The silent pain of transwomen—or, why I don’t have male privilege
All women bleed for an unkind world where it's a matter of luck to be loved justly and correctly.
Editor’s Note: June is LGBTQ Pride Month. At Black Youth Project, we will be exploring gender, sexuality, transgender issues and queer theory, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
This essay contains discussions of transphobia, and mentions molestation, suicidal ideation, and r/pe
by Jamila Dawn Mitchell
My first memories includes teachers grabbing my shoulders and moving me into the “boy’s line.” I attended a religious private school called Precious Blood in Chicago, Illinois. For some reason, I spoke so little outside the home that it was necessary for me to be seen by a child psychologist until I began talking more regularly around the age of nine or ten.
Basically, I was a silent observer who listened well and behaved in ways that felt most comfortable. Being with the girls was comfortable for me, but everyone was pushing me into a different direction. Life began with me being punished for following my heart. This is the “male privilege” that transphobic liberals are talking about.
Years later, my mom kicked one of my uncle’s out of my grandma’s house because dared to call me a “sissy” angrily. I had been quiet in my grandma’s bedroom, watching cartoons when I heard him scream “Your son’s a sissy!” from the living room. That would have hurt if I hadn’t been numbed by the constant discomfort of being told how to behave as a boy. Being called a “sissy” by an inebriated uncle hurt the same as every single moment I was read and policed as a boy. People underestimate the effects of telling a quiet, depressed child that “boys don’t cry.” My first thoughts of suicide began around the same age when I started really talking, before I knew there was a word for it.
Looking back, it makes more sense to me that I lied at 14 when my first friend asked me if I was gay; I said yes. Transgender people learn early how to lie and suffer in silence. Cases of hate crimes against us are vastly underreported, because we’re used to the silent struggle. Even within the gayberhood zip codes, transgender people are typically only visible in drag. My mom told me not to tell anyone else that I was gay, because she was afraid I’d be killed just like Matthew Shephard. I was afraid to tell her that I’m a transwoman, because I was terrified she’d strike me herself.
My fear was not born out of paranoia. Once, my parents chased me around the house and forced me to take nail polish off of my hands. But, once everyone believed that I was gay, it gave me the freedom to be more expressive. Gays were expected to be “flamboyant,” which was a homophobic way too describe femininity. I replaced most of my clothes with new products purchased from the “girl’s” department. My body was religiously shaved entirely every week and covered in the most “feminine” scents. My first boyfriend identified as bisexual and convinced me to be bulimic, to stay skinny.
The names “Jaime” and “Jay” were born. In Chicago, I was introduced to a group of cisgender men who preferred feminine people. It felt amazing to be treated the way I had always wanted to be treated. However, I was also molested and emotionally manipulated by people in these circles. Quickly, I learned that the same emotional abuses I lived through in hiding were not going to end just because I was out in the open.
Everyone who knew my real life as a transwoman had directions on how I was to look and behave, just like people did when they thought I was a boy. The same rules applied, though now under my correct gender. I would adhere to these rules, nearly to my death, until the age of 31. Whether playing pretend as a boy or living my feminine truth, my body was a thing to be controlled by a majority of people.
When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie dared to say that I was born a man with “male privilege,” I was hurt deeply. Womanhood is not defined by our oppression and is not the “opposite” of manhood or manliness. Even so, this essay focuses on a woman’s pain because this is, unfortunately, the start of much bonding around the feminine spirit.
All women bleed for an unkind world where it’s a matter of luck to be loved justly and correctly. Blood has streamed from my legs for my lovers and my rapist in the same color. Unfortunately, many of us bleed to death.
My first childhood memories involve someone holding my body and moving it where they deemed fit. People took advantage of my adolescent silence to do and say whatever they wanted, to and about my body and my life. I have never known a life without punishment for wanting agency over my own being.
Yet, the fight for inclusion for transwomen is ceaselessly in the private lives of all of us. Transphobic propaganda pushes transwomen to be silent about the truths that unite us to the virtual majority. We are not defined by the pain men put us through, but we are real women and valid non-binary human beings, and may we never live in silence again.
Jamila Mitchell is a writer that comes from across the disciplines of business management, non-profit development, and community organizing. Educated in economics and business management at the Milwaukee School of Engineering Rader School of Business, Jamila has used her knowledge assets on neoclassical economics as an advocate and grant writer for various causes such as mental health treatment. She has worked on numerous political campaigns including the Fight For $15 pro-union national campaign, voter rights, and various President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.