I never thought I would give advice to a transgender woman. I never thought I would hear a first hand account of the struggles in the life of a transgender woman – or have any reason to write about one.
I was in Brooklyn the other night, so I decided to go visit my mother. She asked me to stop and get her a pack of Salem cigarettes on my way. As soon as I got in the corner store, I recognized “Shanaya” (name changed). She used to live on the first floor of my mother’s building — as a man.
I greeted her with a peck on the cheek. “Heyyy, how you doing? My mother sent you to the store?” Yes, she had. So we left the store – her with a turkey and cheese hero, a 40-ounce of Colt 45, and carton of fruit punch. Me with a box of Newport 100s (they didn’t have Salems).
“So Al, how you been?”
She corrected me. “Oh, I legally changed my name to Shanaya now. I’m on hormones and I identify as a woman.” Then I noticed the makeup.
“Wow. Okay, I’ll call you Shanaya then. Are you happy with the changes?”
“Yes I am. I have a counselor now. I live in the Bronx. I’m doing so much better.”
“As long as you’re happy, I’m happy for you” I told her.
The rain was coming down on a heavy slant by now. We were shuffling to the building under my umbrella when her cellphone started ringing.
“Oh my gossshh! That’s my boo. That’s my boo. My baby. But he gotta wait. My hands full. I’m gon call him back when we get upstairs.”
I could tell she was super excited.
By the time we rode the elevator up to the fifth floor and stepped inside my mother’s apartment, Shanaya had learned that it was really another woman (a “tranny,” in her words) calling – and not her boo. The caller said “Listen here! Don’t call his f*ckin phone no more!” – and hung up.
I will never say that I understand what goes through the mind of a transgender person throughout childhood or adolescence, or even adulthood for the matter, but what I can easily identify with is emotional turmoil and pain. I can identify with how circumstances can trigger grief or other unhealthy behaviors.
Shanaya was saying, “I’m just so devastated. I can’t believe this. He never told me he was dealin with somebody else! I don’t have time for this.”
We know it’s nothing for a man to lie.
My mother: “That can’t be the same man who was on the phone telling you how much he loved you right before you went to the store. That’s HIM?!”
“Yea, that’s him. I’m am so devastated. I feel like going out on the stroll and selling my body. I walk down some of the streets I used to trick on and I get flashbacks to the nights I got in cars with men. My aunt don’t believe I was out there sucking dick, but I miss it. I sold my body for money, but the money is not good no more. I still have sisters out there on the stroll. I tried to change myself for the better, but I get tempted to go back.”
I can identify with addiction (and prostitution is evidently another form of it), having had addicts in my family.
I told her “No, you’re not. KEEP MOVING FORWARD. Don’t look back. You’re not going that way. Don’t give this man or anybody else the power to make you turn around. You deserve better than that.” I got chills as I said it and my mother’s mouth hung wide open.
She continued “I never had anybody to tell me they love me before. And he did. He told me he loved me. I’m about to delete his number.”
My mother: “well you told him that. So he was just telling you what you wanted to hear. But you need to tell him about it instead of just deleting him.”
I asked, “Well how long y’all been going out?”
“Two months. I met him on the chat line. He didn’t tell me he was messing with somebody. Now this bitch calling my phone.”
My mother tried to change the subject, but Shanaya kept going back. “I am so devastated. I am just so devastated right now. One of these days I’m gonna find love. I’m 38 years old and I never had a man before.” And on and on about things she discussed with her psychiatrist.
She sat at the kitchen table with my mother, eating a turkey and cheese hero, and shaking her head in disbelief.
My mother: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing, you shole didn’t lose your appetite. You EATIN that sandwich.”
Then the conversation turned physical. Shanaya is probably a B-cup or small C right now from hormone treatments, but she wants to be a size double-D. I asked, “why do you want breasts that big?” she responded “Look,” and popped out her right boob.
My stomach dropped to its depths. I went into shock. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to see a perky boob on someone I only knew previously as a man.
My mother explained that even though she’s tall (probably about 6’1), her frame is way too small for that cup size. (Big boobs give you back problems.)
“I want a vagina too. I wanna be a full woman.”
Only my mother would ask, “so you still stand up and pee?”
I couldn’t believe it. But I told her that if the changes she’s making are making her happy, that’s what matters.
I can identify with people just wanting to happy. (That Mary J. Blige joint used to be my anthem.)
I can identify with people who want to be loved. (That’s just about all of us at some point.)
Emotional pain is also universal.
I left them sitting at the kitchen table at about 11:30pm. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Shanaya’s story all the way home.
It struck me how open she was about her feelings and hardships. People harbor all kinds of pain, but don’t necessarily share it. People harbor deep longings for love, but on the outside, appear stoic (or numb). But here she was, sharing her pain and her past.
I had told Shanaya that if she was patient, love would come.
Do you think it’s as simple as waiting for love? (Like Luther Vandross said? Wait for love?) What do you take away from this story? Other thoughts and comments are welcome.
- Transgender Health Coverage In Two States (alan.com)
- Sweden Ends Forced Sterilization Of Transgender People (thinkprogress.org)
- Cecilia Chung, transgender health advocate (sfgate.com)