I ran into a young trans woman in the Haight today. Some friends and I were leaving a boutique that only sold obnoxiously loud tie-dye. Tie-dye yoga pants. Tie-dye bandanas. Tie-dye miniskirts. Tie-dye bell bottoms. Tie-dye tapestries. Trucker hats. Polos. Lanyards. Handbags. Tie-dye sea captain’s coats. It was like walking through a color wheel, or an oil slick, or a pile of iridescent barf. I had purchased what I considered “a very queer belt,” a little rainbow to wrap around my waist.
There was a voice behind me. “Ma’am? Ma’am?” I stopped, scanned the passing crowd. “Ma’am?” There. “Do you know where I can find some E?” What? I leaned in and asked. “You know. Estrogen?” I didn’t. I was so sorry. I was not from these parts, just passing through.
She was young, easily under 20. She had these sores on her face too big and dry to be zits. She wore cutoffs and a crop top that showed off her midriff. Her eyes were bright, lively. Her hair was kempt. Her name was Stelena (stuh LAY nuh). We shook hands.
If I’d had any estrogen, I would have given it to her. I want to help, ya know? She’s family, and she’s in need, so fuck yeah, girl, have as much E as you want.
But it wouldn’t have done her any good without androgen blockers. Maybe she didn’t know that. Maybe the sores on her face weren’t meth sores, maybe they were testosterone-related because she’d been taking estrogen without an androgen blocker so her body was just converting the extra estro into testo and breaking her.
But giving her both wouldn’t have helped either. It took two months and a bunch of doctor visits and a bunch of analyzed vials of blood to gradually adjust the amount of anti-androgens I would take until we found the amount that drops my testosterone enough to make my body receptive to estrogen. It wouldn’t have helped her. It would’ve hurt. She needs more than I can provide.
One of my friends says San Francisco has a thing where trans people can get the healthcare we need without having health insurance or a lot of money or anything. Some kind of social service. She could get hormones, someone to help her manage them, potentially surgery. Was she not aware?
After the handshake, she asks if I’m pre-op or not. If an employer or a teacher or a coworker or a bouncer or a clerk or an acquaintance asked if I were pre-op or not, I would slap hir. Hard.
But I don’t even think about slapping her. I tell her, because it is so rare to meet someone else like me, because we are connecting, because I want her to know she’s not alone, that things can get better (not fast, but they can), that you don’t need to alter everything about your body to be able to smile in public and mean your smile and go window shopping with your friends, that you don’t have to pass to enjoy life. I tell her like I would tell someone I enjoy pistachios in my ice cream, or that I play MMORPGs, or that I am six feet tall and over two hundred pounds and have trouble finding flattering tops.
Later, in a Thai restaurant, one of my friends was like, Maybe she’s a prostitute? And I looked at my hand, my hairy-knuckled but clean hand she had shaken, wondering about disease and connection, distance and contagion, stigma, family, and why was she here, asking me for estrogen? Probably worked up the guts to tell her family, probably got disowned and kicked out. Maybe she couldn’t work up the guts–maybe she just fled. Maybe this was the life she chose, and it sprung from better circumstances than the stereotypes, and she takes great pleasure and empowerment and real joy in her work. Still, so many of my sisters go into sex work because it’s the only paying work they can find. So many are addicts. So many are homeless.
I have pills. I have a doctor checking my blood to see if things are what/where/how much they need to be. I have a job that doesn’t monetize my body or ask me to entrust my health and my safety to people I have never met over and over and over. I have family who let me share their roofs, even if they fuck up my pronouns and still can’t use my correct name and don’t know what gender dysphoria or gender identity or tucking or passing or internalized transphobia or institutional discrimination or binaries or misogyny are. I am lucky. I am so lucky.
There needs to be some kind of transgender housing network, like a trans AirBnB.
There needs to be some kind of hormone bank for trans people in need.
There needs to be more substantial support. More substantial everything.
You need money to do things like this in our stupid culture where profitability and affordability and budgets more often than not trump compassion, empathy, community, justice. I have a little money. I have more debt than I have money so technically I have negative money. I have worth-less-than-nothing. Still, I give money to political campaigns. I buy clothes. Food. I fly around the country to sit in little shops with friends and drink tea, espresso, laughter. I rent cars. I’m ok. I’m very ok. I could help. A little. Somehow. Surely.
I am sleeping on a futon tonight. My friends don’t have a spare bedroom, or a house. They have an apartment. They have a futon. It’s what they offer. It’s all I need.
The futon let taking a detour to San Jose from Oregon seem affordable, even practical. The futon is how I ended up in the Haight today flinching at tie-dye, meeting another of my invisible sisters.
When I can afford to rent again, I can get a futon. It doesn’t feel great to let resolving to buy something be the answer here. Buying something will make me feel good, but it won’t directly affect anyone besides me and the company who sells me the thing and the hypothetical future people hypothetically using it. Is that something? Is that a little? It doesn’t feel like enough. In fact, it feels kinda selfish.
And while I hope the woman I met with the sores on her face with her midriff showing and the appetite for estrogen finds what she needs, I know hoping is the same as doing nothing at all.