The Specter of Homelessness Haunting Transgender Lives
My recent scary experience
Recently, I had a scare that shook me to the core and finally allowed me to properly empathize with so many other young transgender people.
I’m sure everyone can relate: my family gets into big rock’em-’sock’em fights at times. There’s a lot of screaming, finger pointing, blame passed around, and it can be scary. It’s even scarier when you have anxiety. My panic attacks make me feel like I’m dying. I can’t breathe, I can’t see straight, and my mind is flooded with thoughts to either hurt myself or hurt others. Intrusive thoughts are hard to deal with when calm, let alone when you’re panicking. You can see yourself stabbing yourself or your loved ones. The pot of water boiling on the stove that had been set going when we had planned on having a calm spaghetti supper together? I needed to put my hand in it. I could see myself putting my hand in it.
My parents had enough sense when I started drinking alcohol while taking anti-anxiety medications that I needed to get myself calmed down before I did anything regrettable. They had me call my grandfather and I went to his house for a few days.
My family of course claimed that they had no problem with my gender identity, but as the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. I’m shown Youtube videos containing transmisogynist humor. My family doesn’t understand my efforts to appear gender neutral, such as diminishing my chest and going out with shaved legs. I’m still referred to as their daughter, a woman, and by she/her pronouns. That’s okay, they’re in their 60’s and don’t understand a lot of this stuff.
It's hard for cis people to understand being enby
But feeling the fear and the dread of possibly being homeless (even though they recanted their threats to sell my car and throw me out) unfortunately allowed me to experience a truth that many transgender adolescents and young adults face: the nightmare of homelessness.
I am very much a cynic towards “gay rights” seeming to start and end at the achievement of same-sex marriage. What good does that do if the risk is still there of a child coming out to one’s parents and being disowned? How can marriage protect that child from falling down the potentially deadly rabbit hole of survival sex and/or drug dealing for cash?
Transgender youth are especially at risk for the dangerous of homelessness. As per the National Center for Transgender Equality:
“…one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. Family rejection and discrimination and violence have contributed to a large number of transgender and other LGBQ-identified youth who are homeless in the United States – an estimated 20-40% of the more than 1.6 million homeless youth. Unfortunately, social service and homeless shelters that work with this population often fail to culturally and appropriately serve transgender homeless people, including denying them shelter based on their gender identity; inappropriately housing them in a gendered space they do not identify with; and failing to address co-occurring issues facing transgender homeless adults and youth.”
The reality is that, if you’re a transgender woman, the cisgender members of a women’s shelter may perceive you as a threat; some centers even have explicit policies excluding transfeminine people. If you’re a trans man, a cis-male-geared housing program might not have the menses supplies or birth control medications you need. If you’re genderqueer and homeless, which shelter do you choose, male or female?
Employment prospects as a transgender individual can be just as bleak. Take it from me, as a social worker: transitional housing programs have very strict guidelines, handed to them by the Department of Social Services, surrounding how long one can stay without having a job. You have to be looking for work, and if you’re trans, that’s an extra added layer of potential heartache and humiliation. Want to work in fast food? Be prepared to be misgendered by customers all day long. A trans man seeking construction? You’ll be asked why you’re so short and small-framed. And again, what in the blazes is a non-binary transgender person supposed to do?
Trans at work and how difficult it can be
As it goes, homeless transgender individuals turn to sex work in order to survive. That’s like going from the frying pan into the fryer. As sex work in this country is still criminalized, chances are you’ll run into the police, who can be very cruel towards trans women, especially. Your Johns could have STIs (and as condoms can be used against you, you’re forced to go without them and risk catching them); any client could get violent on you at any time. This is why I am for the decriminalization of sex work, so it can be regulated and thus become safer for any and all who choose it as their path.
Even being trans in a public place can have fatal consequences. Recently in the news, a twelve-year-old boy (being raised by a disabled grandmother) somehow got a hold of a loaded gun and used it to target a transgender woman. Being trans is like having a constant target on your back that you may not even realize exists.
Alok Vaid-Manon of DarkMatterRage discusses being trans and non cis-passing
Since gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states and several countries, we need to start targeting more pressing queer issues. Homelessness can be deadly. Sex work puts one at risk of illness, assault, or even murder. Policies within social service organizations related to homelessness are outdated and trans-exclusive. All of these things need to change before true equality can arrive.