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When I finally got up the courage to come out, I was living in Austin, Texas, and frequented a bar where other transpeople gathered. On one of those nights, I was seated by myself when a rugged looking man I would guess to be in his fifties sat down beside me. Within moments, he turned in his chair and placed his hand on my thigh, squeezing it tightly. I recoiled, but he hung on and began whispering, “Hey, baby. You look hot. I know you want some action?”
Before I could reply, the bartender, with whom I had become friendly on my previous visits, came over and leaned forward. “Everything okay here?” he asked.
Immediately, the man lifted his hand and turned away from me.
“OK,” I said. “For now.”
The bartender smiled. “Well,” he said, directing his voice toward the man who was pretending not to hear, “If there’s anything you need, just let me know.”
I thanked him, then turned to the man and said, “You ever touch me again, and I’ll have you thrown out of here.”
He didn’t respond.
“And I’ll see to it that you aren’t ever allowed back,” I added, whereupon he turned back to me and spat out a string of vulgar, misogynistic epithets, the likes of which were beyond anything I had ever heard. Then he downed what was left of his drink and stormed out.
That bar had a bouncer whose second job was to escort us girls to our cars. (There had been an occasion when a rejected ‘suitor’ had followed a girl outside and assaulted her.) That night, when I went home, I told my wife about the incident. “You won’t believe what happened,” I began, and then recounted the story of the assault.
She shook her head and smirked. “Welcome to my world,” she said.
Such incidents occur all too often. The issue was brought into mainstream consciousness when on November 19, 2017, Jeffrey Tambor announced he was leaving Transparent, the television show he had starred in for the past four years. The announcement came following allegations by Trace Lysette, a transwoman and one of the show’s cast members, that Tambor “made many sexual advances and comments” and, on one occasion, physically assaulted her.
I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to members of the trans community, but the public is generally unaware that we are also targets of that sort of behavior just as much as, if not more than, genetic women. And in our case, those actions are more likely to escalate to physical assault.
The attacks come from a variety of situations and are more likely to be upon transwomen than transmen. Both are flattered when a cisgender person of the opposite gender is attracted to them. And real danger arises when a transwoman is reluctant to disclose her status, as that diminishes their feminine attractiveness to certain people. (Does he find me attractive because he ‘knows’ and that titillates him? Or am I so feminine that he doesn’t know?)
Some actively seek out the so-called ‘admirers’ who are fully aware of the circumstances and happy to play along in a kind of fantasy dating scenario. And there are some who seek acceptance on any level so long as it is seen as an affirmation of their feminine nature. (The online dating services provide abundant opportunities for risky liaisons.)
But no transman or transwoman should be a victim of sexual harassment. Regardless of how one defines themselves (transgender, transsexual, crossdresser, drag queen, she-male, transvestite, androgyne, etc.), the emerging rebellion against sexual assault needs to reflect the experience of all of us who are victims of such behavior. And it’s especially important that when it happens it is not relegated to the LGBT community’s media outlets. It needs to appear in the mainstream.