Trans Life: From The Outside Looking In
After 18 Years of Working with People Who Were Houseless, I Have Some Experiences That Need Vocalization
I worked at a church from the time I was 23 until I was in my mid-thirties, and before that, I volunteered at another church where we served meals every weekend morning, to those who needed the extra food, company, and experience of being around others, while sometimes but not always, living in extreme poverty.
The first trans person I ever met in my life was someone whose family came to the church for meals as well as for special events and for church. I didn’t really like attending the church partly because I was struggling with my faith and I wasn’t entirely sure that the words in the Bible fit what I believed.
So one night I was babysitting this young person who couldn’t have been more than five or six, and we were walking up the stairs where I was putting the two children to bed when the eldest of the two looked up at me and said “I think I want to be a boy when I grow up.” I was sixteen so I didn’t fully know how to answer, so instead of arguing about what a boy is vs what a girl is, I asked what their name would be. He gave me his name, and I kept that story to myself all these years. I share it now only because a) I have permission to and b) it’s a part of the point that I’m trying to make.
At the second church where my job was mostly to facilitate volunteers and organize events side by side with my mom, we worked with a variety of people who displayed a dozen different issues, but at the time I wasn’t researching mental health because I didn’t know I needed to. I didn’t fully understand what I was doing, because, in all honesty, I started my position at the church by cleaning toilettes.
Eventually, it was my job to tell other people to clean the bathrooms, but I wasn’t getting the training that is needed when dealing with those living in extreme poverty, or with socially economic issues, we weren’t trying to save lives, we were plugging holes. A meal here, a recovery house there, perhaps we call the cops to deal with an extreme situation, or the paramedics because someone overdosed OR had gone into diabetic shock.
But the nitty-gritty details of why people were living on the streets, the solutions that we needed to supply the kind of support they were in search of, we didn’t have, because we were a church, not a federally funded mental health program. All we could do was offer clothing, comfort, food, and companionship through conversation over a meal or a cup of coffee. So that’s what we did.
Years later, after leaving the church I would start thinking about the men, women, and non-binary folks that I had the pleasure of learning from, and I started to realize that certain behaviours they exhibited, were similar to how I felt, but at the time when it was in my face, none of the clinical terms, registered in my brain.
Largely because I wasn’t clinically trained. Everything I know about mental health I learned from the frontline work at the church, and with a variety of organizations from around the lower mainland.
Now, when it came to people who identified as transgender that was a different story altogether, and I say this with the utmost respect that I am capable because I love the people that I worked with regardless of what labels they use to identify themselves.
Trans folks, in particular, have added layers of trauma that they deal with. If you are gay, if you’re a lesbian, even if you are non-binary, you can hide from a world that hates you for existing. I’ve heard “oh, well I didn’t know you were gay,” more times than I can count from good God-fearing church folk.
Transgender folk — male, or female, (and yes asshole trans men are men and trans women are women get over it), have a larger struggle hiding their “transness” when they are living in extreme poverty.
The best wigs and makeup in the world can make a person look like Marilyn Monroe absolutely, but it can’t change the fact that many of us (including myself) sometimes revert back to an “oh that’s a man under that makeup” conditioning that we grew up with, and THAT is the problem.
My pronouns are they/them, and not because I choose to use those particular ones without thinking about the consequences, but because sometimes I don’t feel like what “girls” are supposed to feel like. No, I do not wish I had a penis, no I do not wish to have “the ghey sex,” what I wish is that my body, the vessel that I live in, work in, and make private, quiet love to, wasn’t used as a weapon against the patriarchy.
But when I say they/them are my pronouns a lot of the people that used to know me — or used to believe they knew me — seem to think that it’s okay to misgender me. Now, I’m okay with it, because honestly to me pronouns are like soup labels, but for some people when you’ve been kicked out of your house when your children hate you, or your parents think you no longer serve a purpose, your labels are all you have.
When you are living on the streets, in a forest, or a parking garage, behind a trash can, if all you can control, if all you have, are your pronouns, then having that stripped from you is like losing a piece of yourself you’re never going to get back again. I say this because I want those who read this, who have labels, and who covet and hold them close to know I understand.
But I also understand from working with folks with all kinds of labels, that trans folks, in particular, have very little that they can control in their lives.
As I’ve already mentioned, they deal with a variety of stigma and hatred that takes everything from them, so maybe they don’t have the perfect wigs when they are on the street, or maybe their makeup is a little strange, but that shouldn’t give you permission to take their gender identity away because misgendering people do, is take away from what little they already have.
I knew a man named T once, who travelled with a bunch of stuff I personally called junk because to ME, none of it was useful, but it was all T had, and every time they saw that person, they continuously took T’s stuff away.
So I remember asking Dr. Jen Marchbank to introduce me to someone who had (and I say this respectfully) made the transition from male to female or vice versa successfully, and by successfully I mean:
- With familial support
- With community support
- In a healthy way that didn’t leave the person transitioning completely traumatized.
She introduced me to a beautiful group of young people called Youth for a Change — this was many years before I asked because I wasn’t asking about youth who were trans, I was asking about adults, that was something that both Dr. Marchbank and I struggled with and for all the reasons I’ve already listed.
When we’re talking about Pride Season being underway, I often compare Pride season to Halloween, because as Buffy once said, it’s the one time of the year you can be anything you want, and no one can judge you, because everyone’s too busy trying to figure out which mask they will take off, so they can be themselves.
James Finn wrote a story about a group of Catholics going into American libraries and removing LGBTQ2S+ literature from those libraries, without permission in a deliberate attempt to stigmatize our community, only adding to the mental health issues that LGBTQ2S+ folk already deal with.
It’s bad enough that we are born into families that hate us because of the color of our skin, or who we fall in love with, it’s bad enough that we’re surrounded daily by information that constantly undermines the work we’ve done on ourselves to feel good about the right to exist, to hear this story is just further proof that Trans folks — specifically — are in more danger than others on this planet.
This article by The Human Rights Campaign lists a variety of short stories about Transgender and non-gender conforming folks in 2021, which is why I’m choosing not to list them here. (Thank you for the work you do!)
This Pride season, offer to buy someone who needs a wig, a brand new wig. Take them for a cup of coffee, or more important than any of that, remember that just because YOU live your life in one particular way, doesn’t mean that everyone on the planet has to do the same thing.
Please do not bring God into my sexuality, my gender identity, or my ability to live my life the way that I want. My Gods and Goddess guardians know exactly what they are doing, and why they are doing it.
I have faith that things will turn out however they are meant to and I always have. If your faith is all about being toxic and negative towards trans folks then we can’t be friends, then you can’t be a part of my Krisya Ohana.
Each and every one of us has to live the way that makes sense to our brains, but the problem only arises when you look at a human being, and tell them — or even for a moment believe — that they are less human than you because they are different.
If God wanted us all to be identical clones, then the Icove Agenda would be much more than a story written by the fantabulous J.D. Robb.
Each and every one of us is our own single identical version of the person that we’ve always meant to be. So when you find out that a trans person is homeless, please don’t ask you already know. What you SHOULD be asking is “do you need help, and what can I do?”
At least, that’s from my perspective, an actual transgender person might have different ideas, and if you do, I fully welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments, as long as they are respectful.
Sending all my love,
Devon J Hall