People have asked if Shea Stevens, the main character in Iron Goddess, is based on me. The answer is, sort of.
I’m certainly no mechanic. I didn’t grow up as the daughter of an outlaw biker. And I treat my wife a lot better than Shea treats her girlfriend.
But we do both love riding. We are both lesbian. We’ve been to hell and back more times than either of us can count. We can both pick locks. And while I’ve never been to jail or prison, I have committed crimes as a matter of survival.
About nine months into my gender transition, the company I was working for pulled me aside. They had noticed the changes in my body, most notably my growing breasts. I explained that I was transgender and was transitioning to my true gender. They told me I was fired.
This was in 1993 in Georgia. Not exactly a time or place of tolerance. And like the majority of trans people, I was fired for being trans. With no recourse.
I struggled to find job. After all, I had a bachelor’s degree from a top journalism school. But no one would hire me because all of my job references were for the man I never really was.
And that’s when I took a “job” as an “independent sales rep” selling electronics out of the back of my car. I never asked where my supplier got the electronics. They were most likely stolen. But my options were few. Even McDonald’s wouldn’t hire me. I was outside the system.
So one day, someone called the cops. An officer showed up. Asked for my ID. Which had an “M” for Sex. Which still had my male name because changing it legally was taking longer than expected.
I was terrified because I had heard the horror stories of what cops did to trans women. I had seen the bruises and scars. And there is nothing to be done about it. Because cops have all the power. As a trans person, I had no rights because the system no longer considered me a person.
When the cop asked my why I didn’t look like the person on the license, I explained I was trans. I felt as if at any moment I would be assaulted or raped or worse. But I was lucky. The cop let me go.
Once my name change came through, I changed all the paperwork I could legally. But that didn’t change the “M” on my driver’s license. I quit selling electronics and got a job at a shady vending machine company. They noticed the “M”.
I knew I could never get a decent job until I got that changed to an “F”. And under the law, I couldn’t get that changed without a $20,000 operation that I desperately wanted, but couldn’t afford.
And so I broke the law. A few months after I had my name changed, I went to the DMV, wearing a tight sexy sweater and flawless makeup. I told them I had lost my license.
They printed out a copy of my information and asked me to make sure it was all current. I said it was except for where it had me listed as male, since obviously I was a woman. The clerk said she didn’t understand how that could have happened. I smiled and said neither did I. She changed it.
In short, I’ve sold black market (stolen) electronics. I committed fraud by getting the DMV to change my gender marker prior to surgery. I even got married to my boyfriend a few months after that, still years before I had surgery.
Do I feel bad about it? Not one damn minute. Because here’s the thing. When society systematically oppresses a class of people, making it impossible for them to hold an honest job and make a livable wage, the oppressed will do whatever it takes to survive.
If that means selling stolen electronics or performing sex work or committing fraud to make finding a job easier or selling cigarettes on a corner or whatever it takes, then so be it.
I dread to think what would have happened if I had been caught and sent to jail. Trans people don’t do well in prison. But when society leaves you no options, what else can you do? You do what you gotta do and don’t think about the consequences.
I am outlaw. And I am not ashamed.