Being Disabled And Transgender: What Is It Like?

Note that this is ever-expanding and I welcome public input and new additions to this list.

I came out as transgender when I was 24. Granted it was 2009 and the “transgender tipping point”, whatever that is, hadn’t happened quite yet, but I feel that the other marginalization that I experience, being a person with a disability, actually impacted my life so much up until that point, that my transition was delayed because I didn’t want to “rock the boat” any further. That being said, a major irony is that I decided to make the transition during a low point in my life, and I felt I had nothing to lose, after all, my life wasn’t going anywhere, unlike the common narrative of transitioning and then losing everything because people just don’t understand.

So, here is a list of things that many trans people with disabilities experience in their daily lives that often do not get the attention that they deserve. It is intended that this list will start, not end the conversation; this piece should not be the be all end all of transgender & disability. Many of these statements are reflective of the experiences I have as an autistic individual who has the privilege of being sighted, hearing, being able to speak, being ambulatory, and not needing a personal care attendant. However, I hope this is a jumping off point for people to supplement other experiences with disability and to delve into further intersections, such as race. (even though I have indigenous blood, I have had white privilege all my life)

  1. Being disabled and transgender is often dealing with repression from the police and the criminal punishment system, especially if you are a transgender woman of color with a disability.
  2. Being disabled and transgender is often having to deal with the respectability politics from not only Gay Inc. but transgender activists as well.
  3. Being disabled and transgender is often being dismissed and figuratively patted on the head and told “that’s nice”, even when what you are bringing up are real issues and you propose constructive solutions.
  4. Being disabled and transgender is often having your activism dismissed by others.
  5. Being disabled and transgender often means that your transgender peers will often try to “lose” you in activist and lobbying spaces and shut down your voice.
  6. Being disabled and transgender is often dealing with conferences that are inaccessible, both physically and otherwise, and being brushed off by organizers when you bring up these issues.
  7. Being disabled and transgender is often having your voice silenced and talked over, and when you describe complex institutional issues of both identities which are not often talked about, you are silenced.
  8. Being disabled and transgender is having icky feelings when people are called “brave” because inspiration porn.
  9. Being disabled and transgender is often being falsely accused of being sexually violent on both fronts, especially if one is transfeminine and/or has mental health issues and/or autism.
  10. Being disabled and transgender is often delaying your transition until after your formative years because of the grief you receive from your adults and peers is already too much.
  11. Being disabled and transgender is often being sent to special ed environments where anything outside of the “norm” is something to be corrected.
  12. Being disabled and transgender is often dealing with being sent to boarding schools for “troubled kids”, where gender roles based on one’s birth assigned sex are often rigidly enforced.
  13. Being disabled and transgender is often experiencing administrative violence and if you are transfeminine, viewed as a “violent man” whenever you have a bad reaction to the behavior of individuals.
  14. Being disabled and transgender is often having peers who are otherwise inclined to social justice and would never use disparaging slurs…except for the “r-word”
  15. Being disabled and transgender is often dealing with transgender peers in social justice circles who want to “cure” you, especially if you are autistic.
  16. Being disabled and transgender is often worrying that your personal care attendant, should you need one, will be a bigot who will try to convert you back to your birth sex, and the pool of potential workers is already small as it is.
  17. Being disabled and transgender is often having to give up on reaching your full potential should you need a personal care attendant and having to go on Medicaid, which not only has stingy means-testing, but often limits your ability to get transition related healthcare as well.
  18. Being disabled and transgender often means the path to gender affirming surgery is complicated by trying to find two mental health professionals that take Medicaid and won’t consider your mental health and/or autism a reason to deny you a letter.
  19. Being disabled and transgender often means you find clinics and doctors that prescribe hormones to transgender individuals, only to find out they will not take Medicaid.
  20. Being disabled and transgender is often worrying that even if gender confirmation surgeries through Medicaid becomes a national reality; surgeons won’t take the notoriously low rates that Medicaid has.
  21. Being disabled and transgender often means watching the marriage equality ruling come down, and not only being upset that trans issues are being overshadowed, but upset that your means and asset testing government benefits won’t let you marry your partner anyway, on pain of having benefits reduced or terminated.
  22. Being disabled and transgender often means not only being put in a sheltered workshop for “vocational rehabilitation”, and having the managers shut down your transition because the people with developmental disabilities “can’t understand it”
  23. Being disabled and transgender often means being silenced by your LGBT peers when you criticize a pro-LGBT candidate or elected official for being ableist or classist/anti-homeless.
  24. Being disabled and transgender is often being berated even more than usual for making mistakes and using imperfect language for describing oneself or a situation; we deserve to be able to learn and move on.
  25. Being disabled and transgender is often being concern trolled in real life over everything that you do, transition related or otherwise.
  26. Being disabled and transgender is often being internet trolled, a la Gamergate, on the internet for expressing why so many institutions and concepts are so problematic, and having your good name sullied.
  27. Being disabled and transgender is often dealing with homelessness, which complicates the ability to receive gender confirmation surgery.
  28. Being disabled and transgender often means that even if you get into a homeless shelter that matches your gender identity, the physical inaccessibility, the sensory assault, and dealing with others who “grate your nerves”, for lack of a better term, during your down time would be too much.
  29. Being disabled and transgender often means you are more likely to deal with suicidal thoughts than transgender people without disabilities, which is already at 41%.
  30. Being disabled and transgender often means you are often unable to escape toxic living situations on both fronts.
  31. Being disabled and transgender often means dealing with even more body trauma, not only from undesirable secondary sex characteristics, but because of the physical abuse and lack of agency by institutions which deal with people with disabilities.
  32. Being disabled and transgender is often dealing with clique-y transgender peers and being triggered by high school.
  33. Being disabled and transgender is often dealing with having to find a place with good services for both your transition and your disability related needs, which is nowhere (ie: the Bay Area is great on transgender services, not so much on disability competence).
  34. Being disabled and transgender often means that people harp on what is “wrong” with you rather than what you do “right”
  35. Being disabled and transgender often means that if you can’t get a job in a legal industry, you may not even be able to do sex work.
  36. Being disabled and transgender often means that if you are also an undocumented immigrant, you will need to work, and if you can’t or are discriminated against, you can’t even fall back on benefits.
  37. Being disabled and trans means knowing that being “post-transition” isn’t a thing that ever applies to you. Health issues and near constant interactions with the healthcare industry means you’re always thinking about your body. (h/t to Lincoln Rose for this)
  38. Being trans and disabled often means you keep doctors that can’t really treat your serious health issues, just because they treat you like a real person.(h/t to Lincoln Rose for this)
  39. Being trans and disabled can mean being reluctant to ask your friends to change the pronouns they refer to you with when you’ve asked them for various accommodations related to your disability and they’ve gone to great lengths to fulfill those requests and you don’t want to ask even more of them. (h/t to Kalin Yancy for this)

This is just a smattering of what people like us face, and I would like to hear from other transgender people with disabilities. As stated before, this is a beginning, not an end.

Jordan Gwendolyn Davis can be reached at jordangwendolyn712@gmail.com or on Twitter @jgd712

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