‘ My body may be a work-in-progress, but there is nothing wrong with my soul.’
Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), Transamerica
Last week, DH sent me an email about a vigil in Harlem for Islan Nettles. I had no idea about who this hot African American woman was. I searched about her death and my heart stopped for like a second. A couple of weeks ago, 20 blocks away from my home, she and her friends were the victims of homophobic insults. A ‘scuffle’ apparently ensued and she was beaten bad, real bad. On Thursday 22 August, she was declared brain dead. She died because she was a beautiful and happy woman who once was a little boy. A mother had to bury her daughter because some people hated that Islan was proud to be a woman. 20 blocks away from my home she, with her high cheekbones, endless eyelashes and plump lips, by just being herself caused a hateful man to repeatedly hit her until she could not get up anymore…
I don’t know anyone who is transitioning or has transitioned to another gender. And if I am really honest with myself, not so long ago I was still feeling uncomfortable in the presence of transgender people. I would freeze for tenth of a second when someone with manly hands would firmly hold some train doors for me but all I could focus on was the red polish of their nails. I remember feeling pity looking at an old 65 year old pre op woman wearing a slutty skirt and riding her bike down Northcote road in London some years ago because while her long red hair was blowing in the wind, her male junk was crushed against the bicycle seat. I think what unsettled me was their absolute confidence about being who they were regardless of snide comments or bemused looks. Understandably it was, I am sure, the result of a very long and painful search and struggle. I more recently realized that I was in fact half admirative and half intimidated by such boldness and ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude. In the end, you could say that transgender women are the type of women I always wanted to be: unapologetic.
Islan’s death shook me deeply. It is a hate crime that happened in a place I have so proudly called home. Her death may seem like a tragic but isolated incident for New York—one of the birthplaces of the modern LGBT-rights movement. But ‘bias crimes’ have nearly doubled since this time last year here in New York City and people of color have been particularly affected…And this creeps the hell out of me.
I am not sure when transgender community will be finally accepted and respected in our society but a conversation I had with my 2 year old daughter over Labor day week end taught me something: we are never too young to learn respect and acceptance. She was teasing my (very woman like) girlfriend in a mean way by telling her: ‘ You are not a girl!’
My friend replied: ‘Yes, I am.’
P insisted: ‘No, you are not.’ (Note: these days, P thinks the worst insult she can give someone is to tell them they are boys…)
So the two of them went back and forth: ‘Yes, I am a girl’, ‘No, you’re not’ etc. I would normally find this whole banter cute but I started to get really annoyed and snapped: ‘It does not matter what you say, think or see, Miss P. If someone tells you they are a girl, or a boy as a matter of fact, you have to respect this and accept what they say, and move on, full stop.‘ She looked at me totally confused but I did not care because I knew I had found my own simple way to talk about tolerance and I was going to repeat this again and again until my kids get it. Islan and other transgender women deserved this… at the very least.