Russian American Student Service Network


Grace is a fifty-five-year-old transgender woman living in the Buffalo, NY area. She works as a vendor manager for a local art store. Before transitioning, she worked for twenty-seven years on Wall Street for AIG (American International Group, finance and insurance company).

Have you faced discrimination based on your gender identity?

Absolutely. Often, believe it or not, shopping in stores. Especially clothes shopping. At one particular store on more than one occasion, one of the employees came into the dressing room to scream “no men allowed.” Which is kind of alarming, because I know I’m trans and all, but still, you would think in this day and age that acceptance would be widespread in a case like that. When I approached the store manager about it, they couldn’t care less.

Do you find that discouraging?

It is discouraging, because obviously there were other people in there, and then you’re like “oh my god I just want to hide my face and get the hell out of here. I don’t even want to buy anything I just want to get out of here, get in my car, just leave.” Things like that, it is definitely upsetting. Also, in my case, I haven’t legally changed my name yet, because I just don’t feel I should, I don’t think it’s a necessary thing to do for me. Other people feel it is, but for me it’s not. So, people don’t know how to approach me, because I still have my male name, as opposed to my female name I relate to. Most recently I had to go to the eye doctor, and they put my gender down as a question mark. And I thought “well, gosh, all you have to do is ask.” It’s also when you go to the grocery store, or you’re just out walking or whatever, you have people that will stare and try to figure out who you are or what you are, and it just really shouldn’t matter in this day and age, it’s 2020 not the 1800s.

Do you feel that because of your gender identity that you are expected by some to behave and look a certain way?

Absolutely, and even within the trans community there’s a lot of that. A lot of trans girls want to be as feminine as possible, and a lot of the trans women in the Buffalo community are also lesbians. So, they’re trans lesbians, and the fact that I’m not has led to discrimination within the community. It’s like “well how can you not be a lesbian?” and I’m just not. I wasn’t into women before I transitioned, and I’m still not attracted to women after. It’s kind of funny how, within the community, there’s discrimination against people.

It’s interesting that within this community that is perceived and expected to be so inclusive and accepting there is still discrimination and exclusion happening.

My best friend is twenty-five years younger than me and African American, and we have an extremely close friendship. Even within the trans community, we have people who will say “why are you with somebody who’s African American? Why is an African-American twenty-five years younger than you your best friend?” It’s like, well, it just happened, literally we met and the next day we were best friends. It’s just sad that people even look at skin color within the community, and not even just the trans community but the whole LGBTQ+ community. We should just love and accept each other. Who cares what somebody looks like on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.

Have you found a community of other LGBTQ+ people in your city?

Well, no. Don’t get me wrong, there is a [LGBTQ+] community within Buffalo, but I lived in New York City for 30 years as a gay male, opposed to a trans woman here in Buffalo. We all had our own little groups, but it was all together, we were together. In Buffalo, people break up into their groups, and then there’s that wall. That’s also upsetting because when I first moved here, I became friends with people who were part of the Buffalo Bears [gay male group]. The person who I met was the president of the Buffalo Bears, we were friends, and everything was fabulous. But once I decided to transition- that’s why I moved to Buffalo- that was the end of that friendship as well as the other friendships I had within that group because I was no longer part of that group, I was in a different group then. It’s just stupid, because friendship should be friendship, whether or not you’re part of that particular group. That hurt the most, believe it or not, because people were just like “nope, you’re a trans woman you’d better go over here now. You can’t be friends with these people anymore.” There are all these different sub-groups of the LGBTQ+ community, but no one will interreact with each other, with people outside of their own sub-group.

Do you think that it’s important to have community and stick together to support one another?

I’ve lived in New York for my whole life, and I lived in Sheepshead Bay, which is predominantly Russian, so my landlady was Russian. I lived in the same house for seventeen years and she never raised me a penny. They owned a lovely restaurant in Brighton Beach, and I was so much a part of the Russian community, that I would defend them when people would say things about “those Russians.” I would say that they really had to go into the community and see for themselves. Here, I find that you can’t go into the [LGBTQ+] communities because the wall is up and you’re pushed to the side. It saddens me because, well, we should all know each other and support each other. But you don’t have that.

What does feminism mean to you?

I hate the word, I’m going to be 100% honest. I think it’s derogatory, I think it’s misused. I, as a trans woman, experience X, Y, and Z as a woman. Bu there’s certain things that I can’t experience as a woman, because I haven’t experienced any discrimination as being a woman. As opposed to a cisgender woman, who does experience discrimination probably more than I do as a trans woman. I think we all should be supporting women; I would love one day to have a woman president. I think we need to support women, and I don’t think that knocking women down- trans women knocking down cis women- it’s not the way to go. We don’t know their story. As a result, I just hate the idea of women knocking women, whether it’s trans or cis. They have all rights to say, “okay yes, you’re a trans woman, yes we embrace you, but there’s certain things you’ll never understand.” I feel that that is true.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity

Lauren Cox

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