ARUN RATH, HOST:
Caitlyn Jenner may have owned the Internet this week, but hundreds of thousands of Americans have made a similar transition. NPR's Pam Fessler spent time recently with several transgender women in Washington, D.C. She heard frank talk about their emotional and at times painful journey and has this reporter's notebook.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hanging out on the front porch on a warm evening, people tend to open up a little more than usual, which is what happened when I sat with Ruby Corado and two other trans women outside a house that Corado runs for homeless transgender adults. At one point, two of the women mentioned being fathers. I don't know why, but I was surprised. It's hard enough for adults to grasp what it means to be transgender. But kids?
BELA MUNEY: When they were first born, I was daddy, like I was dad.
FESSLER: Bela Muney is a tall, striking trans woman whose tight black-and-white miniskirt and short top reveal a bare midriff. She says when her 12-year-old daughter first saw her as a woman...
MUNEY: Like, there wasn't nothing, like, shocking to her. She was just like OK, so you're daddy-mommy.
FESSLER: Her daughter's biggest complaint?
MUNEY: Why your hair got to be longer than mine?
FESSLER: Everyone laughs. But seriously, Muney is one of the lucky ones. She sees her kids all the time. Kiera Atkins, who's leaning against the porch railing in a short black dress with a cigarette in her hand, has a 7-year-old son.
KIERA ATKINS: Haven't seen him for about six months, I think. So...
FESSLER: Atkins says the last time they spoke, it was on Facetime.
ATKINS: He was like, Daddy, why do you look like a girl? (Laughter) I didn't really say anything just 'cause I let his mother kind of introduce that fact to him and then I would explain to him whenever he gets a little bit older.
FESSLER: There's a lot of melancholy on this porch, especially when the talk turns to family. Many of the trans men and women who live here have lost all contact with parents, siblings and friends. This is their new family and their new home, where they can feel relatively safe in what can sometimes be a pretty cruel world.
RUBY CORADO: You know what happened to Bela just three weeks ago? She almost got killed walking home.
FESSLER: That's Ruby Corado talking about some of their transgender friends.
CORADO: You know what happened to Catherine, right? She got beat up in Columbia Heights. You know what happened to the other girl from Nicaragua?
FESSLER: Corado says she was assaulted, too. Another trans woman was stabbed in the subway. Atkins seems a bit surprised.
ATKINS: I've never yet to experience any kind of, like, walking down the street and someone calling me names or anything like that - ever.
CORADO: That may just have to do with the color of your skin.
FESSLER: Atkins is white.
CORADO: That's definitely not the case for women of color because many of them, including me, have gone through tremendous amount of violence.
FESSLER: Which seems to be pretty much the case everywhere in the U.S. Black and Latino transgender women are far more likely than other trans men and women to be attacked and even killed. They're also more likely to be poor and homeless.
CORADO: So I am glad to hear that that's not happening to you. But...
ATKINS: I wasn't trying to brag or anything. I was just kind of just pointing...
FESSLER: Atkins is a little defensive. She says to be honest, the only violence she's ever experienced has been against herself. Like 4 in 10 transgender people, Atkins has tried to commit suicide. She was so unhappy being a man. So Corado asks her...
CORADO: Are you happier now that you...?
ATKINS: Even though I'm pretty much broke most of the time and don't have a job or anything, but I'm happier as a person. And I have a lot better friends.
FESSLER: Friends you can just hang out with on the porch and talk to. Pam Fessler, NPR News.
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