By Brittany Dekorte
This past Monday, my partner Tessa went out wearing a dress for the first time.
I’m using the words ‘they’ and ‘them’ to refer to one person, because the pronoun doesn’t infer gender. My partner is transgender, which means their mental and emotional gender identity doesn’t fit with the physiological sex they were assigned at birth.
Like sexuality, gender identity falls along a spectrum, with some falling near the middle, and others to the fringes. Tessa is their chosen name; they are uncomfortable with their current legal name being used, because of fears of discrimination.
In the past, them going out has involved androgyny; tight clothes subtle make up, nothing that would make them stand out too much. Which is different, because usually, they dress to stand out on purpose.
I’ve been watching my partner transition for three years; hormones, buying new clothes and speaking with a supportive therapist. A lot of transitioning is a search for comfort; imagine being born into skin that didn’t feel right, parts of your body that stick out or feel like they are alien.
Imagine looking into a mirror on a daily basis and just thinking, “That’s not me. That can’t be me. That could never be me.” Going through the process of making yourself look how you want, present how you want, be seen in the way you see yourself, the way that makes you comfortable is challenging.
At the same time, transition involves stepping out of comfort zones, boxes you’ve occupied your whole life, like the first time wearing the dress out.
This first dress comes very close to TDOR, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The TDOR was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice, according to their website.
The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on Nov. 28, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder – like most anti-transgender murder cases – has yet to be solved.
This year’s TDOR was held on Sunday, Nov. 20. The TDOR site lists the names, death dates, causes of death, and death location of all of the out transgender people who have died in the past year: 15 alone for the U.S., more than 80 globally.
Their causes of death are brutal; gunshot, slashed throats and set on fire. One was dismembered, stuffed in a hotel bed frame, and was only found after customers complained about the smell. The number of transgender people killed this past year is only based on what hit the news and what was reported; many expect the number to be higher, due in part to the police or unsupportive family misgendering the victim.
It’s been a tough year for trans rights activists and allies.
‘Bathroom Bills’ popped up in multiple states, blocking trans people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, some of which also planned on repealing hard fought for local ordinances that protected people of differing gender identities.
The election of Donald Trump and a Republican majority in Congress was also seen as a setback by many, as Republicans often put forward this kind of legislation.
Legal protection for transgender people is rare, and often set by local or state government. This makes transgender people susceptible to work and housing discrimination, and prone to homelessness, more likely to commit suicide.
All of this scares me and my partner. “I fear that if I am unable to pass well enough for a female, I will be attacked or killed. Passing can mean life or death to a lot of transgender people, especially transwomen,” Tessa said.
This all stems from a stigma and a general misunderstanding of transgender people. Many people do not understand the difference between crossdressing and being transgender, or being gay and being transgender.
Just the stigma of dating someone who is trans is difficult for me to deal with; I can’t be out to the majority of family, who are very conservative and religious, who I have heard make comments against the LGBTQ+ community before. Even if they told me to my face that they were fine with it, I know that it would be lip service; they would still feel that it was wrong, they would vote for people who are against giving transgender people the rights they deserve as human beings.
There is hope, though. Hope in a younger generation who is more accepting of LGBTQ+ people; hope in the coming out of celebrities in recent years, like Laverne Cox, scriptwriting sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski, and Chaz Bono; hope in the popularity of shows that shows transgender people’s struggles in a humanizing light, like Transparent and Sense8.
And of course, hope in a new dress, in bright makeup, in being embraced by your friends and peers on your first night out as the real you.