This post summarizes thoughts I’d started to write as a forum post elsewhere but which I decided to not post, since there are some trans people on that site who are argumentative and who insist that transphobia and discrimination are rare things. Rather than argue with people who are trying to directly deny my own life experiences, I thought I’d summarize some of them here. The short story is that discrimination and bigotry are real in Texas but depend a lot on exactly where you live and how liberal or conservative that area actually is. Below are my thoughts on the matter.
Texas is a bit unusual. Inside the major cities, there’s a lot more acceptance of trans folk and of GLBT people generally. Outside the major cities, it varies, but in general, the more rural you get, the less acceptance there is, and there is even occasionally often open hostility, discrimination, etc. Navigating the Texas legal system just to do a name change can leave one facing appeals and moving up the court hierarchy if the wrong judge decides to invoke the ultra-conservative Christian “God” card against you and even after those legal changes have been made (which are even authorized in state law), judges can rule against that without any seeming repercussions. See the Nikki Araguz case for an example of where a judge simply ignored state law because the plaintiff’s lawyers claimed “the Bible says so”. Worse, these bigots end up giving a bad name to those good Christians who do work with the poor, who accept GLBT persons, etc.
In my experience, which has been confirmed with talks with many other Texas transwomen, the more someone loudly proclaims their evangelical “born again” status, the more likely that person will be openly rude to and critical of you if they realize that you are transgender and in transition or have transitioned. Unfortunately, enough of these sort of people hold political office in Texas that it can be problematic for transgender people. However, the political tide may be turning against the far right in Texas as urban areas total population begins to outstrip rural areas. As those demographics shift, so might the balance of political power.
One of my local trans acquaintances once posted to Facebook a photo of a map of Houston that she’d marked up. She’d drawn a ring around beltway 610, which is what is considered “inside” the city even though Houston city limits extend well beyond I-610. She labeled that “The Shire”. Then, in the surrounding bedroom communities, she labeled them as “orcs”, “trolls”, “here be dragons”, etc. We laughed about it but it spoke to a truth that many of us Texas TG folk have experienced – direct face to face cruelty, from people who you thought were otherwise decent people.
When I came out, someone with whom I’d been friends for many years ranted on Facebook about “she-male perverts” but didn’t name me directly. But given that he’d just found out a few days before, and that thereafter he no longer discussed things with me but instead talked down at me and even yelled at me face to face, I’m 99.99% certain that rant was directed at me. Another who found out and who used to thank me for mentoring him on complex programming topics suddenly thought I should be fired for being a “pervert”. No, he would not listen to any attempt to explain things, nor even consider any references. “Yer a sinner, by gawd, and goin’ ta hell!” Thankfully we no longer worked at the same companies.
My own son, who married into an ultra conservative Southern Baptist clan refuses to let me see my grandchildren. Once, when discussing this, I said, you can’t protect your daughter forever. In just a few more years she can come seek me out of her own free will. His response? A venomous “I’ll make sure she understands about people like you before then!” His position is that any trans person should be legally required to identify themselves as trans as soon as you meet anyone, even in the most casual settings, so that person can refuse you service or to interact with you. In other words, open bigotry defined by law is what he and others want. I asked him if he meant I should be required to identify as trans when I order a burger at McDonalds and he said yes, so they can choose to refuse to serve me if they wish.
Those who claim that discrimination and hatred are rare things haven’t walked in my shoes. You’ve not had a son rant at you for 5 solid minutes where every third word was God, every other third word was fuck, and the remaining third words were incoherent babble. You’ve not accidentally bumped into your son with his family and watched your granddaughter run to your arms saying “I missed you!” only to have her torn away and dragged out of the restaurant by her mother, a look of shock and sadness on her face. You’ve not worked with homeless trans kids, only to see one choose suicide versus a state Child Protective Service that was determined to force him to live as a girl. You’ve not spent time with trans sisters who are suddenly fired and homeless. You’ve not seen a local pharmacist openly snarl at you for a prescription (yes, I changed pharmacies).
Discrimination and bigotry have been very real experiences in my world and I’ve only been transitioning for a bit over a year now. The tales that some of those who transitioned years ago here in Texas could tell might make your hair curl. I am very fortunate to work for a non-American company that has a “zero tolerance” policy against harassment and discrimination of GLBT persons and that has gender identity explicitly included in corporate policies. Many of the large and mid-size oil and gas companies in Houston also do, but many of the banks and other corporations do not yet so employment is a huge minefield since the US has not yet passed ENDA. A recent HUD housing discrimination case was here in Texas.
By the same token, some of the most accepting people of my trans status have been Hispanic Catholics. My daughter married into such a family and her father-in-law’s reaction to this news about me was that “people deserve to be happy”. Each time I’ve seen him, he’s been accepting thus far as has been his wife and my son-in-law’s sisters.
While the white, evangelical “Christian” bigots may be a minority, they are a loud minority and can and will try to make anyone with whom they disagree miserable if they can. Of course, they invoke God as the basis for their bigotry so trying to persuade them is just about impossible.
No, I do not urge any trans folk to come to Texas unless you are willing to live inside the cities and do your homework about the companies for which you wish to work. There are some amazing opportunities here with the right companies and if you stay in your “ghetto” (inside the city in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth) and away from the lily-white evangelical suburbs. Fortunately, living inside the major cities is a great thing and all of Texas’ major cities are enjoying a renewal of sorts as well.
And the more fully you pass, the more likely you can slip by stealth and not even be detected since most of these same people assume all transwomen are ugly “men in a dress” caricatures. My own son had no idea who that woman was when he saw me in a photo in a dress with some friends. When told that the woman in question is also a gamer, he thought that was “cool” and said he’d like to meet her. My friend said that wouldn’t be likely since “Liz” only rarely “came to town” and dropped the topic. My son has actually bumped into a number of transwomen that I now know and he simply does not know, yet he insists that he can spot any “tranny” a mile a way. I’ve not disabused him of his illusions as he won’t listen to me at all anymore anyway.
This is the reality of my experience thus far in Texas and my experience is far from unique, as many other trans folk I know have told. For others to tell me that my experience is “wrong” or that their experience of acceptance trumps mine is the height of hypocrisy. I can and will state that bigotry against trans folk is a very real issue, at least here in Texas. For those who live in locations where that’s not the case, I’m very happy for you but to argue that trans people don’t need legal protections is to argue against the reality that many of us have experienced. And mind you, my experience has been positively mild compared to some I have met.
Oh, and every single person who’s discriminated against me and others I’ve met? A Tea Party Republican type. Every single time. Maybe not every Tea Party person is a transphobic bigot but every transphobic bigot I’ve encountered thus far has been a Tea Party person. And I’m not alone in that experience.