On The 6: Confronting the Mortality of Girls Like Me

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It’s Trans Awareness Week, the week leading up to Trans Day of Remembrance on November 20th. When we say that Autostraddle is website primarily for queer women, we want to be 100% clear that that includes queer trans women and that it’s important to honor trans women year-round, not just in obituaries. So all week long we’re going to be spotlighting articles by and about trans women, with a special focus on trans women of color. We hope you’ll love reading everything as much as we’ve loved writing and editing it.

Today is Trans Day of Remembrance, the day we look back and remember the trans people who’s lives have been taken in the past year. This was an especially bloody year for the trans community, resulting in a record number of murders against trans people in the US, all of whom were trans women, and nearly all of whom were Black and/or Latina. The names of the trans women who have been murdered this year in the US include Papi Edwards, Lamia Beard, Ty Underwood, Yazmin Vash Payne, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Penny Proud, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, B. Golec, Keyshia Blige, Mya Hall, London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, Jasmine Collins, Ashton O’Hara, India Clarke, K.C. Haggard, Shade Schuler, Amber Monroe, Kandis Capri, Elisha Walker, Tamara Dominguez, Keisha Jenkins and Zella Ziona. For a more complete list of trans people killed around the world in the past year, please visit the Trans Day of Awareness website.


Assembling myself for the daily interrogation of my femininity is a careful procedure. As a woman in New York City I must be desirable enough to navigate public spaces of transportation comfortably, but subdued enough to be left alone. As a trans woman, getting catcalled is the relief of my gender being read correctly muddled with the fear of my name appearing on social media in honor of my life the next day. When I’m riding the uptown 6 train on my way to work in the very privileged and beige Upper East Side, violence isn’t supposed to exist. Trauma wasn’t meant to happen at 9 a.m. on that August morning. Not when I was running on time, and somehow missed the long line for the day’s first cup of coffee. Nothing could have warned me that the meticulous construction of my person would be unraveled while my peers watched from their own cocoons of solitude.

Before that day in August, I associated the 6 train with Jennifer Lopez’s first album, On the 6, referencing her daily commute from the Bronx to Manhattan. It was the only album of my older sister’s that I was not allowed to touch, which only cemented its importance in the tapestry of femininity that I was assembling. With lyrics like If you want to live your life, live it all the way and don’t you waste it we followed J.Lo’s lead into our earliest concepts of agency and re-claiming space. The dance beats and affirming lyrics could mean whatever we needed them to mean as we co-existed in our own varying degrees of girlhood. I imagined a purposeful Jennifer riding into Manhattan, drowning out the voices of catcallers with the promising vibration of the city that would eventually launch her into the small blue stereo that my sister kept beside her bed. When I arrived in New York City, I was able to call upon the memory that resonated across all the distinct representations of girlhood in my family. On that unassuming morning in August, my attacker intruded on this fortifying recollection. Every train ride has turned into a return to the scene of the crime, with my time being spent calculating the minutes between each stop until I reach my destination. Sexual assault has stained the details of my life while revealing itself in my daily actions. The decision to wear a skirt has become a confrontation with my mortality, and the mortality of girls like me has become a trending topic.

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While commuting during the 9 o’clock hour, one must maintain the appearance that they are on a solitary mission, looking anywhere but the eyes of the people pressed up against them. On that morning I was successful in mirroring the performance of my peers until I felt an unwelcome intrusion on my backside. I was ready to chalk it up to someone’s gym bag, but gym bags don’t lift up your dress and grab your arm. All of the feminine voice training disappeared, and I could only plea for help through desperate glances around the train compartment. As he exposed my flesh to the cold air conditioning of the train, I knew he was moments away from discovering the part of my body that had caused an incorrect assignment when I entered this world. I felt myself becoming a social media fixture, my Instagram selfies being shown across news stations.

As the headlines misgendering me appeared in my mind’s eye, the train stopped and I was able to pull myself free and stall the death that had felt inevitable ever since my first injection of estrogen. By this time my voice had returned, and my cries were unapologetic. The morning continued all around me, and New Yorkers granted me privacy while on their own linear paths. I had become one of the distractions that cause everyone to turn up the volume on their headphones.

During those desperate moments of looking for empathy in any form, I called myself to task for all the times I turned up my own headphones to avoid the sounds of another person’s pleas for aid. The daily requests for kindness become part of the scenery after five years in this city. It wasn’t until I was asking for help that I realized the resentment New Yorkers experience towards the people brave enough to request a helping hand. Strength, in New York, is measured by the ability to master pain in solitude, and vulnerability is the biggest threat towards this notion. Our self imposed isolation keeps us from salvation. We resent the courageous for asking for tenderness from their peers, something largely unlearned in the name of maintaining an air of control. As we see the lives of trans women being extinguished, especially black trans women, this also becomes apart of the landscape of our virtual lives. We honor these women as long as they are not a threat to the online presence we carefully curate. Let us say the names of the lives taken from us while being proud of the trans women that have survived up until this point. Let’s allow the trans women amongst us to enrich our lives, and enable their journeys to exist alongside our own.

Extending a hand to the trans women we know, and especially to the trans women we do not know, can feel like it has nothing to do with our development or our experience. Trans women are all around us, and they have always lived among us. It’s in all our best interest to make sure these women are cared for, loved and heard. When the people we coexist with are taken care of, it heightens the quality of our own lives. When the most marginalized group in our culture is given shelter, it’s a triumph for every corner of our society. It brings us closer to the idea of community that only seems to exist in essays and think pieces. It loosens the grip of the constraints placed upon all of us by gender. It takes us from running around in circles of discourse to making sure tangible basic needs are being met. Trans women deserve to contribute to the world and no longer carry its weight, often standing at the intersections of race, class and expression, which only makes the weight heavier.

Most women, cis or trans, have been the recipients of genital-based oppression. Most women, cis or trans, have been told they are not feminine enough or not beautiful enough to deserve love. Our issues are the issues of anyone who wishes to abolish being told who you are before you have introduced yourself. The deaths of trans women this year, especially black trans women, tell us that visibility has not challenged the specific brand of misogyny that is killing us. It has only reassembled itself around the most vulnerable in our community. Women like me haven’t been able to heal from the stark reality that our bodies are unwillingly political statements, as we fear our death being the next number added to the growing list. This doesn’t end here, as we must get used to the possibility of that one of our sisters will be taken from us. A casual stroll through our Instagram feed turns into images of women like us who have been taken and debates over our humanity.

Including trans women doesn’t have to be a disruption to anyone’s lives. Adjustments of people’s language and shifts in people’s thinking can be small reminders that our lives are no longer an afterthought. Pausing for a moment before we use words like ‘penis’ to be synonymous with men, or ‘vagina’ to be synonymous with women. Dissecting the public interest with genitalia. Stopping the simplification of people down to their body parts. All of these are simple things you can do. As a woman with a penis, I’ve always felt shame during intimacy with new partners. Small alterations to the way we speak could save women like me from the feeling that words like ‘shame’ and ‘trans’ are interchangeable. This is a collective shift that begins with cis people, but could end up saving all of our lives. A shift that asks all people to question gender, and trusts they will seek out their own answers, not just requesting trans women to confront identity when we all could benefit from asking necessary questions. Releasing trans women from the responsibility of having all the answers about gender and identity. Ultimately leading us to conclusions that will allow our children to not be confined by the genders that were assigned to them, and to give them the space to have relationships with their own bodies.

Invoking the girl I was before that very public assault took place is impossible. I’ve resigned to the fact that she is now a part of the tapestry of my own womanhood that I will develop for the rest of my life. In order to ride the same train every day, I have had to bring the woman I aspire to become to the surface, and her presence can be felt in waves. I stand near other women on the train, hoping for a comrade in the diurnal scrutiny of our bodies. My comfort is in the mother, wife, and sister I envision myself to be, alongside all of the other trans women that are still using their lives as an example of the highest form of morality. The women who manage to face the world every day, despite their life expectancy being 35 years old. Now, being On The 6 means more than just my favorite childhood album, but I can still rely on the old familial practice of re-purposing her lyrics to mean whatever I need them to mean. The lyrics You gotta do it your way, you gotta prove it, you gotta mean what you say is a mantra to remind myself of the work left to be done, the hope of being alive to see the fruits of our labor, and instilling trust in young trans girls that their older trans sisters are working tirelessly to make their lives fuller and safer.

Devan Diaz is a 23 year-old trans girl from Tennessee, living in New York. She does most of her reading on the train and spends the weekends trying to find the best southern comfort restaurant in the city. She judges Tinder dates by the confidence in their handshakes, and always manages to quote Virginia Woolf in every conversation.

Devan has written 2 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Devan, thank you for being so real this with, with us. Your words are powerful and made me want to scream. It made me want to double-down on extending kindness to others, especially my sisters. <3

  2. devan this was absolutely beautiful. thank you. i put this quote on a post-it and stuck it to my wall:

    When the people we coexist with are taken care of, it heightens the quality of our own lives. When the most marginalized group in our culture is given shelter, it’s a triumph for every corner of our society. It brings us closer to the idea of community that only seems to exist in essays and think pieces.

    also this just sums everything up so perfectly: “Trans women deserve to contribute to the world and no longer carry its weight.”

    ???

    • Yes!! To all of this …. and the beautiful words quoted remind me of something I see every day on transit, which seems appropriate “equality lifts everyone” (from Pivot legal society).

      I want to be part of creating a just safe world for you, and all of our sisters, especially our trans* sisters.

      Thank you for your powerful writing.

  3. Thank you. Your words had tears running down my cheeks. I was particularly hit by your wonderful advice on being a better ally. I hope to bring these ideas into my own life and hopefully, gently, into the lives of those I love who struggle to remember that trans women are “often standing at the intersections of race, class and expression”. I hope you’ll continue to contribute to Autostraddle. <3

  4. This essay was beautiful.

    A demographer’s note: I wonder where the oft-quoted statistic of the 35-year life expectancy of trans women comes from? Who did that calculation, and based on what kind of data? To be able to calculate the life expectancy of trans women you would first need to know the number of trans women in the US and their age distribution, and I don’t think anyone has that information. Second, you would need their age-specific mortality rates, and no-one has that either. My wild guess about how this statistic came to be is that someone calculated the average age of a selected group of trans women who died in a given year–possibly women who have had violent deaths, because those are the most publicised deaths (as opposed to, say, heart disease or cancer). That is NOT the same thing as life expectancy. Not remotely.

    Trans women probably have a lower life expectancy than cis women (see: poverty, mental health, discrimination, violence, undergoing more medical interventions than the average cis woman etc). But I’m pretty sure that you can expect to live a life that is a lot longer than 35 years.

    • As I understand it, (anecdotally) that statistic was reached by averaging the age at which the transgender murder victims listed on the Transgender Day of Remembrance page in a specific year were killed at, which makes it pretty adrift from reality, since the vast majority of trans* folk are not, in fact, murdered.

      However.

      Its pretty easy to find statistics on the shocking suicide attempt rates, as well as mental health rates, domestic violence rates, homelessness, medical discrimination, etc. It should be obvious to most that trans* people are not going to live, on average, as healthy and long a life as most people.

      I just sincerely wish people would attempt to verify shocking statistics before sharing them, as it makes it harder for the real, very concerning numbers to get taken seriously.

  5. Devan, I’m so sorry you had to experience that. The NYC subway can be completely unforgiving. But know that this cis woman stranger would have had your back – I’ve stepped in on behalf of others on public transportation before, and would do it again in a heartbeat, though I hope for all of us that it never comes to that. <3

  6. This is a very moving & descriptive story, thank you. It’s very hard sometimes to really sit & think & place yourself in “another’s shoes”…you must’ve been so scared & mortified! What a bunch of cr*p to have to continuously endure…

    But just so you know, & I’m sure I’m not the only one, that had I noticed this going on (& I notice everything around me- especially on trains), I’d have pushed myself between you & that dirtbag- fast.

    There are plenty of good people who would do the same.

    Cheers from AU!

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