Eleven Americans describe what it's like to be transgender in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' new HBO documentary, The Trans List. Though the individuals in the film come from varied backgrounds, there is at least one common thread to their experiences: "We all come out publicly," lawyer Kylar Broadus tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "There is no hidden way to come out as a trans person."
Broadus, who is profiled in the documentary, was born female but has been living as a man since the 1990s. "I took a lot of crap [coming out], because, you know, I was out when lots of people weren't," he says. "At that time, everyone was losing their jobs. If you came out, you lost your job."
Also in The Trans List is Nicole Maines, a young woman who filed and won a discrimination lawsuit against her school district, after she was forbidden to use the girls' bathroom.
On being forced to use the staff bathroom in middle school, instead of the girls' bathroom
Maines: It was right next to the girls' room and the boys' room, so they were all lined up right in a row. So I'd just sort of be walking with all my friends and then they just sort of kept going into their bathroom and I got to go into my special just-for-me bathroom. ...
It made me feel like I was an "other." It just got lonely. After a while of listening to my parents talk about how unfair it was that I was being punished, I sort of tuned in and I was like, "Wait, why am I being punished?"
On filing a lawsuit against the school district after the school hired a bodyguard to follow her to make sure she used the staff bathroom
Maines: My parents, they knew that what was happening wasn't right, and something had to be done about it. ... I felt great about it. It finally felt like people were doing something. For the past two years — using staff and gender-neutral, private, just-for-Nicole bathrooms and having a bodyguard follow you around all the time — [it] felt really, really good to know that people were finally doing something about it.
It was annoying; I would get up to go to class to just go to the bathroom and my teacher would have to stop me in front of everybody and tell me to wait for whoever was following me that day. It was really, really humiliating, so it felt really good to know that my parents recognized what was happening and knew that it was wrong.
On how Maines feels the bathroom issue is "fabricated"
Maines: Before that whole staff [bathroom] business happened, I felt totally comfortable using the girls' bathroom, and all the girls felt totally comfortable with me. No one was afraid of me peeping in on them or them peeping in on me to see "Oh my gosh! What's really under Nicole's pants?"
I mean, these are the girls who had sleepovers at my house. We all had sleepovers, we'd known each other since first grade and we had all been there for each other for various other things, and so bathrooms weren't something that we felt threatened by or was even something on our minds.
I think that's something that's been completely fabricated, to be completely honest. This entire issue of transgender people posing a kind of threat to cisgender women in bathrooms is made up. We are just like everybody else — we go into the bathroom, we keep our heads down, we don't look at anybody.
On how difficult it was for Kylar Broadus to dress as a woman
Broadus: It was an ordeal. ... It wasn't natural, it was not innate and so I would run out of the building at the end of the day or whatever meeting we had and I'd literally — I felt like Superman in the car — because I got to the parking lot and I would be stripping off those clothes as soon as I could get them off. And then the whole pantyhose thing, it just didn't work. I don't think I was a very attractive woman, because my spirit and soul were not that at all.
On coming out as transgender
Broadus: I came out early for my era, which was near my late 20s, that's when I decided this was it. So it's the early '90s when I started the process of doing the hormones slowly. We were then, under the impression, some of us, if we slowly did stuff and gradually did it, that nobody would notice, but the thing is with trans people, we all come out publicly, there is no hidden way to come out as a trans person. People notice things. Even though I was masculine and had already been wearing the haircut, people did start to notice that I squared out a little bit more.
Maines: We worked with the school and decided that we'd try to make the transition gradual, and so that started with ... wearing more gender-neutral, androgynous clothing, that would be pink and then growing my hair out, wearing more obviously female clothing, and then that moved into skirts, ear piercings, and a new name. ....
Kids and just young people in general are usually a lot more, I guess, open-minded to change. Especially when you're really little in elementary school, you don't expect a lot of things from people, so if somebody says, "I'm switching genders," you're just sort of like, "OK, that's new. But cool."
The other thing that helped was that we did make the transition gradual and they were sort of eased into it with me, so it didn't come as one big shock some day and everyone just sort of had to process that.