Transgender actress and advocate Laverne Cox revealed in an Instagram post that while walking with her friend they were accosted and attacked in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. She said the man aggressively asked for the time. Then the man asked Cox’s friend, “Guy or Girl?”
Cox’s friend, who has not been named, told the man to “[Expletive] off,” and then the man began hitting Cox’s friend.
“It’s not safe in this world,” Cox said. “It’s not safe if you’re a trans person.” She talked about the long history of street harassment she has endured. She added, “This dude was looking for trouble because I happen to be a trans person in public.”
So many Black trans and gender-non-conforming people, like myself, know the street harassment Cox faced all too well. A 2020 LGBTQ survey from the policy institute the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago, shows nearly half of all LGBTQ people have been targeted for their identity in public.
The trans community is facing the brunt of this violence. Data shows at least 62 percent of trans people have experienced discrimination in work, public, or in their personal lives over the past year.
Days before Cox alerted followers about her attack, I faced a similar incident while walking home. A cisgender man stopped me to ask for directions. Then, he gestured and pointed to my chest, and questioned if I was a “dude or a lady.”
That night I should have taken Cox's lead and not responded. I protested to the man that I was a guy. Yet, he continued to point at my chest, and tell me that I was not.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Earlier in my transition, I recall cashiers at Popeyes, the fast-food restaurant, calling me “sir-ma’am” and customers staring at me while ordering takeout.
For a long time, using the men’s bathroom felt like a battle. I not only experienced double-takes, but security guards and people policing my body and yelling, “This is the men’s bathroom!” or bathroom attendants clocking me as trans, and stating, “Oh, you need to use a stall, right.”
People often say to me, “How does this happen? You have a beard.” But the thing is, no matter what I look like, the reality is that I’ll never be a cisgender man. Cis people who know about my transness often use this information to gaslight and belittle me.
On the day of the incident, I wasn’t binding my chest. But I shouldn’t always have to. Like Cox, I was wearing a classic quarantine outfit: a grey hoodie, sweatpants, and a mask. I felt I looked fairly masculine, but the public’s perception of me isn’t reliable.
That one day, the public and doctors perceived me as a cis man, a cis woman, a gay man, and intersex—but no one ever assumes that I am a trans man.
Data from the Center for American Progress and NORC University of Chicago shows high levels of discrimination take an even larger toll on a person’s physical, spiritual, and psychological well-being.
This violence often turns deadly. With 39 trans and gender-non-conforming people murdered to date this year, advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that it is seeing a record number of trans deaths since it began tracking this data in 2013.
While Black transgender women often face the brunt of these violent attacks, trans men and nonbinary people are targets too.
As a Black trans man, I face a mixture of invisibility and hypervisibility. Our society assumes that trans men have the same access to male privilege as cisgender men. This isn’t true. I’ve never met a trans man who has male privilege at the gynecologist’s office.
We're often denied services that we need including housing, school, work, and healthcare. Equally, we’re sometimes forced to sacrifice our male gender to access these resources. It’s an oppression that I cannot escape. People rarely hold space for our complicated experience. Therefore, many trans men struggle in silence.
Essentially, I can’t win. Therefore, I’ve resorted to going stealth and hiding parts of my identity to survive. Just last week, I was denied medical service by a provider. Then, when the issue worsened, I headed to urgent care. I decided not to reveal I’m trans. Instead, I lied and said I was an intersex male. And I got the care I needed.
Most days, I feel at mercy to my secondary sex characteristics. If one thing about my appearance is gender non-conforming, I often feel forced to fight against it to blend in. This means lowering my voice and binding my chest since that always draws too much attention. What makes things even more complicated is that I don’t always have a masculine gender expression. And because of this, some cis people incorrectly assume that I’m a trans woman.
The bottom line: Cisgender people aren’t ignorant. Many of them are selfish. Many cis people feel empowered by the gender binary and how it benefits them.
The really cruel cis people in this world aren’t just the ones who clock me and others as trans, and insult, harass and attack us in the streets, it’s the cis people who gaslight us about our experiences every day. It’s the cis people, who have their pronouns in their bio but watch us die as a result of their language. It’s the cis people at my former graduate school who erupted in laughter at the thought of a man getting pregnant.
A cisgender person could never truly be an ally for trans liberation because many are complacent in the systems that lead to our injuries and deaths. As long as I live, I’ll never fully trust a cis person because, in my day-to-day, their power is the reason why I’m treated as a second-class citizen.
Laverne Cox was incredulous about why she was attacked while just doing something as simple as walking in a park. “Who cares? How does this affect your life?” she wanted to ask her attacker. Every trans person knows what she means. We want to ask a relentlessly hostile world the same thing.