It is just part of my transgender existence. I always have my guard up wherever I go. Wondering what the eyes of others are thinking as they pass by me when I am in public. Are they thinking to themselves that they see a trans woman as I walk by? Are those gazes full of judgment and hate? Am I in danger? Is it safe? Is this the day someone comes at me? Is this all just in my head? I am positive I am not alone in this experience. Every time I leave the house, it is with the feeling I have a target on my back. I am like a squirrel that is hiding its acorns for the winter, looking around all paranoid. It is just part of the normal routine for a transgender person in the world today.
This past weekend, I took a trip to Philadelphia for the 2017 Trans Health Conference, which is held every year by the Mazzoni Center. It was my first time going, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went with a few of my peers from the Transgender Resource Center of Long Island, and we were excited about introducing our new center to the community. We would be there for three days. Here we were, a bunch of transgender people on a road trip, and though a couple of us had been to the conference before, the rest of us had no idea what to expect.
“There were transgender people everywhere, representing every incarnation of the gender spectrum.”
When we arrived at the conference, the scene was surreal. There were transgender people everywhere, representing every incarnation of the gender spectrum. There were booths lined up all around the conference center floor. Everyone was there; you name it, organizations such the ACLU, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Trevor Project. All kinds of health providers, community centers, and trans related product vendors such as FtM Essentials and GC2B. You just had to look over your shoulder and there was Jazz Jennings. Aydian Dowling was doing work with Point 5CC. There was Gavin Grimm, Skylar Kergil, and others. All these people and organizations that I had been writing about over the last few years were all together in one place. It was wonderful.
There was a ton of workshops on all kinds of transgender related topics from healthcare to activism. Jazz was doing work with the kids that were there. There were so many children and families at the conference, and it was amazing to see. I attended a workshop with Dr. Marci Bowers as she gave us a primer on the latest techniques in gender affirmation surgery. She even took the time to sit down with me and discuss things in more detail. She talked about how the conference first started with just a few hundred people attending, and now there were thousands. Our community is growing, and it was evidenced by the amount of people attending the conference. I was even able to meet some of the readers of Transgender Universe and had the chance to hear their stories. They were all incredible people. I am so humbled to think that anyone out there would read anything we had to write, and I was so grateful for the experience of meeting them.
Then, it happened. The realization came as my friends and I talked about how this was the first time in years that we were all able to let our guards down in public. There were no strange looks or stares. No whispers. All these people, from all over the gender spectrum, presenting in a million different ways and there was absolutely no judgment. There was only love, respect, and kindness. Finally, we were able to breathe and just be ourselves. We had become so used to being on guard in public that the feeling was strange to experience. It was also amazing at the same time as we hoped for a day when the rest of society could be this way. This was what we were working for, and it gave us even more purpose to try and achieve it.
“For all the things I lost in my life for being transgender, I have gained so much in all these great people.”
I realized that my own transgender universe just became much larger, but at the same time it was also much smaller in some ways. Everyone was there for the same purpose, and it didn’t matter if you were a TV star, medical professional, social worker, writer, or just someone struggling to get by. We were all peers who were in this journey together. For all the things I lost in my life for being transgender, I have gained so much in all these great people. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore. Even with all the tough breaks we have experienced recently as a community, we were all still moving forward. We are all still fighting, and our numbers are growing. Even in all the darkness around us I feel a sense of hope for the future.
If you ever get the opportunity to attend such an event, I urge you to do so. It can be a conference, a transgender community event, support group, or even a fundraiser. Just being around others who understand your journey can have a profound effect on you. To be able to hear their stories and talk about the challenges we all face. I am truly thankful for the experience I had this weekend, for my friends who were there with me, and all the great work we accomplished together. There is hope for all of us in the future if we can come together and make the change we need to see happen. We all need to be visible and tell our stories.
Though I am home now and my guard is certainly back up, it was great to let it down for a change, even if it were only for a few days. Perhaps a day will come when I will be able to just be myself, and it won’t matter to anyone else. There would be no judgment, strange looks, or fear of being harmed. A day when we all respect each other and where someone’s gender or race does not matter. Now that is something that is worth fighting for.