In 1992 I met the first transwoman who I knew to be trans.
I don’t remember her name. I wish I did.
It was 1992, I was attending Macalester College here in St. Paul. My friend Scott had been enrolled at St. John’s University up in St Cloud. He, however, had either dropped out or been kicked out, I’m not quite sure. Either he was expelled for having sex with one of the monks who worked at the college, or he was disowned by his parents and couldn’t pay for the school. At any rate, Scott had come to the Twin Cities to find a place to live and work.
That was the year that my roommate and I were hiding her boyfriend in our dorm room. So, we *already* had an illegal third person living on campus with us. I couldn’t house Scott. When I saw him, I made sure to try to buy dinner for him, and I always gave him my pack of cigarettes before I came back to the campus, but I didn’t know what else to do. I listened to his stories of nights at the gay bars with mixed admiration and worry. He would get picked up by older men, he said, have whatever kind of sex they wanted, he said, and then take a bunch of blank checks out of their checkbooks when they were asleep. He would take prescription medications out of their medicine cabinets, steal bottles of alcohol. He didn’t take *cash*, so he never counted it as turning tricks.
Scott ended up staying with a slightly older transwoman who made a living in a similar fashion. Her name was … something like, maybe, Ariadne? I’ll call her Ariadne. Ariadne couldn’t get a straight job, she told me, because her legal i.d. did not match her appearance or the name she used. So she made a living dealing drugs in the bars, and occasionally sleeping with men for money. She also had told Scott which places he could give plasma and they would let him lie on the forms, and which places gave the best money for secondhand goods. Also, which food banks and shelters were friendliest to skinny, pretty, white gay boys who looked younger than they were.
In the wake of yesterday’s transphobic and discriminatory federal legislation, I am reminded of Ariadne. Of she could not get regular work and was pushed into illegal sources of income. Bathroom bills force trans people out of public life. If you can’t go anywhere for longer than it takes you to need to pee, you can’t be in the world. You can’t be in school, or hold a job, if you can’t pee in public spaces.
When we make legislation of bathrooms, we legislate trans people into the shadow economies. We push them out of community and into non-desirable careers and living situations, and then we condemn them as criminals and vagrants for the lives we force upon them.
Ariadne frightened me. She was brash and bold and openly engaged in criminal acts. She was not kind or understanding. She believed the world existed to be taken from. But she gave my friend Scott a place to sleep, gave him advice about men to avoid in the bars, helped him with the street skills he suddenly and urgently needed.
I am sorry, Ariadne, for the society that pushed you into a criminal life. I thank you, for the help you gave my friend Scott. I wonder if you are still alive. I wish I remembered your name. I hope you are alive, and well, and showing up at all the town hall meetings, angry and trans and full of cutting insults. I remember you.
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