‘Toni on Feeling Like a Woman’ by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories.

This week, People’s District is telling five stories from D.C.’s LGBT community in honor of Capital Pride. These stories were collected in collaboration with the Rainbow History Project. Read more stories from: Daaiyee, a gay Imam; Annie, a DJ who uses music to unite the LGBT community; and Dan, an Indian immigrant who only learned about homosexuality after moving to the states.

“I have always felt like a woman. I can remember the times when my father would buy me baseballs, footballs, and all of these manly things as a child, but I would always just play with my sisters dolls and dress in their clothes. That was what made me comfortable. I never thought that anything was wrong with it because I felt that I was supposed to be a woman. While I was comfortable with it, my parents struggled with it at first. It was hard on my them, but my mother sheltered me and let me know it was okay.

“People used to ask me why I chose that life, as if it were a choice. People would tell me, ‘You could have been a gay man and been more successful in life.’ My issue is that I am not a man. I have always felt comfortable in my current shell as a woman. I learned to be proud and comfortable from my mentor, Tina Teasley. She was a few years older than me and was instrumental in my life and my transition. Tina was an amazing role model and showed me that you could be transgender and successful.

“Thanks, in part, to her, I started taking hormones at 17 and then got my breasts. After that, it was all about being a woman at all costs. I would save my money for the operations and back then, all of us girls, would go to the same doctor in NE. Now that I am older, I like to say that I live a normal life. This is me.

Continues after the jump.

“I feel fortunate that I did not go through a lot of the struggles that many in the transgender community have gone through in this city. I had a job and health care and could take care of myself. Of course, I had a lot of other difficulties in my life, but I overcame them. As I started to hear about the serious issues facing the transgender community in DC, I thought, girl, what is going on with this city. I was so out of it, doing my own thing and living my own life that I forgot about the other people like myself who were not as fortunate.

“In 2003, I got involved and helped to start Transgender Health Empowerment. We got a small grant from the city and grew from there. We wanted to make sure that people knew about the ‘T’ in LGBT. We worked hard to get us a seat at the table with the LGBT community and the city. I look back and think that it is so remarkable how much we have grown. We have really made waves, in a positive way. It was not all peaches and cream, but we have made progress in terms of getting the transgender population access to healthcare and giving them a seat at the table. Still, there are some barriers to education, housing, and employment in order for us to get where we need to be.

“After working full-time on my job, working to grow Transgender Health Empowerment, and being involved on committees for the city, I made a decision to step down as Chairman of the Board of Directors in September of last year. Transgender Health Empowerment had grown to the point where I felt comfortable moving and shifting priorities. I had spent so much time with Transgender Health Empowerment that I needed to focus on myself and figure out what I was going to do with my life. With all of my work, I forgot about myself.

“Now, I want to travel, enjoy life, and be open to what comes my way. My next cause may be more transgender empowerment, but it could also not be an LGBT issue. I just know that one day I am going to get a call from someone who needs help and wants to get something moving. I am the kind of person who can’t say not to that.”

38 Comment

  • bfinpetworth


  • Great lesson for all of us on the power of self-acceptance. 🙂

  • playing with dolls and wearing dresses has nothing to do with being a woman. playing with baseballs and truck has nothing to do with being a man.

    it’s assertions like this that cause many problems for many people.

    just sayin’

    • bfinpetworth

      Well, there are innate desires within many people that appear, from the outside, to be highly gendered. For most people, those desires correspond with what is expected of his or her biological sex. There are some people, however, whose innate desires are for those activities normally associated with the opposite sex. You are correct that these activities have nothing to do with being a man or woman; you are overreaching, however, to declare that they have nothing to do with a person’s gender identity – because often they do.

      It is politically correct to reject gender stereotypes; yet studies show that boys provided equal opportunity to play with girl toys and boy toys lean strongly towards the boy toys. And the same goes for little girls. So this person’s statement about herself as a child may very well have been an early sign that she was born transgender.

      The assertions that cause problems for people are those that try to force individuals into certain prescribed behaviors. This woman was doing no such thing; she was merely stating an observation of her own self-awareness of her gender identity. Your comment is quite disrespectful to her experience!

      • actually my comment wasn’t disrespectful to this person’s experience any more than this person’s statement was disrespectful to my experience.

        As a woman who does not meet normative gender behavior expectations, i find it offensive that these expectation are associated with gender identity at all.

        Actually the entire notion of gender identity is offensive insofar as it is associated with or equated with gender expression.

        • So you are offended that “expression” is being equated with “identity”?!? Your gender identity is and should be defined by your gendered expressions of your self, wherever that falls on the continuum.

          I understand that people express less than 100% of their full identity in any given social situation, but do I really have a right to be offended if people only identify me with the subset of myself I share with them?

          What the hell else are we supposed to do, Vulcan mind meld?

          • What is offensive is that if i am engaging in behaviors that people (falsely) associate or equate with men it causes people to assert or assume that I am a man or that i am transgendered. That’s bull. And would be lessened (if not eradicated) by the discontinuation of people associating baseball with boys and dolls with girls.

            that’s my point.

        • bfinpetworth

          How the heck is the notion of gender identity offensive. Some people have a strong gender identity one way or the other. Some people express that identity, some people choose to hide it.

          Your comment was disrespectful because it discounts her EXPERIENCE as a transgendered woman. You may not agree with her but her “assertion” is not an assertion whatsoever – it is merely her own observations of her own behavior as a child and how that translated into the person she is as an adult.

          “Gender identity” refers to how a person self-identifies. “Gender expression” refers to how a person expresses that identity to the world. This woman self-identifies as a woman. That is not offensive. It simply is. What is offensive is your dismissing her experience because it does not correspond with your views on gender.

          • No, actually, you are being offensive because i don’t agree with YOUR views on gender.

            Your perspective (and the subject’s statement) perpetuates the misconception that behavior defines gender and, yes, I find that extremely offensive.

          • Anonymous, are you offended by every opinion that you don’t agree with? You may note you said someone else’s views and perspective are offensive to you. That must be a difficult outlook on life.

            I don’t think anyone on this thread has a problem or is offended by the way you perceive or don’t perceive so-called gender norms or expression, so why not offer differing opinions from your own the same respect?

          • bfinpetworth

            Well, I hope you can reach a point in your life where you don’t give a crap what others think of you. I also am gender non-normative, have embraced that status and chosen to live my life freely and openly in that way. I personally rejected the trend towards sex change and gender reassignment for that very reason. I am not male, I am not female, I am just me. It is not always easy – I am an attorney in a large corporate firm where I am treading on new ground all the time. But it is immensely freeing to not feel the need to conform and not feel offended by others’ perceptions of me. I applaud the subject of this post, because she has chosen a path that works for her and she has embraced it. Her words do not perpetuate any misconception – they merely are a reflection of her own life experience. And I applaud you for not adhering to gender norms. Its tough out there but it can be a rewarding journey.

          • Just to be clear… I don’t give a crap what people think of me or how they perceive my gender… but I know that not everyone is as strong or confident as I am and that many people are hurt by the perpetuation of these misconceptions.

            People are doing irreparable harm to their bodies to conform to these gendered expectations and it’s very very sad.

            So yes, I’m offended by those who perpetuate them. *Especially* in the name of being empowered by them.

          • “What is offensive is that if i am engaging in behaviors that people (falsely) associate or equate with men it causes people to assert or assume that I am a man or that i am transgendered”

            So people are stupid. Why would the assumption that you are a man or a transgender be offensive? Annoying, hells yeah. But offensive? Nah, correct them, chuckle and move on. Are these stupid people sometimes using this as an excuse to be rude pricks? Sure. Ignore them, and move on.

            “People are doing irreparable harm to their bodies to conform to these gendered expectations and it’s very very sad.

            So yes, I’m offended by those who perpetuate them. *Especially* in the name of being empowered by them.”

            Oh good god. Is Feminism 5.0 still trying to fight this battle? I thought this ended in the mid-90’s.

            What people do to their bodies: their choice
            Why people do what they do to their bodies: their reasons
            what people think about other peoples actions: their thoughts
            What people assume.. bad news bears anyone?!?

  • Gonna go out on a limb here and guess that anonymous is not a parent.
    You try and try to raise a little tomboy, and nature hands you a princess. It’s enough to make a feminist mom cry.

    • bfinpetworth

      lol, I can relate.

    • oh man I really hope that doesn’t happen to me… my luck is I’ll have the girliest girl ever and have no idea what to do with her. I don’t wear makeup or dress in anything besides khakis and polos/tshirts because I just don’t think it’s that important.

      How do you guys handle that? I’m assuming you’re tomboys yourselves, as am I.

      • Eh, you get what you get. That’s the whole thing about gender… like sex, you can’t choose it. You follow the kid’s lead, let her express herself, and have some fun.
        Watching a child develop (perhaps contrary to what you would have wanted/expected) is totally fascinating.

    • I wouldn’t worry about it. I was a typical girly-girl who loved dolls, ballet, and the color pink, but I grew up to be an electrical engineer and a lesbian–emotionally and financially as independent from the male gender as you can get. That said, I still hate sports and like wearing skirts and baking cupcakes.

  • I find your offense at his offense at your offense of his defense of the subject offensive.

  • Sometimes a Wiener is just a wiener.

  • As the great Lemmy Kilmeister once said, “There are people out there just DYING to be offended.”

    My attitude toward those folks? F*ck ’em! What a lousy way to live.

  • I don’t know about feminism 5.0, but i’m still arguing it, sure, because clearly it needs to be stated (evidenced by this conversation). Because those who equate what you wear or what you do or what hormones you inject into your body with what it is to BE a particular gender is cultural hegemony.

    It is a logical impossibility to state that a man feels like a woman. What does that even mean? If the man is having the feeling, it is by definition what a man feels like. If a boy is playing with a doll, it is by definition what a boy does.

    • anyway… i made my comment, and that’s that, really. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind; I just wanted to introduce a different perspective into the topic of this post (in case anyone was interested).

      Have a great day, ya’ll.

    • “Cultural hegemony.”

      I suppose you regard the need for eating and sleeping as “biological hegemony.”

  • yep, Feminism 5.0. Cultural hegemony… is that the new hetero-normative phrasing being used in womens studies nowadays?

    “Because those who equate what you wear or what you do or what hormones you inject into your body with what it is to BE a particular gender is cultural hegemony.”

    Clothes and activities do not a gender make, so I’ll give you part of your statement, and then edit it to this:

    “Because those who equate what hormones you inject into your body with what it is to BE a particular gender is cultural hegemony.”

    yea, that feminism 5.0 poopship sailed in the mid-90’s, when the “butch dykes are all becoming trans-men” bullhaha was running rampant.

    Please explain what DOES equate to what it is to BE a particular gender. Please define this, as this is where 5.0 runs into trouble – the whole “born-woman” ideas – are any women born women? Or are persons born with a sex male/female/intersexed and the gender is then learned/taught/chosen: man/woman/trans/nongendered. debate can continue.)

    Are you saying that transgendered invidivuals undergoing hormone replacement therapy are not REAL in their chosen gender? Or are you are stating is that transgendered individuals are simply mistaken in their identity as transgendered individuals.

    • Okay, i’ll answer your question. Yes, females are born women. Gender is dependent upon sex. Males are men (boys) and females are women (girls). Intersex folks are both. This is really very simple.

      I’m saying that if a person is a female and “identifis as a man,” that person is regardless a woman. “Self-identity,” or whatever they’re calling it these days, has nothing to do with that reality.

      • and yes, we can have a philosophical debate about what reality is and what words mean, etc… this can go on for days, years, decades and surely will.

        We disagree – and really all of this is opinion. Just as i’m of the opinion that i’m human or male or hispanic or awake right now. According to the arguments of “gender identity” all of these things are up for debate depending upon how i feel about them.

        However. opinions, when held en masse, can be oppressive to those who do not share them. And i argue that the notion of transgendered identity is hetero-normative in that it reinforces gender stereotypes and is therefore damaging to those who do not reflect them.

      • Thanks for explaining, anonymous.

        Self identity has everything to do with reality. You are stating their is no difference in gender and sex, except for those who are non-binary, then those folks don’t get to be men or women – they have to be both.

        I really thought lesbian feminism had advanced in the past 15 years. Pity. You really should have been around in the mid-90’s. You woulda been a hit at the “women-born-women” only events. (or is that wimmin, womon, wymyn… I always got those confused.)

        • or they (intersex) would be something else entirely, i suppose. that would make sense, too, now that i think of it…

          also, your condescension is unnecessary. i already know you’re waaaay above me. 😉

          • So you get to define what another’s identity is, and what gender they are “allowed” to be, and you wish to discuss en masse oppression, condescension and respect?

            Seriously, you wudda been a HUGE hit at those events.

            I will stop now, you may continue as you need. You are right, I am way above you.

        • your argument, greent, is perfectly backwards. you should change your moniker to kool-aid since you’ve clearly been drinking it.

          and my comment was only a feeble attempt at throwing you a bone; my intellectual superiority is quite evident.

  • What the hell are you people talking about!?

  • Agreed. I guess I’m a simpleton, but I liked it better when men were men, and women were women. If I’m going to get hung up on something, I’d rather get hung up on getting said women into my bed.

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