- November 19, 2013
The following post comes from Joanna, a young woman who divides her time between her job for a local hotel chain and promoting awareness of transgender issues as a volunteer with the D.C. non-profit, Casa Ruby.Joanna and her family are featured in Before God: We are all Family, a new short film from the HRC Religion and Faith Program's A La Familia project.
“Go play outside!” my mother barked to which I replied “I don’t want to sweat.” This was a frequent conversation between my mother and I in her constant effort to get me to do more “masculine” activities. In turn I would escape to my neighbor Alini’s house. There I would find solace in her room where I could play with her dolls and brush her hair. Oh how I longed to have a sister, someone to go shopping with and do each other’s nails.
In high school I gravitated to girls living bi-curiously through their femininity. Shortly after high school I started to grow out my hair and though all my cis-gender girlfriends were supportive they could not relate to what I was going through. I was a woman alone on an island.
In my effort to find someone to relate to I turned to the internet. That’s where I met Dayana. She was a beautiful young trans Latina 3.5 hours away in nearby Miami. We were the same age and in the very beginning stages of transitioning. To the outside world we probably looked like cross-dressers but we didn’t care, we felt fierce. In Dayana I found that sister I so longed for, and even though we hadn’t met in person we slowly began to develop a sisterhood.
Months went by and I noticed stores that displayed “help wanted” signs wouldn’t even entertain the idea of allowing me to fill out an application. I started to find the emotional and financial burden too much to take on and eventually I gave in to the pressure and cut off my hair. I told my new sister that I was going to hold off transitioning until I felt more stable. Being the friend that she was she supported my decision.
A few years went by and I found myself in DC. No longer plagued by joblessness, I was living in a city that not only granted me rights previously denied to me but fought relentlessly to protect them. I realized that the moment I was waiting for had arrived. I had a good job in an amazing city and I was living on my own and nothing could hold me back. Inspired by the young trans-women from a local community center that I volunteered at I decided it was time. I could no longer deny myself the privilege to be the true me, the me that I suppressed for far too long. I called Dayana and told her I was going to begin taking hormones. She was pleasantly surprised and told me she didn’t think I was ever going to do it.
As I began to come out to my friends and family it was Dayana and these newly formed friendships that helped me along the way and celebrated with me the minor milestones of my transition. I started hormones in October of 2012. In February I would go full time and in March I would legally change my name and gender.
Unlike Florida, DC was a great place to transition; starting hormones was as easy as picking up the phone and scheduling an appointment. Even the local university’s law school held free clinics to facilitate in name changes.
But not everything in DC was roses. Just two weeks after my arrival to the District a young Deoni Jones was brutally murdered while waiting for the bus on the streets of our nation’s capital. Since then there have been many other incidents of trans-women being harassed and beaten, one was shot another one was stabbed repeatedly. The thought that one my newly beloved sisters, that I so badly wished for growing up, could be taken away from me at any point was a reality that was often too real.
Every Transgender Day of Remembrance we reflect upon our sisters that have been taken away from us all too soon, but this year I want to celebrate my sisters that have enriched my life in countless ways. From Dayana, who lets me go on and on about guy problems; to Ashley and Anahomi who fill my days with laughter; to Ruby and Consuela who fill me with their invaluable wisdom and guide me through my transition; to Laverne Cox and Janet Mock who constantly inspire me to be much more than what society expects from me. To say that I have been profoundly blessed for having known these women would be a vast understatement.
I was told a few months ago “Joanna, you don’t have to tell people you’re trans, no one would know.” I thought to myself I suppose I could just keep living my life below the radar and not have to worry about the harassment that permeates our community, it’s not like I owe anyone anything. Boy, was I wrong. The more I educated myself on the trans-women that came before me the more I realized the debt to which I owed them for laying down the ground work so that I could live my truth. And to sit idle and keep my mouth shut while another one of my sisters is attacked and murdered later to be disposed of as if her life did not matter would be a disgrace to the courage in which these women so fearlessly lived their lives.
So this year as we reflect upon our sisters lost and celebrate the sisterhoods we’ve forged, let’s renew our commitment to lifting up our voices; if not for Deoni, then for the countless women that came before her and the countless to come, because to do otherwise would be a disservice to their legacy. Lets move forward in sisterhood embracing and encouraging one another, because there is still so much work to be done.
Tomorrow, November 20, is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Find details on events in your area by visiting hrc.org/tdor.