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At Least You're Not Robbing Banks to Go Back to Jail

Jail

The story of a trans woman who committed a felony just to return to prison illustrates how good so many of us have it.

In between the articles about bathroom rights, bad transgender movie characters and casting, and transgender women being murdered, one article that should have been noticed slipped through the cracks. Back in July, a trans woman robbed a bank just to go back to prison. I do remember seeing the article, and I thought about it briefly: Well, makes sense, really. At least you can get your hormones, food, and shelter as a trans woman in prison.

You can easily trot out the statistics about how trans women are vastly underemployed (many making less than a part-time fast-food worker) or simply unemployed and say how terrible it is, but those are just numbers, not people. We don't hear the actual stories of what these people's lives are like. They're usually the same, though that doesn't make them any less rough to hear unless you're the type that gets so used to hearing them you quit being moved or are so centered on yourself that it's hard to care. The stories go like this -- these women, after dealing with their gender dysphoria, come out and lose everything. They can't find jobs, their families abandon them, they go broke. Now they're stealing things to sell; the woman from this story was stripping copper pipes and wiring from houses. That's usually what people do who can't get into the sex trade because they're too old or don't pass well enough. If they do end up in sex work, they're the street-corner hookers who trade in volume instead of price. That's if they transitioned before prison. A lot of them, because they lacked the privilege of coming out young and in ideal circumstances like a good education, a supportive family, or even a moderately affluent background, actually end up transitioning in prison because they've spent their youth committing crimes and only realize who they are when they are there.

Just pause and think about that for a minute. For as terrible as it is that there are people out there who won't let you pee in peace, that there are those who deliberately misgender you, that some would treat you as just a sexual fetish, for a lot of trans people, that's the least of their worries. When you're diving in dumpsters for food, breaking into houses to strip the wires from the walls (that's hard work), or screwing strangers in an alley for 20 bucks a trick, getting called "sir" is at least being acknowledged as a human being.

It's easy to lose that perspective in our world -- even I do, so it's no call-out from a high horse. It's easy for me to be resentful of seeing someone like Caitlyn Jenner not have to worry about having financial obstacles to transition as I sit in my crap apartment where the bathroom ceiling leaks regularly. I can easily get jealous of someone like Jen Richards as she climbs the Hollywood ladder, growing in fame and influence. When I see posts from other trans women I follow on Twitter who have transitioned young, are thin and born with a feminine figure and face, complain about feeling ugly, I can so easily roll my eyes and think, Give me a fucking break.

Yet no matter how much I think about how I'm not famous, rich, or super passable, I still get reality slapped back into me. I don't live in the most affluent neighborhood, and when I see the guy whose motorized wheelchair has broken down on the side of road again I think about how lucky I am to have free health insurance for life, for being a vet. I live down the street from a Goodwill, and I have shopped in there before; I'm not shopping there because I can only afford $2 pants, I'm there for fun and lucky finds. I would rather be driving an SUV with all the fancy electronics, but I drive a white hatchback I picked because I could afford the payments and it's good on gas. Meanwhile I have neighbors who drive cars where bumpers are held on with tape. I'm not a small girl and I pass OK despite being able to palm a bowling ball with my huge hands. But I still don't look like I've spent 40 years of my life standing on an oil rig in the sun, and I have enough hair that I don't need a wig. Is that a dig against those who do look like that? In an unintentional way, yeah. But I'm lucky enough to pass pretty well and rarely have to worry about being stared at by rude and hurtful people. It's a privilege to pass, and it does affect how favorably people deal with you.

I'm lucky despite all that I have that I'm not happy or envious about. I still have a big-screen TV, I'm finishing up my college degree, I got a job that, while it doesn't pay great, at least keeps me from having to think about offering cheap oral sex on Craigslist for rent or food. Quite often the things we think of as great offenses or struggles as a trans person are paltry and quibbles. There are real issues to deal with, but often the ones that make people most likely to start shouting make the least amount of difference. That's why things like complaining about micro-aggressions seem like an act of privilege to me. Raising hell that someone accidentally used the wrong pronoun with no ill intent at work seems so paltry when there are people out there who can't even find a homeless shelter because they make people uncomfortable. Yeah, these things can hurt, but sometimes we need to reframe the conversation and put them in perspective. I've dealt with a lot of crap, and I will keep dealing with a lot of crap for being transgender for the rest of my life, but I'm doing OK. I can take a few slights and nasty looks. When I read that this woman, who robbed a bank just to go back to jail, asked the judge to sentence her to the maximum sentence of 20 years so she can "go home," I have to remember that sometimes we worry about our own small problems and ignore bigger ones that are far more tragic.

AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian living in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.

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