Ask a Trans Woman columnist reaches milestone writing for The Rainbow Times
By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
So this is my 100th column. For those of you playing the home game, that’s 100 “Ask A Trans Woman” columns that I’ve written for The Rainbow Times since I sat down in the summer of 2009 to write my very first column.
In preparation for writing this, I went back and read my first few columns. A lot has changed since I wrote them. Even the name of the column has changed slightly. Originally it was “Ask A Transwoman” with “transwoman” being one word. Not too long after I started though, I was convinced that the two word phrase, “trans woman” was a better usage. The change made “trans” more of a descriptor, an addition to woman, than a particular, and separate, kind of woman.
And I think this small, but important change is indicative of what I believe has been my strength as a writer, activist and advice columnist. It’s also why I have made it to 100 columns without too much objection to my continued publication in the paper (though there has been some. My favorite thing to do whenever I see my wonderful publisher in person is to ask if she’s gotten any interesting new hate mail about me).
I have always tried to stay as flexible as possible—pen to change and new ideas—ready to jettison those ideas and beliefs that are no longer relevant or which I have become adequately convinced are simply not useful. I am always listening, constantly reading, watching and learning as our trans and queer communities grow and evolve. There is always something new for me to learn, a fresh story to hear.
I believe that nothing is static and the world around us is incredibly, delightfully complex. And therefore if I am to do my job, and continue to earn your trust, oh dear readers, I must be ready to change myself. I try to give the best advice I can, according to the best information and ideas available to me. And when that advice becomes no longer relevant or accurate, I must be prepared to know that, and to adjust accordingly.
I am pleased to say I have often done just that.
A lot more than just a word in the name of this column has changed since 2009. Marriage equality is now the law nationally, and will hopefully remain so. Here in Massachusetts, we now have full civil rights protections for trans people. In 2009, we were still a couple years away from even basic protections. As a trans woman in Massachusetts, and still in much of the country, I could be refused employment, or even fired from a job, simply for being trans. I could be denied housing, financial assistance, kicked off a bus, or out of a restaurant, a courthouse, or, yes, a restroom, just because of my gender identity. There were no specific hate crime protections. I listened to our opponents, with absolutely zero sense of history or irony, seriously propose, “separate but equal” solutions to some of this. And the “trans panic defense” was still being used regularly as a way to excuse and exonerate the people who murder and beat us.
In the eight years I’ve been writing this column, the trans community and our struggle for our basic human rights has grown in stature and visibility. We have come pretty far. And yet, there is still so far to go.
As I write this in late March, there have already been eight trans women murdered in the United States in 2017; all trans women of color.
Last year there were 27 transgender people killed in the United States alone. The highest number on record. So while things have gotten better for some of us, progress we owe in large part to increased visibility, that same visibility has also made it more dangerous for those of us most at risk.
As much as things change, so much stays the same. Many of the struggles I described in my earliest columns remain just as relevant 100 columns later. In my fifth column, I wrote for the first time about the violence trans people face. Though I’ve written about the joys and triumphs of being trans; celebrated trans lives; discussed trans people in the media; defined and redefined terms of transition and categories of identity; answered all sorts of questions; and been positive whenever I could, I have never stopped writing about the violence.
Quite beyond the social, cultural, and political changes, I’ve changed too. In 2009, I had still pretty recently begun my own transition. I was new and nervous, and quite frankly about 13 years old, hormonally speaking. I had all sorts of odd ideas about what I needed to do and how I needed to act to be “accepted” as a woman. I was often nervous and afraid and not nearly as self-confident as I liked people to think I was. Thankfully, I managed to keep a lot of my more regrettable ideas out of the column. Somehow, in the act of trying to give the best advice and analysis I could to my audience, I have been able to offer wisdom I have not always had such an easy time following myself.
Since then I’ve been through two major relationships, lived all over Massachusetts, traveled up and down the east coast, marched and spoken at innumerable protests, rallies, and parades, and had a good number of adventures. I’ve gotten mostly through to the more settled down side of second puberty. I won a pageant. Performed a whole lot. Been asked to teach, speak and write about gender and sexuality for audiences I never dreamed of reaching. Given so many radio, print, and television interviews that I’ve lost count. Worked with a number of fine folks to help pass two major trans civil rights laws here in Massachusetts. Been invited to The White House, when it was still cool. Had a photo of me on display in The Louvre. And had the great honor of having met literally hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing and beautiful trans people.
I’ve even been told by both trans youth and adults that I helped inspire them to begin their transitions. Which of all the things I’ve listed, for me, that is the most precious accomplishment of all. I believe, I hope, that in these 100 columns I have done some small amount of good in the world.
Who knows where the next few years will bring us? We have come far and we have so much farther to go. I have grown and changed much. And I do not doubt I will grow and change more. I am frightened, as I’m sure many of you are, by the current state of affairs in the world. But I am excited as well, even optimistic because I have seen change happen for the better. I have been lucky enough to be part of historic leaps forward.
But mostly, I am optimistic because I am proud to be trans. And I am consistently awed and amazed by how strong and beautiful and brave trans people are. I know we will never stop fighting to be who we are. We know hardship, but we know great joys as well. And, we know what it is to travel through those hardships even for just a few brief moments of that great joy to be had in being ourselves and being free.
Thank you for coming along with me on this incredible journey. Thank you all for learning and changing and growing with me. I hope you will continue to come by and visit and listen to the strange and sometimes funny and occasionally even useful things I have to say.
As I wrote at the end of that very first column, there’s a whole lot more to be said.
I know you’ve got questions you’re still afraid to ask. You might think they’re silly, stupid, offensive, or just inane, but you really would like to know.
Well that’s why I’m here. Just ask Lorelei. I’m your Trans Answer Woman!
* Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer, and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: [email protected].