Yesterday was the Transgender Day of Visibility and I felt like a fraud. I had a typical cisgender male day – I went to the gym, fixed up some things around the house, grabbed food with friends, and cooked up a steak. It felt so incomplete. I thought about all of the things I could be doing and how different things could be if I had the courage to be my truest self. So many people were celebrating their journey and being proud to be trans and I just sat on the sidelines trying to convince others that I was who society expects me to be instead of who I know I truly am in my heart. A constant struggle that I play with in my head that is always magnified in moments like these when so many are owning their truths and I continue to hide out of fear. Then reality set in that the encouragement truly is there.
A friend of mine that I work with posted this on his facebook page. Another transman that looks at me as this great straight white ally hit on some of the things that I hold my biggest insecurities over. My biggest worries. The parts of me that make me question my validity and make me feel like a fraud. I’ve struggled in the trans community of being judged for my journey – in fact, people within that community have made me feel more invalidated or unworthy than anyone else – and some of my biggest concerns in coming out fully surround other transpeople that I have felt would judge me for not acting sooner. This friend has really looked up to me as the “straight white ally” and has felt that if a “guy’s guy” like me can be open and supportive than anyone can. I worry about tarnishing that for him.
Two years ago, he sent me a throw away email wanting to learn more about our policies around transpeople as he was doing for the whole school. He had several meetings with clueless people who were severely uneducated about the topic and awkward in their response. In his mind, I had to be yet another waste of time that would further speak for how woefully under prepared we were. Usually guarded on these topics, something got into me. I responded with tremendous enthusiasm and told him how great it was that he was looking at this and how excited I was to talk with him about it. I didn’t know him well at the time but I could still tell he was skeptical about me when he came in – but then I blew him away.
I could speak his language. I could understand his concerns. I already had made policies and practices to support transpeople and make my area more gender inclusive. He was amazed at how well I spoke on it. I told him that people might not understand it from me, but it hits a lot closer to home than some people might expect. He left that meeting so thrilled that someone at the school got it. That he wasn’t alone in this. That there was opportunity to make a difference and to have someone in his corner not because they had to be but because they had educated themselves to think smarter – he just didn’t understand the scope and just how close it did hit me. I’ve felt that if I came out that it would let him down – that he would be disappointed that I wasn’t who he thought I was. When I read this though, I do feel like there is hope. Perhaps he could understand why I’ve chosen to live this way and why for me it just hasn’t been the right at this time and that I’m just not ready.
This is where the growth continues to come into place. I am so excited to be challenged to see where things may come and how I can keep working at finding my truths. I’ve been so fortunate to have had so much luck coming out to people but I have avoided him because I worried that it would upset him. Knowing that he can understand may change things and may ope up an incredible door. So excited to see where this takes me. The affirmation remains the same – I am valid, I am worthy, and I do matter.
As we sit on the eve of the Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), I reflect on my journey over the last year and am so proud of my successes, growth, and progress. 2018 is turning into The Year of Ashlee and there is so much good ahead! I work very hard to be a positive example of the trans community. I always try to dress classy and appropriately for what I am doing and I blend very well into the community. I’ve been complimented by strangers who have told me how awesome it is to live my truth and to walk so proudly and just own it. My hope is that people can see that I’m not as different and they may think. They see someone who is happy with themselves – at least in that moment when I can be most authentic – and just living their best lives. I’m not the monster that the media may try to portray but just another girl looking to find her way in this world. Living in a mostly progressive area, I am fortunate that many people are open minded and can appreciate people’s difference. Overall my treatment has been amazing. When I’m not treated well, it’s a surprise and I ran into a situation last night that gave me pause.
I was looking at the GPS on my phone trying to figure out how to get home as the lights started flashing behind me – using your cellphone while driving is illegal. I pulled over and began collecting my things not really thinking about the fact that I was Ashlee. As the officer approached, it hit me that this could be interesting for the officer. He walked with a bit of a strut and actually had a bit of a grin on his face. As he approached and “smoothly” asked me for my license, I told him that I wanted to share that I was transgender and he immediately jumped back and got super uncomfortable. I told him I was looking at my phone because I was trying to pull up the GPS and could admit that I was in the wrong. He couldn’t have run away fast enough – and didn’t even ask for my registration. Shortly after he came back with a ticket and told me that they were really cracking down on it here. Yes, I was in the wrong. But I owned it. I explained that I knew what I did and why I was being pulled over. I was polite and courteous and I had my information ready to go. I am generally a safe driver and don’t get pulled over often but when I do, I usually know what I did wrong and I usually get off with a warning. I hadn’t gotten a ticket since my teens and this was the time that I got one? Over something small when I owned it? If I were presenting as a male and got the ticket then I wouldn’t think much of it but it’s very curious that it happened to me here. I wonder how much of me presenting as a woman impacted his decision to ticket me.
I can deal with a ticket and the consequences that come with it but the possibility that I was ticketed because I was trans really didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps how I looked had nothing to do with why I was pulled over but it breaks my heart that it could have been. That I could have been targeted or mistreated because I was different. But this is small stuff – and the situation could have been much worse. I never felt unsafe. I never felt that things could escalate. This was minor. But for many transpeople, these situations are all too common.
Discrimination for people that are transgender is rampant. This is the reason that we need to have a Transgender Day of Visability. We need to make this world a kinder, more empathetic place. Our young people deserve a better opportunity than what I had and what others before me did. We need to be better. The statistics are scary! Recent statistics have shown that 80% trans students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression. 50% of trans people have been raped or sexually assaulted by a romantic partner. 49% of trans people have reported physical abuse. 1 in 5 transgender people have experienced homelessness in their lives. 41% of transpeople – myself included – have attempted suicide. Quite frankly, we need to be better.
This is why this conversation is important. This is why I walk into places with my head held high and that I work so hard to represent my community well. I’m proud to have been praised by my friends who are more open minded and understanding about trans issues – that they have taken the time to learn more about trans issues so that they can be as open and supportive as possible. Things are getting better and the future is bright. I will never know what that officer was thinking when he ticketed me. Perhaps I would have been ticketed no matter what. Maybe he did freeze and panic – and maybe it wasn’t intentional. My hope, however, is that he thought more about that interaction as well. In small town New England, I may have been the first trans person that he ever encountered. Hopefully he could see someone who was cooperative and respectful and that maybe I wasn’t as scary as he may have expected. Hopeful for that growth.