To celebrate IDAHO(T) 2013, Polari Magazine is publishing stories from its writers about their experiences of homophobia and transphobia. Some tales are funny, some are shocking and some are sad.
In this story Ira Bohm-Sanchez writes about transitioning in Arizona, the good of it as well as the bad.
As a child, I always wanted to be the boy on TV holding a knapsack at the end of a stick with the few belongings he had left as he was running away from home. Twenty years later, I sat in the back of some SUV with folks I met for the first time as we drove from Santa Ana, California to Avondale, Arizona. All I had in California were friends and couches, and Arizona brought me hope. Perhaps I would find better access to testosterone in the state. I became the boy with the knapsack at last.
Ten days passed, and I found work during a countrywide recession at a local movie theatre. I lived with a couple who knew where to get the things I needed to continue transitioning, and I felt comfortable for the first time in a few months. Arizona is not exactly known as the guardian of virtue for the nation by any means. In some ways, actually, California is, and being trans* in the liberal state had proven difficult for me to my surprise. I was scared that Arizona, in terms of human interaction, would be much worse if not dangerous, perhaps lethal.
It was my first day at work, and I was terrified. I started testosterone about three months before my big move, and the public did not always see me for who I am. In California, folks would not sell me cigarettes since my hair was not as long as it was in the photo of me on my ID. In Arizona, people assumed I got a haircut. The assumption was correct, but it obviously came with some other new additions to my life. I had just started to only use the men’s room comfortably, and my new job involved cleaning restrooms. I scheduled an appointment with the General Manager after my orientation.
Growing up, I had six loud siblings and two loud parents. Self-advocacy was never diplomatic. It was a concept I simply could not comprehend. So, I prepared myself for the worst. I had my spiel ready in advance. I would repeat it to myself in my head: I know on my ID it says this name, but I go by Ira. I’m transgender. All of my friends call me Ira. I use the men’s room, and I navigate the world as a man. I prefer to be called he. The last time I used a woman’s restroom I was chased out, so you probably don’t want me to clean the women’s bathrooms. I don’t want to appear lazy – because I’m not – but maybe I shouldn’t clean bathrooms at all if I’m not allowed to be in the men’s …
My boss invited me to her office, and she told me to take a seat. I told her the first two sentences of my pitch, and she said, “I know. I figured when you were interviewed after I saw your application, so I called corporate to ask how to properly treat you. Managers aren’t permitted to tell anyone, but you can obviously be open with whomever you want. You’re a guy, so use whichever restroom feels more comfortable. If for whatever reason something comes up, you can just use the family restroom instead, but I don’t want it to come to that.”
I was shocked. There were no words that could express how amazing I felt. This was the first time my boss respected my identity in any place that I had ever worked as a trans* person. All of the managers used the right pronoun. I was open with my coworkers depending on how open-minded they seemed when we met. The ones I did not originally tell, I told later. It got to the point that I assumed everyone knew, and I would sometimes say things that would out myself. My coworkers would look at me with confused expressions, and I would respond similarly until I realized that they had not received the memo quite yet.
It was during one of these conversations that one of my coworkers responded to my being trans* in a way I never would have expected in my life. We were changing out the bags of the trashcans. I was surrounded by five cisgender men, and they were engaging in the typical male locker room sort of discussion. I was feeling uneasy, so I started a conversation with Oscar, who calls himself a feminist and takes pride in the second-wave reading he has done at ASU for his assignments. In truth, I have no idea what I said that resulted in the “Oh yeah, I’m transgender” conversation, but it somehow got there. All of the men in this tiny trash closet had directed their attention to our discussion, and I suddenly felt uncomfortable taking part in a dialogue that I normally prance through with ease.
Oscar looked at me with a smile on his face as he says, “So that means I could fuck you, right?”
I could hear my heart pound in my ears. I needed a response, and I needed one desperately. My silence was the source of my fear, and I had no words to drown it out of my mind. My mind raced as I thought of infinite repercussions for my actions. Actions I have yet to plan or do. My mind ran to fields of memories of my experiences, articles I read, stories that broke my heart. The crops of this daydream gone wrong whispered to me the narratives of trans* people who’ve been attacked. It recited to me the paragraphs I had read about men’s violence against those they perceive to be women or failing at being women. Where would these fields take me in the end?
Finally, I said, “You could whether or not I was trans*, and it’d still be gay.” What I said, and what I wished I said are two very different things. I wish I said something about consent seeing as I clearly did not want what he was suggesting. I wish I explained how cissexist, how transphobic, saying things like that is. I wish I said, “no, but I can certainly, and will certainly, report you for sexual harassment.” Instead, I explained how having sex with me is not the same as having sex with women and that two men can and do fuck.
There are so many stories of physical violence against folks like me that I feel blessed to say that I came out only emotionally disturbed. I healed. I am alive. I simply now have more tools on how to teach my peers to be better allies so that they can create more allies. I was not cut with a knife nor shot with a gun. My coworker instead used words to degrade me. We often forget that they are the most commonly used weapon of violence against us.