Having White Privilege While Being Trans

A few years ago, I was driving to meet some friends when I got to a red light at a super annoying intersection—to be fair most intersections involving waiting at a red light could be deemed annoying. This was a three-way intersection with a 5 lane one way and a two-way cross street that was divided by a median. When the light finally turned green I started driving straight across the bajilion lane intersection. In front of me coming the opposite direction a car abruptly turned left hitting the front of my car. I slammed on my brakes and started cursing like a sailor with a particularly dirty mouth. My body slammed forward and then backward as it was pulled in by the seatbelt. I imagine I looked like the test dummies in those commercials.

When I opened my eyes, the other car took off across all 5 lanes of the one-way road. I pulled into a nearby parking lot to get out of the way. My heart was racing and I was all shaky, but I appeared to be uninjured. I could not say the same thing about my car. A guy on one of those unnecessarily super tall bicycles (which how do they even get on and off of those skyscraper bikes?) pedaled up to me and said “Hey, I saw the whole thing and called 9-1-1, are you okay?” I nodded as he rode in tiny circles around me and my car. “Do you want me to stay as a witness?” he asked.

“No, that’s okay. Thanks, though.” I replied. I didn’t know how to handle the awkward period of time before the police showed up with this stranger atop this bike. So, I thought it best he rode away. He did.

I then began to panic…the police were coming. The police would surely ask for my license, registration and insurance. My driver’s license, registration and insurance all had my birth/dead name on them and a gender marker of female. Would they believe it was me? Probably, I mean my very thin yet trying hard bits of facial hair didn’t hide my face which didn’t look drastically different from the person in the photo. What if they treat me poorly because they are transphobic? Worse what if they harass me or threaten me? What if they decide not to be bothered with me because I’m trans?

My mind began to race with all the what-ifs. I began having a panic attack. I hadn’t broken the law, in fact I was a victim of a hit and run accident. I was seeking help from the police. And yet, I was terrified of them not helping me, because I am trans. The fact is that 58% of trans people have reported being mistreated by police and 57% would not feel comfortable asking police for help, if they needed it.[1] I decided to call a friend, since the police were taking a while to get to me.

Nicole arrived a few minutes later and provided comfort and reassurance while we waited…and waited. After about 15 minutes I looked behind me and to my right I saw a police car and he signaled to me that he was coming around. I took a deep breath. The light turned green and the officer turned his car to make a U-turn and struck a car coming straight across. Literally, the exact same accident I had just been in—except this time the police officer had made the hasty left turn into another car. I stared open mouthed at the scene in front of me. I had many questions that mostly began with “How?”

Eventually a police officer arrived and greeted me with “I’m sorry, sir, we had another accident on my way to you.”  I wanted to say “Oh I saw.” But chose to keep my sass to myself. He asked what had happened, and after I explained he asked for my license, registration, and insurance. I had them in my hand and I said, “These have my current legal name and gender markers, but I use Jay and he/him….” We both let that hang in the air for a beat. He said “Okayyyyy, Jayyyy. I’ll be right back” in a tone lacking confidence and also lacking any hostility.

I reflect back on this story because I felt unsafe and scared to get help from a police officer as a white trans man. I carry a lot of privilege being a white trans man. I have access to male privilege and white privilege. When I transitioned, I gained access to more privilege. Yes, there are times when life is scarier or riskier for me because I am trans and I live openly about being trans. But I have the privilege to be able to do that. What would this experience with a police officer have been like for a black trans man or a black trans woman? It’s possible the response from the officer would have been the exact same. But what would the level of anxiety have been for a trans person of color? Would the fear of the what-could-happen be so great that a trans person of color decides not to make a police report? Would it mean not being able to get their car fixed because the cost is too great without insurance and insurance requires a police report? And how does this impact other scenarios that a trans person of color needs help from the police?

These aren’t unwarranted fears and anxieties. Trans people of color, particularly trans women of color are mistreated at a higher rate than cisgender women and white trans women.

I carry privilege being a white trans man. It’s important to acknowledge the privilege I carry because with that privilege comes the power to use it to make changes, to stand up against white supremacy and racism. We must dismantle white supremacy, and it’s going to take all of us, including white people, like me.

[1] 2015 US National Trans Survey, National Center for Transgender Equality (Dec. 2016)

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