TransTalk: Feeling Safe as a Trans Person

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(Mirror) Is it even possible to feel safe as a trans person? The only way for a trans person to feel safe is for nobody to know they’re trans. Notice that I say “feel safe,” and not “be safe.” There’s no such thing as actually being safe today, although there are times when we can feel like we’re safe. 

My wife recently traveled to Chicago for orientation for her new job. She doesn’t like when I say things like, “Be safe” before she leaves the house because she feels like it jinxes her. But I was really nervous for her to be in Chicago without me. Not because I would be much help, but because she’s a trans woman of color. Trans women of color, specifically black trans women, make up by far the highest percentage of trans people murdered in the U.S. each year. 

Recently, my wife wanted to go to a thrift store to donate some clothes and do some shopping. I wasn’t too keen on going since shopping just really isn’t my thing, and she seems to be doing it all the time. 
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As I write this, I’m at our home in PA and she’s in NYC where she just finished a work meeting and is now at a thrift store with her new coworker. Anyway, I wasn’t going to go with her to the thrift store last week but then she said, “I’m not wearing makeup and I’m in leggings and a t-shirt. I don’t feel safe going out without you. When I’m alone, I’m a trans woman alone. When I’m with you, I’m safer.” 

What she meant was that my presence not only made her feel safer, it also legitimized her identity as a woman. Since we live in a heteronormative and cis-normative society, by being seen together, she’s more likely to be seen as a cisgender and heterosexual woman than she is without me. In a country that’s been rocked by a rise in hate crimes, the least I can do is go to a thrift store with my wife.

Earlier I stated that it’s only possible for a trans person to feel safe if nobody knows they’re trans. This is partly true, but also an incredibly sad thing to realize. Just being trans in the world is enough to justify feeling unsafe. 

For many trans people, it’s not always possible to not be seen as trans. Not everybody wants to pass as male or female, but in order to feel safe and not get side-eyed and stared at everywhere they go, passing is a marker of safety. 

Even if a trans person appears binary and/or cisgender, that doesn’t mean they’re not alert for potential dangers. Maybe they won’t go swimming in public, or take their shirt off at the beach, or wear their breasts or their packer through airport security, or they’ll avoid public restrooms; trans people will go to extreme lengths to not be known or seen as trans. 

Different sources report different numbers, but the general consensus is that 16 trans people have been murdered so far this year in the U.S. 15 of them are trans women of color. Many of the victims are also misgendered and/or misnamed in their death, like in the case of Jordan Cofer. 

Jordan Cofer is the brother of the mass shooter in Dayton, Ohio. News reports originally listed him as the shooter’s sister but then friends stepped forward and said that Jordan identified as male and used he/him/his pronouns, but was only out to a handful of close friends. If we can’t honor these people in life, we can at least honor them in their death by using the right name and pronouns. I’m grateful these friends stepped forward so that Jordan’s truth could be known. 

It’s likely we all feel unsafe in the U.S. right now. We can be advocates by checking in on our friends, asking for common sense gun laws, and accompanying a trans friend on a public errand. 


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