Growing up I often felt alone and with little guidance. Don’t get me wrong, I had my mother to tell me right from wrong and a grandmother who always told me to look both ways before I crossed the street; but they could only go so far. I recently disclosed to my grandmother that I often fell behind in school and missed out on whole chapters of my education because I was too busy dogging pebbles that were being thrown at me walking to and from school. I was picked on and ridiculed almost to my breaking point on more than one occasion growing up. I don’t say this for pity because unfortunately my story is not an uncommon one for girls like me. I didn’t learn about improper fractions or proper punctuation—just ask my bff Juliana who edits my blogs—because I was too busy learning about survival. Early on I learned to pick and choose my battles, and that when backed into a corner I had to fight as though my life depended on it because it did. I learned that I inhabited a world that was hostile to my very existence, that walking down the sidewalk was enough to have a soda can thrown at you. I grew so accustomed to harassment I came to expect it—and, worse, I came to believe I deserved it.
I ask you; how does one figure out when you are being harassed, taken advantage of or discriminated against when all you’ve ever known has been harassment, violence and discrimination? In a country where in 34 states I can be fired, lose my housing or have service denied at me in a restaurant just by virtue of being who I am, how does one develop enough agency to assert one’s rights when those rights have never been afforded to you in the first place?
I live a world that was not set up for girls like me, that over time has developed a system—various systems of oppression—to deal with “my kind” so that we know clearly where “our place” is in this world.
“Are you gay?”, “You walk like a girl!”, “Faggot”, “sissy boy”, “is the little girly boy going to fight back?” “You’re suspended”, “I’m sorry you failed”, “get out of my house!”, “Why don’t you get a fucking job” “I’m sorry we’re not hiring”, “the position has been filled”, “you’re not qualified”, “you don’t have enough experience”, “look it’s a tranny!”, “Dude, that’s a fuckin man”, “do you still have ‘it’?”, “This bathroom is only for ‘real’ girls, get out!”, “Why don’t you have a job?,” “I’m sorry we don’t have any vacancies”, “we don’t have enough beds at this shelter”, “this shelter doesn’t allow ‘men’”, “how about I just give you twenty”, “’sir’ you are under arrest”, “we don’t cover hormones” ,“Need a place to stay? Get in you can stay with me. I’ll take care of you”, “Why was she with that guy? She was killed because she was looking for trouble”. These are comments trans women hear from kindergarten to beyond the grave. They represent just a few of the many situations where we as a society have failed the most marginalized among us. These comments, and the ideas they represent, create a snowball effect designed to oppress and keep women like me believing that we are less-than, inferior and illegitimate.
How do you stake your claim when you’ve been told your whole life you don’t belong? Eventually you begin to give in and believe it, it becomes your truth. When traveling such a dark road with such rough terrain anyone’s tires become frail and give out rendering one incapable of moving forward. You grow so weak from constantly swimming against the current that you give in and let the wave throw you around.
I was raised to be a fighter. I come from an island with a proud history of boxers, and in my veins I have the blood of Taino Indians and African Slaves that for generations had to battle a system built against them. I was raised by women that navigated a foreign land that was not designed for them; women who have dealt with sexism and racial discrimination for years. So fighting is in my blood, its part of who I am. But why should I have to fight just to belong, or to have access to healthcare, to get a job, a home, to walk down the street and not be harassed or turn into a victim of violence? No one should have to fight for those things. I’m a fighter but I’m also tired of fighting. We shouldn’t have to fight to live.
Disrupting these systems of oppression will be a long journey; one that will require many conversations, legislation, advocacy, empowering and alleyship. Social justice is working in collaboration with one another to dismantle these systems of oppression to uplift the most marginalized in our society. Recognizing that although we may all have been created equal we all did not start the race at the same place; that all of us have not been granted equal access or have been afforded the same opportunities is key to achieving equality. Because until we live in a society where all of us can live without fear of persecution and be free and able to achieve his or hers full potential we will never be a nation that truly lives up to its founding principles.