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Trans people say they sometimes feel discrimination amongst gay community

By Tara Suter and Jed Sammons

For many queer D.C. residents, the District is a refuge to live as their true selves. However, for many transgender people living there, they sometimes still feel like they don’t belong. 

Transgender individuals often are at the forefront of queer advocacy. There is a common myth that Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender woman, threw the first brick during the historic 1969 Stonewall riots. Yet, they still face discrimination in traditionally queer spaces within D.C., as many queer people who live and work in the Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan neighborhoods commonly said these spaces cater to white and non-transgender, also known as “cisgender,” gay men. 

An estimated 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. And according to a 2017 study by the Williams Institute, there are almost 15,000 trangender people living in Washington, D.C. 

But even with those numbers, some transgender people said they don’t always feel welcome in gay spaces. 

A 2018 study by Eric Knee in Leisure Studies found deep divides in the Chicago “gayborhood” of Boystown between cisgender and transgender individuals. Knee described “institutionalized exclusion through hegemonic boundaries” between the predominantly cisgender, white and gay patrons of the local bars and overall scene and Black and Brown trans and gender non-comforming people who came to Boystown looking for a place of acceptance but often felt ostracized there. 

“Black and Brown genderqueer bodies symbolically threaten the social order of white Boystown and as such are both symbolically and physically neutralized,” Knee said in the study. “Such instances do not represent isolated instances but rather reflect the realities of structural racism and gender inequality that are inherent in a neoliberal, hetero/homonormative society.”

Knee said the patterns of Boystown were not limited to the neighborhood itself, but are a larger representation of North American society, a fact which many in D.C. agreed with. 

Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. Photo by Miles O’Reilly

Tynan Matthews said she moved to the District about seven months ago after growing up in Massachusetts and attending college in Vermont. While she said she feels that D.C. is generally welcoming to her as a transgender person, and there is a large, supportive and open queer community in the District, she has faced transphobia in traditionally queer D.C. spaces.

“My anecdotal experience of transphobia usually comes because I’m trans and I’m also gay,” Matthews said. “So the transphobia I experience is usually from queer women, like cis queer women, cis gay women, who don’t associate trans women as ‘real women.’”

Matthews also said she thinks that queer spaces in the District are not inclusive enough for all queer people.

Tynan Matthews

“I know a lot of the bars and town gay bars or just like queer spaces are usually cis white gay men oriented,” Matthews said. “Not a lot of places for queer people of color, or trans people or intersex people. There isn’t a lot of visibility for that.”

Trans people face violence in many areas in the United States. The Human Rights Campaign said 2021 had a record number of violent fatal incidents against transgender and gender non-conforming people with 50 fatalities tracked.

Dylan Drobish, who performs in the District as a drag king under the stage name of “Dylan B. Dickherson White,” said the transphobia he has experienced in progressive areas like Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan is more “subtle” and not outwardly confrontational. 

“I feel like the things that are some of the biggest problems with transphobia, especially in areas that are generally more liberal is the things that people don’t recognize that are transphobic,” Drobish said. “So sometimes saying, ‘Well, I couldn’t ever tell you were trans,’ something like that. It may seem kind of innocent, but when people say stuff like that, you’re like, ‘Is there a way I’m supposed to look?’”

Drobish said he has connections in the community stretching back around 12 years and performance connections stretching back from about two to three years. Despite this, he said he was denied opportunities to perform at a few different pride events this year.

“I will say that one of the interesting things about this year in particular with coming back to pride is that DC Pride, Baltimore Pride, Baltimore Trans Pride, every single one of those Pride celebrations denied me the opportunity to perform,” Drobish said. “So I think I still have a lot of work to do in this community. Just given the fact that even at this level, this community does not accept me.” 

Drobish said he never got any specific reasoning as to why he couldn’t perform at these pride events beyond the fact that they have a lot of other applicants to perform. He said he would, however, try and further reach out to the people running the events anyways. 

At the District’s only lesbian bar, A League of Her Own, the manager Barbie Lopez is trying to specifically hire transgender people as well as queer people of color to help bridge the gap between the communities. 

“We have a lot to do with including trans, and especially POC LGBTQ community … there’s a gap there and that comes from hiring, to management to ownership,” Lopez said.

Owner Dave Perruzza said he is making a conscious effort to represent the trans community in his bars. 

“When we re-hired it was very important to for me to hire a lot of transgender people. We hired seven trans people because I felt that it was important for gay men to see trans people,” Perruzza said.  

Tara Suter

One of the more interesting things I found when doing research on this community was the discourse around what makes a “gay” neighborhood “gay?” There were tons of questions about just the overall queer population and the recent dispersal of queer people in the District. As someone who is interested in the intersection of wealth inequality and queerness and the historical factors behind them, it really got me thinking about the idea of the radicalness of what a gay neighborhood should be. Should it be a place where every queer person, despite their material possessions should find refuge and build a community? Or should it be a place where low income queer people struggle to get by and high income queer people reap the benefits in order to stay in the good graces of the cisgender, heterosexual and wealthy people who set up disadvantaging systems in the first place?