lead to fatigue, exhaustion, and depression.

A typical day starts with checking my Facebook as soon as I wake up. Immediately, I’m inundated with stories posted by my progressive allies about more atrocities happening to trans people. I’ll read about yet another trans woman of color getting murdered. I’ll become aware of another law that is either getting passed or is on the verge of getting passed to make it harder for trans people to live openly.

In these Facebook threads, trolls will comment on these stories with the same ignorance repeatedly: 

“Men are men and women are women. Why do we have to make it complicated? It’s based in science.” 

 “Transgender women are just mentally ill dudes.” 

“They are just men in dresses.” 

 “What the hell is cisgender? Why are we making up new words every week?” (That last one, alarmingly, was written by a nurse.)

As I scroll through my newsfeed, I see people debating about my lived experiences as if I were a hypothetical person, even people who love and support me. I say this as someone who loves my allies. I want them to keep fighting for me, especially in instances when I’m too tired or sad to fight. They have to push back against the transphobia, otherwise the unchallenged bigoted ideas will run rampant in our social consciousness. 

 I am not asking them to stop fighting. I am saying that even the people who are on my side have to -- by their very nature -- discuss my experiences rhetorically.

And in the midst of these arguments between allies and trolls, I’m saddened because I feel like my humanity has been stripped away from me. I no longer feel like a person. I feel like an idea for other people to debate.

I try to suppress how depressing these conversations are, so I log off Facebook for a while. I consider going on a walk, and then I become extremely stressed out about what I should wear.

I look in my closet and see my pink top and black leggings and wish I could wear it openly, but living in Orange County, I know people would stare angrily or even react violently against me. I see a more conservative outfit: a women’s jacket, a women’s t-shirt, and some jeggings. I decide that I could probably wear this outfit because it’s technically a woman’s outfit but I can also pass enough as a male so that people stare at me less frequently.

If I had it my way, I would wear this everywhere I go.

If I had it my way, I would wear this everywhere I go.

Unfortunately, when I do pass (enough) as male to avoid harassment, I get called “sir” everywhere I go. My entire body winces and cringes every time someone misgenders me. I wish this didn’t upset me so much, but it does. 

 I never thought I’d be someone who cared so much about pronouns, but being misgendered is a reminder that my existence as a human being isn’t validated by society. It’s not about the person who misgendered me. It’s about the society that has taught people what men and women are “supposed to be.”

I usually make a compromise with myself and wear conservative female clothing and light makeup. Usually, people stare less frequently than they do when I’m wearing a dress, but many still give me angry and curious looks. I keep my phone close to me in case I need to text somebody to reassure me that I’ll be okay, or, in a worst-case scenario, if I feel like I’m in danger.

I still receive angry stares when I’m wearing this relatively conservative outfit, but it’s less frequent than when I’m wearing a dress.

I still receive angry stares when I’m wearing this relatively conservative outfit, but it’s less frequent than when I’m wearing a dress.

While I’m out running errands, there are instances when I realize that I need to go to the restroom, and it fills me with deep anxiety. If I’m in clothing where I’m passing enough as male, but I have makeup on, I am terrified of using either public restroom, men’s or women’s.

If I’m in the men’s room with makeup, I’m afraid that someone will retaliate violently. When I was first transitioning, my hair was much shorter and I didn’t pass as female at all. There were several instances where I’d be in a men’s restroom and other men would give me suspicious and menacing looks. 

I can only assume that, to them, I had makeup on so that I could entice other men. They had no idea that I was only there because I needed to urinate. They had no idea that I’m not sexually attracted to men. They had no idea that I have a girlfriend, nor would they have cared even if they did know. I had to start asking my male friends to escort me to offer protection in case somebody tried to hurt me.

Going into a women’s restroom is less scary but still a terrifying experience. When I was the first transgender employee to come out at my former job, I used the women’s restroom down the hall away from everybody else because I didn’t want to make any cisgender women feel uncomfortable. I’d use the restroom as quickly as I could, and run out before anybody could see me. 

Even though I went through all of that trouble to stay out of everybody’s way, I still received an HR complaint from a very angry woman who wanted me to stop using the restroom. She wanted me to get fired.

It’s extremely frustrating that I can never go out in public anymore without first doing research. I have to become a mini-detective just to leave my house.

I have a very weak bladder, so if I’m making a drive that is more than an hour long, chances are, I’ll have to use the restroom. I have to decide whether or not I should wear men’s clothing and bring a change of women’s clothing in a paper bag and change when I get to my destination; or, I can decide to go dressed as the woman that I am, and I have to find places that have gender-neutral or single person restrooms. I also have to check to see which cities are trans-friendly or not. 

 Generally speaking, I don’t go on longer trips anymore.

I have to do the same kind of research whenever a friend invites me out for lunch or dinner. Most places are unaccommodating for trans people, so I have to make sure that I bring a woman along because I am too afraid to go into a women’s restroom by myself. I generally have to ask my girlfriend to escort me. If people are waiting in line, I stand there looking down at my shoes. She holds my hand to let everybody else in the restroom know that I am with another woman to put them all at ease.

All of these experiences pile up, and just thinking about what I have to endure by simply being out in public fills me with such unease and anxiety that I generally end up staying home.

To make matters worse, just recently, the Houston Equality Rights Ordinance failed to pass. Fear-mongering propaganda about “men in dresses” using women’s restrooms was a primary reason for the failure of this law. If I weren’t already fearful enough about being outdoors, there are laws out there that make it even more difficult, as if dealing with hateful people wasn’t bad enough.

It’s fatiguing, exhausting, draining, and depressing.

And there are people out there who are sick of hearing me ever speak about any trans issues. They claim that I make too many political statements. 

The thing is, I would love it if I could just live my life without being a political statement. I wish it every day. When I perform standup comedy, I wish I could go onstage and get an honest response, not just angry looks in conservative cities or minute-long applause breaks in liberal cities. But that's just not what my life is like.

I’m not just a symbol, a belief, a topic for debate, or a hypothetical idea. I’m a person.

I don’t long to be called “stunning and brave,” and I don’t expect people to bend over backwards to please me. I just want some common human decency and empathy. I want to be able to leave my house without feeling afraid. If people hate me, I want it to be for something I did, not for being who I am.

I want is to be treated with the same respect as anyone else. And to a lesser extent, all I want is to be able to pee without fearing for my safety. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

But what I want most is for the world to be a kinder place. I think it’s possible, but maybe I’m just too naive.