.Reclaiming the Self

Transwomen own their identities with pride in the face of a record-breaking number of anti-trans bills

While some parents wait all year for their day of recognition on Mother’s or Father’s Day, Di’ara Reid felt deeply relieved when the day came and went without a word from anyone.

“I didn’t get any wishes from my children this year, or from any friends or family, and I didn’t give any out,” Reid says. “It was organic and unplanned—and symbolizes an unspoken agreement—and a way to think beyond recognition within a single day or a single month. There’s only one day designated to Black history, but I’m Black every day. There’s one day for honoring parents, but we’re parents every day.”

Reid may have fathered four children, lived through two marriages and acquired three bonus or step-children along the way, but in her early 60s she discovered something game changing about herself.

“After my last 15-year relationship, I realized there was something I couldn’t work out in terms of trying to be a man trying to fulfill the role of a woman. I looked at [my failed relationships] with a very patriarchal attitude. I thought it was their fault,” Reid recalls. “That’s when I decided to explore what the world was really all about and find out what my truth was. I discovered I’d been a woman pretending to be a man my whole life, and that rocked my world.”

Reid recalls following all of society’s rules and regulations to a “T,” showing up as the person Reid was meant to be by her family, her community and her church. “I went along with the game for 63 years. I identified as a straight man, married two cis-gendered women, coached little league and most of my life was about parenting.”

As an African-American individual, whose mother is the iconic Betty Reid Soskin known for amplifying the “both-and” aspects of American history in spaces like the Rosie the Riveter Shipyards that represent both progress and marginalization depending on which racial group one identifies with, Reid knew that the stakes were high for claiming this aspect of her identity. “I identify as an African American woman by way of trans experience,” Reid says. “Transphobia is like systemic racism in many ways. It’s in the fabric of society. Being both a woman and a Black person puts me in a tough position. But still, this is who I am. The identity fits me like a glove.”

Reid is now the full-time caretaker for her soon-to-be 102-year-old mother Betty Reid Soskin. “I had dreaded the idea my whole life of caring for an elderly parent when I identified as a male, but it was something that Di’ara could handle,” Reid says. “My mother suffered a stroke in 2019 and I had just started transitioning in 2018. I was early in my process and fragile in my confidence as a caretaker. I was worried about my ability to adequately care for my mom and keep her alive, but after about the first week we found our rhythm—and I’ve found it very fulfilling.”

Reid’s mother has taken the journey with her daughter. “My mom grew up in a different era, when segregation was a thing, and the only options for Black women were to marry or be agricultural workers,” Reid says. “I think my mom still grieves the loss of her son, at the same time as she does her best to embrace her daughter.”

In an earlier interview, Reid’s mom shared that she loves her children, wants the best for them and just wants to make sure her daughter is safe in a world that is still filled with transphobia and racism. “I think that’s the world we live in. Even I, as a trans woman, had to work through my own internalized transphobia,” Reid says.

The transphobia Reid speaks of isn’t just something internal or imagined, it is systemic and it is being legislated. This year alone, 560 bills deemed transphobic were introduced in 49 states, and 83 of them passed. Simultaneous efforts to boost the inclusivity and acceptance of people of all gender identities and to squash them seemed to occur within the past year.

One Contra Costa resident and former county school board candidate, Lisa Disbrow, is on a mission to get some of the schools to walk back their inclusionary practices around such things as displaying the Transgender Pride flag so that all children feel safe and accounted for at school. When asked what she recommends for people identifying as trans, Disbrow suggests therapy. When pressed further and asked to comment on how she believes straight-identifying people are harmed by using someone’s preferred gender pronoun, she suggests it was an unnecessary imposition. “Why should a group of people be able to control the English language because of their feelings?” Disbrow asks. “In America, you can be anything you want to be, right?”

Reid is somewhat accustomed to that kind of overt transphobia, but she says the more difficult kind is often the unsaid, subversive kind that comes out in spaces like the dance floor.

“I’m a good salsa dancer. I love to dance and yet I feel like I’m the ugliest person in the room, because no one asks me to dance,” Reid says.

Still, Reid doesn’t let that take her joy away. It just pushes her to take the ball into her own hands. “I ask women to dance with me. They do, and we have a good time,” she says.

Twenty-two-year-old Jessica, whose family fears the backlash of using her last name,  may be a white transwoman of a whole different generation than Reid, but she’s just a few years behind her on her gender-identity journey. Jessica remembers discovering a dimension of herself while in therapy that inspired her to explore true-identity journey.

“It was like putting on glasses for the first time after having really bad vision all my life,” Jessica says.

Jessica’s exploration began as she began college, just before the pandemic kicked in. “I went back home and started working at an ice cream shop. I was wearing a mask and an apron,” she said. “I’d already started adjusting my voice a bit. And, without realizing it, I started presenting as female to the customers—and they called me ‘lady.’ I was astounded by how natural it felt and by the fact that I had ever lived any other way.”

Jessica is a professional woman living in Oakland who designs and programs design apps for phones while dabbling in art. While her family took a minute to adjust to the new norm, Jessica feels both accepted and embraced, which she deems a privilege.

For the folks who oppose the identity of people like herself or Di’ara Reid, Jessica’s wish is simply that they think on it. “Some people turn towards hatred because of fear. They fear that their children could turn into people like me,” Jessica says. “The core fault of the situation is that people are catastrophizing the identities of people who are very happy with who they are and the paths we’ve taken.”

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