The thought of a national debate about which bathroom I can use never really occurred to me — especially when it runs parallel to presidential debates in an election year. I must really be important, because strangers care so much about my basic human needs. Or is it that I’m different and they’re afraid of me and believe I exist only to prey upon their children?
Sadly, as with any debate, it’s both. As a proud, transgender woman of color, I have more in common with those who are against me than they realize. We’re all human, free, part of a community, in possession of unalienable rights, and, I believe, children of God. What sets us apart is how we treat each other. And, our life experience.
Before “transitioning” became mainstream speak for a transgender person’s journey to becoming their authentic self, we called it “survival,” honey. Growing up in south-central Los Angeles and Anaheim — where there was no shortage of KKK members or skinheads — was tough enough for anyone, let alone a young person of color different on the inside, as well as the outside.
Thinking back, it’s remarkable I’m even here to talk about it. So many transgender youth suffer in silence and ultimately give up, like a silent killer. As you’ll see on this season of Transcendent, I really take pride in mentoring young people who, like me in those earlier years, have experienced a lot of heartbreaking challenges. Long ago, by some miracle, someone was watching over me and I found myself at San Francisco's Larkin Street, where my life changed forever. The people there got me off the streets, kept me safe, treated me with dignity, and put me on the right path. It’s places like Larkin Street and the angels who work and volunteer there that belong in the headlines, not urinals.
Discrimination in any form can be deeply damaging. Having lived in a homeless shelter for part of my life, I can identify with the hurt. Transgender people feel as though they are “excommunicated” from life at many stages of their transitions and steps of discovery. Some of us have been shunned by family and certain friends, and have been literally excommunicated. Because of such challenges, I connected with these youth spiritually, by way of our shared experiences. Do we really want to pile on to their troubles by excommunicating them from bathrooms?
Back then, I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to, but I had to eat and provide for myself. I moved to San Francisco, could not get hired anywhere, and tragically became involved in the sex trade, falling victim to drugs and physical abuse. I wish I were the only one, but my story is just an echo of so many others. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled transgender issues are in the forefront of the media and the bathroom debate is making international news, but it’s about so much more than whether or not I sit or stand. It’s about whether or not I can sit at the front of the bus or eat at the same table as you in a restaurant or have a job or walk down the street without being harassed or even serve my country if that’s my calling. It’s about not resurrecting a dark past in this country’s history when anyone who was different was considered “less than” and it was OK to discriminate against them.
While I’m happy to exist in a very diverse San Francisco, many seem to have the idea there’s not much discrimination here and that transgender life is much easier than say, life in middle America. Would it surprise you if I told you that’s not always the case? Transgender youths and adults alike are trying to find work, and without it can’t find the financial means to transition. Most of us have to jump through many unnecessary hoops and mounds of paperwork before we can simply be who we are, but we’ve made commendable strides — let’s not go backwards. Let me walk all of America’s streets with confidence, not as someone who has to survive yet another day under the hot and immoral magnifying glass of discrimination.
I can understand my life experience may be different from those who are so concerned about which bathroom I can — or can’t — use. Like I said before, I must be really important for them to care. Thanks for the help, folks, but I’m perfectly capable of making that decision on my own.
Transcendent's second season premieres Wednesday on Fuse at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.
BIONKA is trained in modern dance and recently recorded her first single, "Lift Mah Shirt.” She aspires to work in film and on Broadway, and would someday love to be a professional stylist. She was also recently named Miss Gay United States 2016.