What it Means to be a Trans Woman of Color

Featured image credit: Criminal Social Justice 

By Michelle Jones 

My worst writers’ block always comes when asked to write about my experience as a trans woman. I know that no matter what I say or how I say it, every word I type will be scrutinized. If I am too blunt or abrasive, I will be accused of being just another angry, black tr**ny. If I’m too soft-spoken and accommodating, I’ll be accused of pandering and tokenism. No matter what, my thoughts, actions, and history will all be called into question just for the simple act of speaking honestly and unapologetically.

Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that every oppressed person must face, but trans women are affected by it in a unique way. Because even before we are challenged to prove our qualifications or our worth, we must first prove our identities. We are tasked with proving that we even exist.

You may be thinking that this doesn’t apply to you. You love Orange is the New Black. You saw Janet Mock on The Colbert Report. You faved Raeen Roes’ (aka Angel Haze) tweet when they came out as agender. You even have a friend on Tumblr who’s genderfluid or something probably. You totally get it.

Until you don’t.

Proving our identities isn’t something trans women get to just do once and be done with. Because even our friends, even our lovers, even our “communities” still don’t just see us as women.

To them we are women+

women sometimes when we clean ourselves up…

women almost if we surgically alter our bodies…

women except when you choose to exclude us from women’s spaces…

women possibly, Schrodinger’s women existing in both woman and non-woman states until you take our pants off to check.

Even to our “allies” we are women* at best and “But you’re not really a girl” at worst.

Being a trans woman is a lifetime of proving yourself. Even those of us as beautiful as Amiyah Scott, as intelligent as Janet Mock, as talented as Laverne Cox, and as revolutionary as Marsha P. Johnson are still met with insults and derision. They are still misgendered, threatened with violence, and treated as lesser.

In Redefining Realness, Mock attributes her success, in part, to the privileges she has been afforded.

“Being exceptional isn’t revolutionary, it’s lonely. It separates you from your community. Who are you, really, without community? I have been held up consistently as a token, as the “right” kind of trans woman (educated, able-bodied, attractive, articulate, heteronormative). It promotes the delusion that because I “made it,” that level of success is easily accessible to all young trans women. Let’s be clear: it’s not.”

Thankfully, Ms. Mock is aware that reality is not so kind to the majority of us. However, many others are not.

I am, in no uncertain terms, the “wrong” type of trans woman. At 21 years old, I have already dropped out of college twice. I am promiscuous and queer by every definition of the word. I own one nice dress that I never wear and several too short skirts that I wear often. I don’t fit into society’s definition, and I don’t particularly want to. I have been homeless at least three times in as many years. I am not passionate, I am angry. I am not articulate, I am loud. I am bitter, petty, spiteful and vindictive. But I still deserve and demand respect. And every woman like me still deserves a voice.

You know at least one trans woman, even if you don’t think you do. Not probably – you do. Perhaps she’s openly trans and vocal about her feelings and opinions. Perhaps she “passes” as a cis woman, and doesn’t feel the need to correct people who assume she is. Perhaps you still think she’s a man, and you still treat her like one, and she has simply never felt safe enough to correct you.

Being a trans woman means going to bed tired and waking up exhausted. It means doing ten times as much just to get half the credit. It means living under a microscope while still being invisible. It means suffering unimaginable abuse and then being called an abuser for it. It means living in a body that is fetishized, criminalized and desexualized before you even have a chance to come to terms with it. It means carrying the world on my shoulders and burning the candle at both ends just to get by. And it means having to be the flyest girl in the room every minute of every day while you’re doing it so nobody can see you slipping.

But being trans has still been the most wonderful experience I could ever ask for. The queer and trans women in my life have shown me more friendship and kindness than I deserve. They’ve been a family to me when I couldn’t go to my own. They make me believe I’m beautiful when the rest of the world says I’m ugly. Nothing could ever make me give that up.

Michelle Jones is a blogger and fiction editor from Central VA. You can find her on Facebook.


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