In the early days of my coming out I was a regular at the only place in town where I felt safe—a gay bar called ‘Bout Time. On one of those nights, a burly man about twice my size sat down next to me, placed his hand on my thigh, and began muttering obscenities. The bartender picked up on my reaction and came over, leaned across the bar so that he was sure the burly man heard him, and said, “Is everything all right here?”
The burly man took his hand off my leg, and I said “Yes…for now.”
“Well,” the bartender said, “if you need anything, just let me know.” And as he walked away I turned to the burly man and said, “If you ever touch me again I’ll have you thrown out of here.”
His response was a string of expletives including the ‘b’ word, the ‘c’ word, and words I didn’t know existed (and I was an English major). Later that evening, when I left the bar, I was escorted to my car and my escort shined his flashlight into the back seat to make sure I was safe. That night I learned what most women already knew about men: you can’t trust most of them.
Transgender women, and especially transwomen of color, are victims of violence at a much higher rate than the general population. The Trans Violence Tracking Portal reports that, although transgender people make up 1 to 1.5% of the world’s population, we are about 400 times more likely to be assaulted or murdered than the rest of the population. (Yes, I said four hundred.)
For transwomen who are newly out, including anyone testing their gender identity, problems stem from having been raised as a male, unaware of the dangers women face. As a man, I could park ten blocks from the bar and walk there alone. As a woman (especially in four inch stilettos and a miniskirt), I am a target. They shouldn’t, but men interpret the situation as an invitation. And the same holds true for the transwoman who wants to ‘test the waters’ in a straight bar. She is thrilled that she ‘passes,’ but invites tremendous risks if she accepts a drink from a strange man and pushes the limits of her ‘passability.’ It’s all a matter of safety. We were not taught what our mothers taught our sisters. Hang on to your purse. Always take your keys out before you leave the bar. Park as close as possible. Don’t walk down the street alone. Never get into someone’s car if you don’t really know them.
Each year in November a vigil is held in most of the major cities. The Transgender Day of Remembrance honors the memory of transgender people who died as a result of violence directed specifically toward us. A few years ago a friend named Stephanie who didn’t drive accepted a ride from a man she met at the bar. He walked her to the door of her apartment and asked if he could come in and get a glass of water. She said yes, and he went to the kitchen while she went into the bathroom. When she came out, she found him going through her purse. He had a knife, and he slit her throat.
I shouldn’t be afraid, but I need to be. All women have to remain vigilant. It’s not right. It’s not fair. But it’s the way it is. I can only hope that someday it will be different.
Also from Bobbi Williams:
On a Trans-Mission
On Thursday, November 20, 2014, The Transgender Day of Remembrance will be marked in Tennessee with candlelight vigils at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga, East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, and the Alternative Counseling Center in Knoxville. Nashville’s event is scheduled for 7:00-9:30, but program details are not finalized (contact [email protected] for more information. Events worldwide are listed at http://tdor.info/
Dr. Williams is an author, teacher, lecturer, and consultant. Comments may be sent to her at [email protected]