When I transitioned there were only a few things that surprised me. However the biggest surprise was the change in the way other people reacted to me.
When I was presenting as male I was clean cut, baby-faced, conservatively dressed, quite, no tatts, no piercings–just your basic guy. Or such was my thought.
However while living on the west coast I became aware that for many people I was to be avoided. Women never met my gaze, nor did other men. I was rarely approached when out in public for any reason. There were times when I saw that someone was reacting to me with plain, old-fashioned fear.
Somewhere along the line I got used to this. I got used to a world of people who kept their distance. Also at some point this sense of people keeping their distance from me, fed my feeling of safety and security. After all, who is going to attack the boggie man? Clearly it was a false sense of safety but I had it.
With transition the world suddenly came closer. Going out in public no one was responding to me with fear. Other women would smile at me. Men would meet my gaze and I became the one who looked away. More than that people began to approach me for all sorts of reasons: to ask directions, for money, for the time, every now and again to offer me help. It was dizzying and unsettling. People were in my personal space much more often than I was accustomed to and they were coming deeper into my personal space than ever before.
Over time my sense of assumed personal security slowly degraded and then finally collapsed. I had barely noticed the slow decline but I know exactly when the collapse happened. Three events happened in what felt like rapid succession.
First while I was living in Columbia City a while a man was attacking women in an adjacent neighborhood. This man was attacking women of all ages who were out alone at night. I was living alone at the time and I got scared.
Second there was a break-in to the church where I was serving. It happened during the day and I was in the building alone at the time. The building was one of those big rambling places with door and windows everywhere so I would not have known that someone was in the building. The evidence suggests that he was spotted by a neighbor before he got far into the crime. But what if he had not been spooked? We could have ended up face to face.
Third I became aware of a number of attacks on trans women nationwide. This included an attack in Seattle. It happened near my home where I trans woman was attacked my a group of teens.
For the first time in my life I felt extremely vulnerable, especially alone after dark. I began to avoid going out at night. I became more aware of my surroundings regardless of the time of day. I started to do the things women do to promote their safety while being mostly unaware that I was doing those things.
I wasn’t truly aware of this change in my behavior until a friend pointed it out to me. On one occasion she said, “So, starting to understand how dangerous it is to be a woman, aren’t you?”
I had to admit that she was right. I thought for a while that I was over-reacting but I determined that I was simply being wise. Dangerous things were happening around me. I’m an out black trans woman who is in the public eye and I live alone. I had to make changes. I had to make my personal safety a priority. And that’s what I did.
Still I know that in a few years I had gone from feeling inviolable to feeling vulnerable. It was one of the biggest changes that transition brought to me. And it was the change I least expected.