I regularly face transphobic misogynoir in my daily life. The two ways that it most often shows up are as particularly aggressive street harassment; and as aggressive misgendering constant body searching and attempts to assign me a male officer at TSA security checkpoints. The first time that I was attacked and verbally abused on the street it took me a while for me to understand what was happening.
It was 9:30-ish pm. I was in DC standing outside a closed restaurant on the corner of 14th street and meridian. I had biked over to buy myself a house made black bean burger. It was $5 Tuesday. Money was tight. The burger was filling and flavorful. It could be stretched for two meals. On this Tuesday they had closed early. So I stood outside contemplating what other vegetarian food I could get at now nearly ten o'clock at night for $5 in Washington DC. I was wearing my favorite grey sweater minidress.
This incident was almost a decade ago and that dress is still my favorite. It is a very soft, thick but lightweight dress. It is cable knit and has a decadent collar that can either be flipped up or down. When it is flipped down it hugs my shoulders, runs across my chest in a straight line. This style offers an uninterrupted view of my shoulder and neckline. When the collar is flipped up it hugs my neck and creates a plunging V neckline. The dress is so warm that I can wear it through most of a midAtlantic winter with nothing on my neck and nothing on my legs and still be ok.
On that particular night I was wearing the collar flipped down, in the shoulder hugging boat neck style. My head was freshly shaved, completely bald, shiny, no hair in sight. My feet were covered in tattered rainbow Air Force Ones that I had bought on 125th street in Harlem a few years before. Those shoes were my first pair of Nikes. I stood in this outfit on the corner, contemplating my dinner options. Someone else seeking a $5 Tuesday meal came up. We commiserated over our shared disappointment. They left. I stayed there with my bicycle, at the time it was this beautiful blue Bianchi that I had bought off of a roommate for $50--those bikes sell for multiple thousands of dollars. That was the best bike I have ever had (Foxy Brown is a close second.)
A car drove up the street behind me. I heard it but I didn’t pay attention to it. Fourteenth is a busy thoroughfare at all times of day and night. The people in the car started shouting insults at someone. I turned to see what was going on. The car was full, five people. Their hands were full. They each had a beer. The box was visible in the back seat. The windows were rolled down and they were hanging out of them and heckling...me. They were heckling ME! I was confused because they were using words like tranny, fag, and he-she. I was not any of those things. They thought that I was a transwoman. My first thought was to inform them that they were mistaken. My next was to remark to myself that it didn’t matter . They shouldn’t be doing this to anyone. They probably wouldn’t believe me anyway. My intellectualization of the situation was my way of dissociating, of protecting myself from the very present violence that was being directed at me. It did not consciously occur to me that I was in danger and needed to leave until they started throwing the beer cans. At me, in my favorite dress, with my favorite ever bicycle.
Once I registered the danger of the situation I also registered that I was alone, with my bicycle and five dollars tucked into the side of my shoe. I was in the dark, on a corner in the middle of the night in a mini dress. None of these things should have mattered but they do, imagine what stories they would have told about me standing on that corner. How they would have justified my disappearance or death. I have imagined this. No one should have to walk around with those ghosts of what could have been making them feel unsafe to simply be themself in public.
No one should have to plot their path through the day thinking of how to avoid hot spots for harassment or places where they could be potentially accosted and disappeared to later be found dead or not at all. I live with these realities.
Trans women, indigenous women, Black women, women and femmes everywhere live with these realities. Black trans women die at disproportionately high rates because of these realities. Indigenous women go missing at astoundingly high rates because of these realities.
I am a Black genderfluid woman. I live with these realities not only on the streets in the middle of the night, but also in broad daylight in crowded buildings in places that are supposed to be designed to keep me and everyone else safe ( from who? for who?). I wear a catsuit to the airport because I know that I will be flagged on the machine. I do not have any metal in my body. My queer, genderfluid Black body itself is the weapon. It is the threat to public space. This is why I am aggressively misgendered in the masculine with sirs and misters when I go through security. This is why they attempt to assign me a male TSA officer. I just went through this not a week ago when I flew, in my pocketless catsuit, in my metal less body.
These kinds of experiences are such a regular part of my life that they could be considered mundane and unremarkable. Except that they aren’t. I remember clearly where I was and what I was wearing that first time that I was accosted because the incident was so traumatic that it is burned into my memory. It lives in the fabric of my favorite winter dress, my first pair of Air Force ones. Both of which I still have, still love, still wear.
I don’t often speak or write about these experiences because I am not interested in sorrys or condolences. As I have said before I accept empathy in the form of action and actionable solutions. I do not know where to go to talk about these experiences and get support. I am not a Black trans woman. I do not want to take up space or resources meant for Black transwomen. I actually do not know of any spaces for non-binary(nb) or genderfluid femmes who are also people who were assigned female at birth ( AFAB) . Most nonbinary or gender fluid spaces are dominated by folks who identity as non binary or genderfluid and present as masculine of center or “adrogynous” which actually tends towards masculinity. Someone make this make sense to me. I have had a number of conversations with other AFAB nb or gender nonconforming or gender fluid folks. We have all noticed this dynamic. We are all tired. Yeah I could make and hold a space. I have made and held and am actively holding so many spaces.
This is a place where I need to be held. To be able to just show up in my brokedownness without being further beat down by misogynoir or patriarchy n the form of masucline of center nb folks.
One time one of these incidents happened at an airport in Berlin airport. I was particularly upset. While sat in the airport I wrote a post. I expressed my need for support navigating my safety in these instances. Toni Michelle Williams ( @misstonimichelle) --no relation-- reached out to me and offered support. I still haven’t taken her up on it. I need to sort through my own guilt around taking up space and resources as a trans person who is not trans in a binary way. Still, when I got her message I instantly felt better. Seen, heard, acknowledged.
Toni and I were in different years at the same small public arts highschool. Toni is now a leader in Solutions Not Punishments Collaborative, SNaPCO (@snap4freedom).The Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative is a Black, trans-led, broad based collaborative to restore an Atlanta where every person has the opportunity to grow and thrive without facing unfair barriers, especially from the criminal legal system. SNaPCo is innovating ways of leading and organizing that are serving as models for communities all over the country. When you see the changes that are happening in Georgia, know that it is because of the work that is done by SNaPCo and other impactful, Black woman led grassroots organizations. One of the things that I am looking forward to when I am eventually able to move back to Atlanta is making SNaPCo my political home.
Today I am inviting you to support my communities by donating $31 or whatever you can to SNaPCo ( @Snap4freedom) go to their website to make a donation today.
*For my birthday this year I’m asking you to celebrate with me by supporting my joy, my work and my communities. Each day I’ll be sharing one simple thing that you can do to support me in each of these areas.