Photo by Justin J. Wee 

Ceyenne Doroshow on Going from Homeless Trans Youth to Holistic Caregiver

After living in Central Park as a teen, Ceyenne Doroshow moved on to working at a homeless shelter, then founding an organization that supports trans sex workers.

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Dec 17 2018, 7:23pm

Photo by Justin J. Wee 

Read more from our Trans Legends oral history project, a growing archive of interviews with transgender icons and pioneers.

Ceyenne Doroshow is the daughter, and I am the granddaughter, of legendary drag queen Mother Flawless Sabrina, aka Jack Doroshow. So, in the lineage of chosen queer family, Ceyenne is my aunt.

I met Flawless Sabrina when I was an 18-year-old queer kid who had just migrated to New York City. Flawless guided and supported me through my entire adult life until her passing in 2017. She did the same for Ceyenne many years before my arrival, inviting Ceyenne into her home when she was a homeless teen sleeping in Central Park in the 1980s.

After I left New York for Los Angeles, I continued to visit Sabrina regularly and spent stretches of summer stowed away in the magical escape of her home. Filled with smoke from her slender MORE menthol cigarettes, and with decades of queer history embedded in the walls, Sabrina’s salon was a gathering place for people of all stripes. Her door was never locked in my 16 years of knowing her.

It was a stiflingly hot summer night about a decade ago when I first met Ceyenne. I was visiting Sabrina’s’ salon and she swept in from New Jersey like a tropical storm. She brought groceries and immediately started frying food in the kitchen while updating “Ma”—only Ceyenne called Mother Flawless Sabrina by such a familial endearment—in the next room about her organizing in the trans community, providing support and advocating for the rights of sex workers.

After listening to their wild banter for a while, I dozed off, twisted into the balmy sheets of Flawless’s cubby hole bed, lulled to sleep by the sound of their cackles in the next room. When I woke hours later, long after the sun rose, they were still at it, shrieking and cracking each other up. They were so loud, so full of stories.

I can never return to that summer night, but this memory is pressed into the deepest terrain of my psyche. I can feel the humid, smoky air, see the glowing amber haze of the room, and hear the sound of their love; mother and daughter adoring and entertaining each other through the night.

Today, Ceyenne is still advocating, still speaking out about the lack of opportunities for trans women in society. She’s the founder of the organization G.L.I.T.S., which provides holistic care to transgender sex workers, and sits on multiple boards for LGBT community organizations. Like Sabrina, Ceyenne is someone for whom family is expansive; who, no matter how hard things get, can’t help but offer care. Ceyenne is a mother figure now too, delivering Sabrina’s nurturing legacy of generosity and judgement-free love into the future.

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Photo by Justin J. Wee.

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ZACKARY DRUCKER: Tell me about your journey early on.

CEYENNE DOROSHOW: I couldn't hide femininity like some people could, or wish they could. I didn't have that. I was just feminine. I didn't know how to turn it off. So, a lot of my problems came from that.

You ever see the version of Carol Burnett when she cuts up the curtains? Well, sweetie, I cut up every curtain in the house. It was because I wanted to make a dress. When [my parents] would leave the house, I wanted to have those girly moments.

And because I figured out that I can't keep getting punished over cutting up the curtains, I trickled down to, I'm going to wear mommy's outfit around the house. And, again, being a child not smart enough to put it back… I got punished for that. “What are you doing with my clothes? What are you doing with my shoes?” It was a constant.

Then not having a school to identify that there's a problem there, not really concentrating in school because gender identity was certainly looked at from both sides—from the students and the teachers—as a no-no. When I was a young person, they would run through the halls singing my name attached to “gay boy.” And it would ring throughout the hallways and shit. I hated school.

And, then high school came and that was like a real obstacle course. Because now I’m with an older group of people who are gonna discriminate. So, it was always levels of discrimination around sexuality that made me feel super uncomfortable. And, ending high school in that waffly area of being a young adult and wanting to go out and wanting to explore community, of course, my mom was not having it. Not having the clothing, not having any parts of gender identity. I began to miss curfew; she threw me out, over and over again. It seemed like it was easier to have me outside than in. As long as I was away, they didn't have to identify what was going on.

I was literally in Central Park with my suitcases just trying to find a place to sleep. I was still in communication with my childhood friend, and one of my girlfriends was like, "Oh, I want you to come with me to [the club] Bentley." I was like, "Girl, they not gonna let me in Bentley." She said, "Oh, yes they are. We're gonna dress you up and you're gonna be fine."

"I couldn’t have imagined it: an old white, Jewish woman taking a Black girl home."

Well, sweetie, that night changed my life. Because that night I met this old lady on the dance floor with white hair and a bob and a football jersey and leather pants. And I was like, "Ooh, she's fabulous." And, she was like, "Oh, my God, I love you young people. You should come back to my house." And, I looked at my girlfriend and my girlfriend looked at me. Her name was Ronnie. And she said, "Girl, we're gonna go back to her house and we're gonna have some more wine and we're gonna drink and we're gonna talk and this is gonna be fabulous.” We jumped in the car with this lady and we go up to 73rd Street. And, I'm like Okay, 73rd. Girl, you hit big time.

We get in her apartment and she says, "Listen, I gotta do a long distance conference call. Give me an hour. There's wine, there's food; make yourself comfortable and when I'm off we're gonna party some more." We waited. Me and Ronnie was high as hell. We're sitting on the floor. I'm like, "She must have the world's biggest cat…”

We're just laughing and she finally gets off the phone and comes in the living room and sits in her throne, her little chair, behind her desk. I says, "Excuse me, what kind of cat do you own?" And, she says, "Cat?" I said, "Yeah, the white hair on the rug." She starts to peel this cemented wig off her head. I almost faint, ‘cause you can hear it ripping from the skin.

I said, "No, no, no. What are you doing?" And she said, "Sweetie, you thought this was mine? Oh, no, no, no. Go in the bathroom, look, there's racks of hair.” And, I am weak to my stomach, laughing. And, she says, "Child, illusions are everything and a little pain is beauty." So, Ronnie went home. And, then she said, "Tell me about you." And, I said, "Okay."

I started to tell her my mom threw me out and she started to get dressed. And, she says, "Well, you take a little nap and when you get up we're gonna have breakfast at the diner on the corner. And, then I'm gonna take you home." I said, "Sweetie, home to me is Brooklyn, Bushwick." And, she said, "We're going home to Brooklyn, Bushwick." And, we went and had breakfast and we came back upstairs and she called the garage and told them to pull out the old station wagon. And she drove me home and had the conversation I had never had with my mom about my gender identity.

I couldn’t have imagined it: an old white, Jewish woman taking a Black girl home. It was priceless, but it also gave my mom a heads up to what was happening. Did it work? No, cause within a couple of weeks after that I was thrown out again.

But it at least set the precedent for my mom to know that this wasn't just a gay thing, as she was just ringing the chimes on. It was a gender identity thing. And I didn't even realize or recognize or know that because there was no words for it.

I mean, my school had sent me to therapists. They sent me to the Gay and Lesbian Center downtown. It was horrible. Those queens and the facilitator told me there was no room for me in there because I wasn't femme. Imagine a child trying to be some place where they feel like they belong and you get in this room and you find out you don't belong in that room either.

"Clearly they were not hiring a young person who identified as a young woman, who wasn't a young woman, who had no support for being a young woman and no name."

Then I went to Covenant House. And, Covenant House told me, "Oh, no, no, no. We cannot house you. We're a Catholic charity and we don't condone what you're doing." Well, it led to the question, what am I doing? And they went, ”Oh, you have on a bra." And, I said, "Well, yeah." And, they were like, "No, you can't stay here." So, once again, I'm homeless—and on 42nd Street, no less.

Then I found out about the Port Authority, which was a hotbed of steamy shit for a teenager, and found out I can make some coins there. That worked a for a little while because I was able to get a hotel room. But, how long would I be able to do that, before someone kills me? And there were some moments with clients. Back then there was a real epidemic with crack. Clients would get cracked out and I didn't know how to handle that. And, of course, if they're paranoid and I'm trying to leave, they're trying to hold me down and I was like, "This is not good." So, once again, I find myself at the door of Flawless.

Had you seen her since?

Yeah. Oh yeah, and she made it a requirement. You call me, you beep me. Back then, we had beepers. And, [she said] let me know your progress, and its mandatory that you stay in school. If you stay in school, I'll help you.

You were a high school student?

Yeah, I was a high school student and still scared; scared that I didn't have family support; scared that my family would find me and hurt me. So, I stayed terrified.

When I graduated, now I'm in a whole new world, in a whole new bracket, because I'm definitely an adult now; a young adult who's homeless, who has to navigate society and try to figure this out and it wasn't good. It just wasn't good to try to be me and get a job. Clearly they were not hiring a young person who identified as a young woman, who wasn't a young woman, who had no support for being a young woman and no name. I remember I went to apply at McDonald's and the manager said, "Here's a cross dresser that wants to apply," out loud.

"I would be asleep and get punched in the face and I'll be like, 'Oh God. My life is really not worth anything.'"

I tried the shelter systems and they were a mess, and dangerous. I don't known whether it was wrong being me, or they were wrong for being themselves. They were able to live in their skin, I was not able to live in my own, and was persecuted for being me.

So, I stayed on many people's couches, including some of the people I knew it was toxic to be around; but if I could have a place to stay for the night, it was a good thing.

Would I have to get up in the morning and travel with all of my stuff? Yes. But, there were also times when I would fall asleep on the train with all my stuff, and be physically attacked by grown people, by children. I would be asleep and get punched in the face and I'll be like, "Oh God. My life is really not worth anything."

Some people would say, "Oh, you know, this is what you asked for when you decided you wanted to do this, you had to know that was going to happen to you." It just was not good.

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Photo by Justin J. Wee.

Off and on I would stay at my grandmother's until she couldn't take it, but at least my grandmother wasn't transphobic or anything. She tried to tell me, "Listen sweetie, that make up, wrong. Wrong, you gotta go find something that matches you." Of course, my grandma was very light skinned; I'd be trying to put on her makeup, looking all two-toned and just crazy, and just trying to fit in.

I didn't even fit in in my own community, so how was I going to fit in in society? Finally, I did get a good job.

I was staying in a shelter then, and the shelter didn't even know I was in the shelter. They thought I was staff, because I was very well-dressed. They just assumed that I was a new young, hired staff, and finally they found out I wasn't a staff, and one of the caseworkers was like, "You know, you was meant to do this," and I was like, "Do what?" And she said, "Be an institutional lead." And I said, "Really?" She said, "Yeah, you're helping people in here, and you're not even working here. So I'm going to give you an address and a number, you're going to go apply for a new shelter opening up in Midtown."

I went to Flawless, and I got a jacket and shirt and we went and bought me a pair of khakis, and I went and applied [presenting as a man] for the job [under the fake name] Edward Morales. They hired me.

On my first day I was very nervous, and very scared. I tried to hide my sexuality, and I did. So I was worried that people were going to find out my gender identity, and I was just scared all the time. Well, the first duty that they gave me was bathroom monitor. So, I had to supervise naked men in the shower, and I stayed in fear the whole time. But, I also gave these men respect. I stayed within eye contact, I never looked down at their privates. I tried to keep eye contact at all times, because I realized, "Oh my God. They're going to know what I am, and they're going to kill me in the shower." I didn't have to stay in the bathroom, but I had to do a walk through every 15 minutes. This went on for six months.

"They respected me, and I respected them."

Finally, I passed my evaluation, and I said, "After I pass my evaluation, I'll spring it on them: I'm gay." Once I passed my evaluation, I went for a makeover at Macy's. I went shopping. I went and had my hair done. I used my next couple of days, because I worked four days for 10 hours and had three days off.

Well, that Monday afternoon when I went to work, I was Ceyenne. I walked down the block in sunglasses and perfume, and I smelled good, and I looked fabulous. I walked into the building and I walked past security, and security was like, "Miss, miss, you can't walk in this building. Miss, miss." I just kept walking, and I went to my station, and I grabbed my clipboard. Security came running downstairs, and they were like, "Miss we told you, you cannot be in here." I pulled off the sunglasses, and they went, "Eddie?" And I said, "Yeah, about that." They ran upstairs and they got the manager, his name was Reverend Peacock, and he comes downstairs, and he turns and he looks at me, and he goes, "I knew it." And I go, "You knew what?" And he goes, "I knew there was something that you wasn't comfortable with. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew it." He said, "Come up to my office."

I went upstairs, and I just sobbed. He said, "Why you didn't tell me?" And I said, "I didn't want to not have this job." He said, "Let me tell you. These clients love you. I would have second thought it, but I would have still gave you the job." And he was like, "You could have been honest with me." I said, "I've been honest with everybody and had been denied." He said, "I get it." He said, "Here's your clipboard. Go downstairs. Go do your job. How do you think the clients are going to receive you?" I said, "I don't know. This is all a test."

I went downstairs and some of the men did have a huge problem with it, but it was the other men in the shelter that actually handled them.

"'Has she ever disrespected you?' 'Yes, she didn't tell us.' 'But has she ever crossed the line with us?'” And they were like, "No." They said, "Then, what the fuck is the problem? She's still the same person."

There was the one time Flawless had came down to the shelter, and she was so proud and she was like, "Oh my god. I love it. And they love you." They respected me, and I respected them.

But we kept having suicides and stuff like that and [eventually] I realized, by then, I had developed a wee bit of a cocaine problem. And I realized that cocaine in this job was not helping me. So, I quit the job and I moved to New Hampshire, Maine. Imagine, a black trans girl in Maine!

Yeah, what possessed you to do that?

My god brother was in the military. I knew that I could clean myself up and live a different kind of life—kind of secluded. Also my god brother had custody of his son, so it was a win win: I could watch my nephew and my god brother could be on the ship, in the military.

Well that didn't work well because the people in our village that we lived in called the Navy Investigative System to come and find out why this trans person—again, we didn't have that word “trans” so you don't know what they told them—but here comes the NIS to the door at like six o'clock in the morning. To question me about my gender identity and [ask] am I sleeping with this baby? Me and my brother went bonkers. I swung the door open, I let them in, I crossed my legs in my nightgown, and then I proceeded to curse them out: “How dare you even insinuate that that's what I'm doing.”

"It's not so easy working with community. There were times when I wasn't doing good."

It was a struggle being trans, trying to navigate so many waters and trying to just keep my head above water, but also realizing that home was not an option. I remember some of the moments when I was really, really depressed where Flawless was like, "You're gonna do this. Either you wanna live or you wanna die. Now how do you wanna do this?... 'Cause I could wear a pretty black dress anytime." And I'm like, "Oh shit."

I moved to New Jersey. Because, again, it was away from New York, and I feared my parents finding me.

So if I moved to New Jersey, I will at least be away. And life being what life is, I went to New Jersey for a funeral 'cause a girlfriend of mine died. Messy girlfriend, too. My girlfriend stole my boyfriend and, in her death, had the nursing home call me. She died of the virus. Why would she have the nursing home call me? Because, she wanted to say sorry.

I did get to talk to her and she apologized and said, "If I only knew." And I said, "Sweetie, you saved my life." At that point, she really did save my life, by getting that man out of my life, I could have been where she was.

I was very bitter, but she had gave me closure nobody else could ever give me. And finally, the nursing home called the day that she passed, and I was like, "Listen. I'm hopping on the PATH train." I went out to New Jersey, I met all the girls, I met her friends, I met her mentors. I was able to facilitate not only her funeral, but telling my ex she was gone.

Was she a trans girl?

Yeah, trans.

I facilitated the programming of her going home service. Needless to say, I wore all bone, because I felt like a bitch and I wanted to, and I sat in the first row, and yes, I heard everybody in the funeral home go, "You know that's the ex. That's the one that she stole him from." And I had my moment of closure.

Because she didn't look the way that she wanted to look, I had a closed casket service and, at the end of the service, I had everybody leave the funeral home, and I had him and his friends and her mentors come back in the funeral home and I let them see her for one last time. And she looked beautiful. Oh my God, she looked amazing, and I wanted them to see her one last time—because you did this, you killed this young woman.

The funeral director came and she pulled me aside and said, "You are amazing. I didn't realize, until I heard some of the gossip in here, who you were." And I said, "Yeah, yeah." And she said, "Well, there's a support group in Jersey City for trans women. I think you should go."

I went and I was appalled at the behavior of how girls were calling each other out their name and misgendering each other and that whole mess and I stood up and said something about it, and this little, old, white Jewish woman heard what I was saying and called me outside of the room and she had an application sitting on the desk and said, "How would you like to be the coordinator of this program?"

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Ceyenne at a G.L.I.T.S. event in late 2018. Photo courtesy Chris Berntsen.

She said, "Anybody that demands that everybody in that room holds respect for each other, I want to hire you." And I said, "Sweetie, I don't live in New Jersey. I'm battling some shit in New York." And she said, "I'll get you an apartment, I'll get you a phone, I will set you up for the next couple of years." And she did that and I coordinated her program and I changed the culture in New Jersey for trans women getting support.

It's not so easy working with community. There were times when I wasn't doing good. I went to Flawless on many different things.

When we opened up the transgender center for hormone therapy, I didn't have a name. I went to Flawless, and I was like, "I need to name this place something splashy, something that will catch." And she said, "Glitz, with a Z." And, it was G-L-I-T-Z, girls living in a transgender zone. And we did that at Medical Center in New Jersey and everybody loved it.

Fast forward, I went back to the Flawless, and I said, "Okay, so I want my own agency, and I want to be able to help the girls because we are always last on the food chain, and we're never taken serious in society until we're dead, and even in death, we don't get the respect we deserve." And she said, "Let's do “Glits” with an “S.” Now, let's figure out how we can spell this out or write this out." And then, it made sense: “Gays and lesbians living in a transgender society.”

And that is our motto too, that's it. And I said "Okay, so here's the second problem, I'm writing a book and I really don't know how I'm going to protect myself from reporters. You know, I don't want my parents and my family to come back on me. I need help." And she said, "Well, you're spicy like a pepper. What do you think about Ceyenne?" I was like, "Oh my gosh, I love that."

What about the last name?

I said "Oh, shit. I've been dying to ask you this almost 20 years in. I know I'm a little late with this shit. Can I use Doroshow?” And she got up and she hugged me and kissed me and she said. "Oh, Christ yes. Yes, hell yes." And I said, "Are you serious Ma?" And she said "Yes. Ceyenne Doroshow, that is perfect". So, then I called my editor back and I said "Ceyenne Doroshow."

I want to be able to separate me from everything else that I'm doing. That allows my family to have their own private life.

One more fast forward: my grandmother had passed away, and I called Flawless in the middle of the night and she was like, "Well, what are you doing for your grandmother?"

And I said, "Oh, sweetie, I'm like sneaking in the house. I'm getting her hair done. I'm bringing food. I'm having her refrigerator filled up. I'm having my friends fix whatever needs to be fixed in her house. Even when I'm out of town, my friends are still facilitating this for me." And she said, "Well, then you are doing what you're supposed to do. Now how's your parents handling this?"

"Every now and then, I would run into people who knew me from childhood, and they would say, 'Oh, I heard you were dead.'"

And I said, "My mom knows but my dad will be angry." And she said, "Then you continue to do what you're doing. You're honoring her by helping her. He doesn't need to know."

Well, he figured it out. The day after my grandmother had passed away, he came to my house. I literally hired security, 'cause I didn't know where his anger would go. I had breasts now; I'm a full on trans woman. I didn't know how he would receive this.

He was like, "I just wanted to tell you that, you know, some of the things that happened in your childhood were not all your fault."

I needed to know this. For the first time in a long time, I cried. I full out boogery cried. And I went uptown and I went to the door, and of course Flawless came out in her little tighty-whiteys and she said, "How are you surviving this?" And I said, "I don't know." I said, "But for the first time in my life I feel like I got some clarity."

And she said, "Well what do you mean, clarity?" And I said, "I blame myself for all of this. I blame myself for so much, for so long." And she said, "But sweetie, you're not the only one." She said, "There have been so many children that have walked through these doors, that have blamed themselves for their own sexuality, not realizing that they didn't ask for this, it just happened."

I kind of got it. I was like, "Wow, I can go on and I can forgive them." And that was something I didn't even know I could do, 'cause I was very mad at them. I was angry for years and I was okay not ever going back.

Because I had to live in my truth and be okay. And that means, every now and then, I would run into people who knew me from childhood, and they would say, "Oh, I heard you were dead."

“Well who said that?”

“Your family.”

I’d say, "Sweetie, I'm not dead. Apparently you see what I am. So that's why it was easier for me to be dead, than tell you the truth. I'm living in my truth.”

That shocked me. That I had died so many goddamn times, for so many different people, because it just wasn't okay to say, "Oh you know what, she's no longer a boy. She's a girl." Because that would be embarrassing, that would not be the cultural thing to do.

There was just so many instances of, because of your gender identity, you don't deserve respect. You are peon because you are trans, or because you wear women's clothes, because then they didn't have that. Oh, I was called everything under the sun, not just by society, but my family. Survival looked so different from what it looks like now.

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Photo by Justin J. Wee.

Yeah, what do you think about that?

I think there's so many opportunities. At the same time, opportunities for who? As a Black trans woman I see progress, but not that much. It's like that song, "God bless the child that has their own." We're living in a world of opportunity, but we have a government fighting against our very existence.

So we're facing some real serious times just being a part of this community, we're living in a marginalized government where we stand to be erased. I'm sorry, I'm not going nowhere.

"We can systematically turn people off when we let a government ordain what femininity looks like, what women's rights looks like, what protection looks like."

I don't know what it would be like. Are we gonna go back to the Stonewall days where you need to have on two male articles [of clothing]? I remember Flawless telling me them stories of how she would take a shirt tie and tie it around her underwear or sew it on—she would have these articles of clothing sewn into her clothing because they were gonna get her. That's determination. I'm gonna be who I wanna be and you're not gonna tell me who I can't be.

I will never go back to those times, I'm sorry. When I had to be Eddie Morales, it was for survival. When I had to do sex work, it was definitely survival. Because even working a part-time job for a non-profit where I'm saving lives was not paying me enough to sustain in life. Yeah I'm doing the work. I'm working almost 12, 13 hours a day but not being paid like I should be paid, not valued like I should be valued.

And we're still seeing that today in not-for-profits. We're being tokenized.

And we see this way too often: "Oh, but by the way, we stipend women of color. We're giving them a stipend and lunch and a Metrocard." Oh that sets the tone for survival. Let me go buy hair and makeup and wig, oh, there goes my stipend. So now I still have to get to work. So what am I gonna do to eat? Oh, let me become a part of the system. Now I get to be not only systemized by your system, I still gotta go to work. And I gotta work for the system, work for the stipend. It's a lot. But society wants us to have to go to them to sustain.

We can systematically turn people off when we let a government ordain what femininity looks like, what women's rights looks like, what protection looks like. Man we're a messed up society.

What is your advice right now to young trans people?

That they should reach out. When you're faced with abuse, tell somebody. When you're finding an obstacle to make it through—and I mean make it through society, through school—reach out, educate yourself. As community, we need to uplift the younger generation to be everything we couldn't. That means I want to see images of us in everything. I want to see us in media, I want to see us as lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians, congressmen; there needs to be more reflections of us out here for us to be taken serious.

We need to be images and reflections. We need to have scholarships out here for young people. We need to create jobs so our kind can be a part of the process. It starts somewhere, and by employing our own, we're able to uplift them. I'm not talking just employ them—build them up for sustainability. In this climate, we need to be sending kids to school. By educating them, we have such a better chance to see a better tomorrow.

This divided sense of who we are; now this needs to be a connective. It's not only gay white men that deserve to be at the table. It's all of us. It is the collective, the GLIBQTIABNC—all of it. It's going to be a full alphabet soon. Everybody deserves to be at the table, and they need to be uplifted. We need to be uplifted. And if we are elders, we're supposed to encourage the best.

Yeah. That has been crucial to our survival: supporting each other and being each other's family.

Without our alternative family, we'd have never had support. Because these were the ties that bind. It was that outside family. It was Flawless Sabrina. It is Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. It was Rose and Sweetie who were able to pinch me and tell me, "Get it the fuck together."

"If I want to earn their respect, it's not me being who I am, it's how I present myself that could make or break a meeting—or how society sees me."

I remember, one day, me and Flawless went to the board of education meeting to meet with Sweetie. I don't know what was going on with me, but my eyes looked like rainbow. I had 52 colors up on these eyes. And Sweetie said, "Girl, girl, meet me in the bathroom." I've never seen Sweetie as her normal self. And I was like, well who is this big queen telling me to come in the bathroom?

Finally, in the bathroom, she said, "Yeah, we're just going to wipe some of that off, because you're speaking on the behalf of young people for the board of education, so we're going to tone this down a little." And I said, "Well, wait. Why?" She said, "Because you need to present yourself proper at meetings like this. They already know the deal, but take it down a notch."

I never understood that and I got it that day: If I want to earn their respect, it's not me being who I am, it's how I present myself that could make or break a meeting—or how society sees me.

I had never actually thought about my presentation as a trans woman. What the girls were teaching—they said the uniform was a mini skirt, a pushup bra, and a wig. If I'd have listened to that scenario, I would never have a job and I would never be taken seriously.

It was odd to look across that room and see Sweetie with no makeup and well manicured eyebrows. And I was like, Oh, there's a time and place for everything. I didn't know that, because these were not lessons taught to me before. But they were damn sure important.

I was like, Wow, I took a lot for granted. I had to look [back] on some of the attention I was getting in some of the places I was going. Yeah, maybe I should not be there, maybe I should listen. And it made sense because I was putting myself in these high risks situations.

We're not having these conversations when girls get attacked, that you know presentation is everything. The idea is, as a youth, I didn't ever get well because I didn't know. As an adult, I'd learned to navigate and get respect in areas where I certainly wouldn't have because pay me no mind. Why? Because I blend in. I'm tall as shit and I'm bigger than life, so it's not like they don't know the situation. But presentation is everything. And that changes the narrative on how you waffle through society, how you just navigate these waters of oppression and discrimination.

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I see so many of these horrible videos where girls are being jumped. And one issue with one person turns into three or four people attacking this trans woman. And I can't watch the video. I turn them off because they're so disrespectful; how society will just jump in. It ain't got nothing to do with whatever the situation is, but they will jump into the fight and just attack this trans woman because of who she is. Did she do something wrong? Probably not, probably not at all. What was her crime? Waking up and going out. That was her crime.

She didn't do anything, didn't say anything. But what we don't teach and we need to be teaching, is conflict resolution, how to deflate a situation. I already know who I am, and what I am, so I don't need to clap back when somebody says something. Even if it's gender different and somebody says, "Oh, that's a man." Sweetie, I'm okay with that. I am totally okay with that. But what you're not going to do is put your hands on me. And could I make it through that? I could live another five fucking minutes if I just walked the hell away. You don't have to fight every fight. It's not meant for you to have to answer for every idiot's discrimination.