In the waning days of the Obama administration, I decided to come out as transgender. I was convinced to leave the closet because trans people were becoming more visible, thanks in part to celebrities like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, and in part to increasing social acceptance. And it was inspiring to watch landmark trans protections go into effect under Obama. I began living full time as Katelyn in early October, a month before the political landscape in America changed forever.
Then November 8 happened. Trump’s election and (probably more importantly) the Republican takeover of Congress brought about a disaster for trans Americans. Despite promising to protect the LGBTQ community, the new administration has already targeted the most vulnerable among us: transgender children. For those caught in the beginning stages of transitioning, the election has already had immediate real-life consequences.
Here, four transgender Americans who have come out since Election Day discuss their reactions to Trump’s win and how it has impacted their decisionmaking. Each of the four is fearful, yet defiantly resilient in continuing to transition to live as their true selves.
“It was as if the floor had just dropped out from beneath me.”
Lilah Sturges, trans woman
Comic book author from Austin, Texas, co-author of Jack of Fables
Started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on September 21
Came out on December 27
The election made Lilah reconsider the country she thought she lived in.
All signs pointed to Hillary Clinton becoming the next president, and while the LGBTQ community perhaps never saw her as a perfect candidate, she was infinitely more acceptable than Trump. Hillary’s win, making her the first woman president, was symbolic of the progress I felt we’d made as a society.
As the evening wore on, it started to dawn on me that the country wasn’t the place I’d thought it was. I had assumed that bigotry and hate couldn’t be used to win power on a large scale anymore. Specifically, I’d believed that America was becoming a safe place to be a transgender person. And now I was watching that America vanish before my eyes, one state at a time. A convulsion of reactionary politics experiencing its final gasp, or was this the real America? I didn’t know anymore. It was as if the floor had just dropped out from beneath me.
Having only been on hormones for a month, Lilah thought about turning back.
The morning after the election I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at a pair of hormone pills in my hand. If I wanted, I could throw them in the trash and go back to living as a man; no permanent changes had yet been made to my body. As someone who, to all appearances, was a straight, cisgender, white man, I would have no difficulties in Trump’s America. But I wasn’t sure, and I figured one more day of hormones couldn’t hurt, so I took them anyway.
As the days went by, and I kept taking the pills, it dawned on me that there was no way I was going to stop. It wasn’t just an act of defiance, although it was also that. It wasn’t just because I couldn’t imagine living as male anymore, although that was also true. The thought of not transitioning made me feel ashamed. I knew that there were people in America who were more vulnerable than I was, who had no option to hide who they were so easily: black people, Latino immigrants, Muslims. Who was I to hide my marginalized identity when there were people everywhere who were unable to hide, and who were going to face discrimination regardless? I never stopped taking the pills.
Lilah views her transition as an act of defiance, but that doesn’t mean she’s fearless.
What terrifies me, what keeps me awake and makes me start crying at inopportune moments, is the thought of young trans people all across the country receiving these messages of intolerance and deciding that they can’t come out, can’t be themselves, can’t ever transition. I fear every day for the lives of those young people because I know how fragile those lives are. I know that 40 percent of trans people attempt suicide at least once in their lives. And I know that when people turn their back on trans people, that rate goes up. Trans youths who don’t have family support are already 50 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those who do. Until we can make trans people feel safe and accepted in our society, more kids are going to die.
“I felt so small and so scared after the election.”
Jasper Sanchez, nonbinary/transmasculine/trans man
Writer from Santa Rosa, California
Started hormone replacement therapy on January 9
Came out on November 9
Jasper came out on social media as a direct result of the election result.
I felt so small and so scared after the election. Powerless, really, to have realized that this country wasn’t the place I thought it was. I know I’ve been shielded by privilege (white privilege, class privilege), and I’ve only ever lived in liberal enclaves: the Bay Area, Philadelphia, Los Angeles.
I was desperate to reclaim some sense of agency. So I sat down with a pen and a notebook, and I wrote about my fear. I wrote about my fears for my own rights as a queer Jewish trans guy as well as my fears for other marginalized groups. I wrote until I started to feel less afraid, and it turned out what I had written sounded a lot like a Facebook post. I’d been mulling over the idea of coming out on social media for weeks, but I hadn’t known how. I don’t post very often on Facebook. I’m a fairly private person. I didn’t have any idea, before that morning, how or when I was going to make the transition to being out full time. But that morning, I had the words. I found them somewhere I never would have predicted, and I knew they were right. I typed up everything I’d written it, and I posted it without the kind of hesitation I thought I’d feel. In that moment, I wasn’t afraid.
The new administration has had an overbearing presence in Jasper’s life.
You know, I spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about what Trump is going do next or what scandal is going to grace tomorrow’s headlines. One night, a few weeks ago, I went to dinner with my parents and had a pleasant meal, except something felt off, and I didn’t know what. Then the check came, and I realized the anomaly was that we’d made it through an entire meal without mentioning Trump once.
It took me a while to realize that the way I talk and think and worry about Trump is still somewhat abstracted. I coped with the fear by dissociating from the worst of it. I worried, fervently, about everything except the policies that affect me, as a trans person, as a bisexual person, as a Jewish person. For weeks I didn’t let myself think about the protections the Affordable Care Act grants me, that I might lose.
I’m particularly concerned about legal protections, federal identification, things like passports. I haven’t changed my gender marker on my passport yet because I wanted to wait until after my name change. I’m worried how quickly Trump can roll back trans-friendly policies and procedures with executive orders.
“[Trump is] a liar and a con man and the perfect example of what white privilege looks like.”
K Richardson, transmasculine/genderqueer/gender nonconforming/non-binary person
Social justice educator from Brooklyn, New York
Started hormone replacement therapy in July 2015
Finished coming out in January 2017
K, a non-binary person of color, faces oppression on multiple levels.
Right now, the weather is changing and I can’t hide my face on the subway. I’m afraid of getting attacked. I’m afraid of cisgender men who stare at me to the point of being uncomfortable. I’m afraid I won’t be able to afford the things I need to live my life authentically. It scares me that [Trump] can inflict this level of anxiety and fear in people. It scares me that as a trans person of color, I’m not sure anyone would jump to my defense. I’m afraid for my friends and family who have already been targets (because of religion, immigration status, ethnicity) of his executive orders. It’s only the beginning and it’s already exhausting. It scares me that I’ll feel like this for four years.
They gave no thought to the idea of going back into the closet.
My only concern was whether or not I could continue if I could no longer afford therapy and hormones. I knew my presence as a black, trans person of color is an act of resistance. I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time to recover because I was prepared to fight. I can’t go back. I’d rather die.
K doesn’t mince words with their assessment of President Trump.
His compassion for the [LGBT] community is nonexistent. There was a time he tweeted that he would protect us and instead of keeping his word, he went after the most vulnerable of us out there: children. Children depend on us to provide for them, to protect them, to do justice on their behalf. He has left an unstable, frightening future for so many trans kids in this country. I think it’s bigger than just bathrooms. He has proven that he only cares about white, cisgender, heterosexual men. He has proven that he has no heart, no conscience, no empathy. He’s a liar and a con man and the perfect example of what white privilege looks like.
The fate of trans people isn’t the only political concern K has in the age of Trump.
My biggest issue is that I feel like people of color will be overshadowed by white people coming in and wanting to “help,” but in reality, they silence us and push us from the moment. I want for there to be real discussions about race and the role women of color play in the growth of this country. I want there to be declarations that trans people are real people. No questions asked. I want allies to actively show up and do the work it takes to make real change.
“I am still scared and unsure for the future.”
Hunter Shelley, trans woman
Retail worker and student from Sacramento, California
Started hormone replacement therapy in June
Came out on February 1
The election result delayed her decision to come out.
I was at work closing my store on the night of the election. I was constantly checking my phone for updates and my wife was texting me updates as well. I had done a good job of convincing myself that Hillary was going to win, and had let myself get a little excited,so Trump’s win hurt.
My immediate reaction was shock, and then an overwhelming understanding of what was to come. I knew what [Vice President] Pence stood for and against, and I believed everything that Trump had said he would do. I am still scared and unsure for the future.
I was half in/half out of the closet at the time of the election. I was out at college, and generally went out presenting [as female], but I wasn’t out at work. I seriously considered never coming out at work, and I definitely delayed the decision because of the election.
What matters most is her child and her family.
I have a two and a half year old child, and my fear is that the coming administration will do everything it can to either separate me and my wife, or take me away from them in some form. My kid is everything to me, and [my family is] the reason I keep fighting every day.
Hunter has some advice for cisgender people who want to support their transgender friends.
Understand that we are going through a lot, and even though we might act really strong, the constant threat of attack from the government and news of trans people’s rights being stripped away is very draining. I know at least for me it would be nice if my cisgender friends recognized what was going on without my having to explain why I have a little less energy sometimes.