Who do you call when you can’t call the police? It isn’t a thought I have considered before today. I have had empathy for my brown and black friends and neighbors. I have made my oldest sit through 13th and discuss institutionalized racism. I have studied black history and, more recently, have listened to podcasts on Stonewall and Linda Feinstein. The police raids of clubs and taking women outside and violating them seems like…history, it couldn’t be today.
But we have not come so far. I don’t live in the deep south and yet police hostility and discrimination are alive and well. So who do you call when you can’t call the police? Imagine with me for a moment, if you will, you are a twenty-four-year-old, white, transgender woman. You didn’t transition until a few years ago and have zero family support. You come from nothing and have been treated as such your entire life. Abused, and broken way before you realized you were trans and now your identity is not even respected.
Your car breaks down after you finish a shift in the wee hours of the morning bartending. Who do you call? Logically, you call the police. The police will help you, right? They respond. The responding officer is kind. He helps you push your car off the side of the road onto the shoulder. He asks for your license. He sees the identity and the person he sees in front of him doesn’t match. His affect completely changes.
Suddenly you are surrounded by five officers and are being asked to submit to a breathalyzer. Wait! You were asking for help. You aren’t drunk! You called for help with a broken-down car. Why would you call the police if you were drunk? Why are you being treated like you’ve done something wrong? You refuse. They arrest you.
You show up to court….five long months later. The officer meets you outside of the courtroom and says, “hey you.” You don’t even recognize him. He sits directly behind you in the courtroom. It is so intimidating. The public defender has refused to answer any of your calls, refused to meet with you the morning before the hearing; you have never spoken with him.
Your anxiety is through the roof. You want it over. The judge reads the circumstances. Are you serious? Are you sure? You actually want to plea? Why? You are waiving your rights.
You plea. The judge gives you a slap on the wrist. She knows it was bullshit. $250 fine and an alcohol class. Ya, for the alcohol that was never consumed.
This is not my story. It is the story of someone very close to me. It is the story of heartbreak, both mine and hers. I ugly cried after I heard the outcome. Both for her and for my daughter. You see, I have changed all of my daughter’s identification FOR THIS VERY REASON. She will not be pulled over and outted by a transphobe. She will not be placed under false arrest. I have shameful talks with my friend- you can’t put yourself in these positions, you are not like Jane and Dan. Shameful because she should be able to call the police, my daughter should be able to call the police, in an ideal world the police are working to respect and protect people who are doing right and aren’t perpetrating crimes of their own. This is not an ideal world.
My overarching concern is for those in the community who don’t have the support to be able to make changes or who are transitioning later. Or for those who live in a state where they are legally unable to make gender identification changes, and yes, that is a thing (see Tennessee, Idaho, Puerto Rico, etc… complete list here http://transgenderlawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Birth-Cert-overview-state-by-state.pdf) or can only make the change after having sex reassignment surgery which is painful, invasive and can only be performed as an adult. And quite frankly isn’t what everyone wants or needs to prove they are who they are. Bottom line- trans people are marginalized and vulnerable. They are targets for hate and institutionalized bigotry. They are not safe.
I am not under the false impression that I live in a progressive community; quite the contrary. In our community libraries are fined for hosting drag queen story hour and The League of Women Voters threatens to “cause a scene” if I show up to a dating violence presentation with my LGBTQ+ affirmations. However, the severity of the harm that befell this beautiful soul cannot be overlooked or underestimated.
The transgender community is under attack. Nationally they are being targeted by an administration that revels in creating virulent forms of structural violence. In creating groupings of those who are deserving of rights and those who are not. In continuously introducing legislation that questions the legitimacy of transgender constitutional rights they call into question the founding fathers’ supposition that all men [people] are created equal, that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Transgender people are not looking to take away your life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness. They aren’t looking to take away your equality. They get the flu and need to go to the doctor. They need to put gas in their car so they need a job. They have jobs and like to go on vacation. I like to tell people, when we go to family camp - we climb rock walls, go paddle boarding and roast marshmallows around the campfire - JUST LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE. Because we ARE NORMAL PEOPLE.
My friend, who just survived this horrifying experience, will NEVER call the police for help again. What a tragedy. I have to tell you. Regardless of being transgender, she is one of the kindest, most wickedly-smart, hard-working HUMANS I have ever met. She has been dealt a shit hand and continues to try to improve her circumstances. I’ve met a whole lot of cis, white, dirtbags that are more deserving of police judgement than she.
The next time I see this last name on a badge, either he, his brother or his father’s, I will think twice. You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Time’s up.