Pain is Pain – Conversation With A Transgender Woman


I never thought I would give advice to a transgender woman. I never thought I would hear a first hand account of the struggles in the life of a transgender woman – or have any reason to write about one.

I was in Brooklyn the other night, so I decided to go visit my mother. She asked me to stop and get her a pack of Salem cigarettes on my way. As soon as I got in the corner store, I recognized “Shanaya” (name changed). She used to live on the first floor of my mother’s building — as a man.

I greeted her with a peck on the cheek. “Heyyy, how you doing? My mother sent you to the store?” Yes, she had. So we left the store – her with a turkey and cheese hero, a 40-ounce of Colt 45, and carton of fruit punch. Me with a box of Newport 100s (they didn’t have Salems).

“So Al, how you been?”

She corrected me. “Oh, I legally changed my name to Shanaya now. I’m on hormones and I identify as a woman.” Then I noticed the makeup.

“Wow. Okay, I’ll call you Shanaya then. Are you happy with the changes?”

“Yes I am. I have a counselor now. I live in the Bronx. I’m doing so much better.”

“As long as you’re happy, I’m happy for you” I told her.

The rain was coming down on a heavy slant by now. We were shuffling to the building under my umbrella when her cellphone started ringing.

“Oh my gossshh! That’s my boo. That’s my boo. My baby. But he gotta wait. My hands full. I’m gon call him back when we get upstairs.”

I could tell she was super excited.

By the time we rode the elevator up to the fifth floor and stepped inside my mother’s apartment, Shanaya had learned that it was really another woman (a “tranny,” in her words) calling – and not her boo. The caller said “Listen here! Don’t call his f*ckin phone no more!” – and hung up.

I will never say that I understand what goes through the mind of a transgender person throughout childhood or adolescence, or even adulthood for the matter, but what I can easily identify with is emotional turmoil and pain. I can identify with how circumstances can trigger grief or other unhealthy behaviors.

Shanaya was saying, “I’m just so devastated. I can’t believe this. He never told me he was dealin with somebody else! I don’t have time for this.”

We know it’s nothing for a man to lie.

My mother: “That can’t be the same man who was on the phone telling you how much he loved you right before you went to the store. That’s HIM?!”

“Yea, that’s him. I’m am so devastated. I feel like going out on the stroll and selling my body. I walk down some of the streets I used to trick on and I get flashbacks to the nights I got in cars with men. My aunt don’t believe I was out there sucking dick, but I miss it. I sold my body for money, but the money is not good no more. I still have sisters out there on the stroll. I tried to change myself for the better, but I get tempted to go back.”

I can identify with addiction (and prostitution is evidently another form of it), having had addicts in my family.

I told her “No, you’re not. KEEP MOVING FORWARD. Don’t look back. You’re not going that way. Don’t give this man or anybody else the power to make you turn around. You deserve better than that.” I got chills as I said it and my mother’s mouth hung wide open.

She continued “I never had anybody to tell me they love me before. And he did. He told me he loved me. I’m about to delete his number.”

My mother: “well you told him that. So he was just telling you what you wanted to hear. But you need to tell him about it instead of just deleting him.”

I asked, “Well how long y’all been going out?”

“Two months. I met him on the chat line. He didn’t tell me he was messing with somebody. Now this bitch calling my phone.”

My mother tried to change the subject, but Shanaya kept going back. “I am so devastated. I am just so devastated right now. One of these days I’m gonna find love. I’m 38 years old and I never had a man before.” And on and on about things she discussed with her psychiatrist.

She sat at the kitchen table with my mother, eating a turkey and cheese hero, and shaking her head in disbelief.

My mother: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing, you shole didn’t lose your appetite. You EATIN that sandwich.”

Then the conversation turned physical. Shanaya is probably a B-cup or small C right now from hormone treatments, but she wants to be a size double-D. I asked, “why do you want breasts that big?” she responded “Look,” and popped out her right boob.

My stomach dropped to its depths. I went into shock. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to see a perky boob on someone I only knew previously as a man.

My mother explained that even though she’s tall (probably about 6’1), her frame is way too small for that cup size. (Big boobs give you back problems.)

“I want a vagina too. I wanna be a full woman.”

Only my mother would ask, “so you still stand up and pee?”

I couldn’t believe it. But I told her that if the changes she’s making are making her happy, that’s what matters.

I can identify with people just wanting to happy. (That Mary J. Blige joint used to be my anthem.)

I can identify with people who want to be loved. (That’s just about all of us at some point.)

Emotional pain is also universal.

I left them sitting at the kitchen table at about 11:30pm. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Shanaya’s story all the way home.

It struck me how open she was about her feelings and hardships. People harbor all kinds of pain, but don’t necessarily share it. People harbor deep longings for love, but on the outside, appear stoic (or numb). But here she was, sharing her pain and her past.

I had told Shanaya that if she was patient, love would come.

Do you think it’s as simple as waiting for love? (Like Luther Vandross said? Wait for love?) What do you take away from this story? Other thoughts and comments are welcome.

Categories: Advice, Inspiration, Narratives, Personal Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

33 replies

  1. Wow, I actually have a transgender coworker she’s currently going through the change right now she/ he is taking hormones ( legally got her name changed a mth ago) funny that u would write bout this today cause I was speaking with him ( he loves it when he’s addressed as a he and cops an attitude if she’s said) this morning about his facial hair coming in. I think he’s dealing with inner issues from early childhood and he’s very open to guestions. I don’t agree with it but when I speak openly with him u can feel the hurt, confusion n pain and it makes u understand even if/ when ud never understand.


    • Wow. So your female co-worker is transitioning to a male? I know the woman in my story had a rough childhood, but was always feminine. And yea, whether you agree or not, as a compassionate person you can recognize others’ pain and respect them regardless.


  2. I got sick reading this.

    Anything goes I guess. I used to be heavily homophobic until lately when I became more tolerant.


  3. I enjoyed reading this article very much,funny thing I encounter “trannies”in my type of work and they all seems to leave me with the same understanding that beneath it all they just want to love and truly be loved in return.I’ll also will admit I’m so confused especially when you put in in a bibilical context,I do wish Shanaya all the happiness she desires in this world; of course you and I both know it starts with loving oneself first.As always great job keep it up,eventhough I might not comment all the time,I’m still reading.


    • Hi Janice, thank you for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I wish her happiness too and I also agree that it all starts with self love. I also thought today that many of us ill-equipped to find the quality relationships we desire for different reasons.

      Also, I was just saying that I might stop posting to Facebook – unsure if people are reading/ appreciating them. Please subscribe. I’m going to start posting excerpts from my memoir soon.

      Thanks again.


  4. What an interesting post! And yeah, longing and looking for love is so Universal – there are no boundaries when it comes to the desire of love.


  5. Dealing with trannies is tough. I find that I’m always trying to be politically correct around them, I always have lots of questions im afraid to ask. Most of them do wear their emotions on their sleeves and “true women” can relate, regardless of gender. Thanks for sharing! I love and reading and responding and will continue to do so.


    • @Ladeeta- I totally get what you’re saying. I really couldn’t finesse my way around it. I’d say things inadvertently politically incorrect and verbal gaffes.


    • Thanks! I appreciate the support. I’ve been wondering if I should continue the blog so that’s validation.

      It’s interesting that you say they wear their emotions on their sleeves. I was so thrown off by that. Strangers tend to tell me their problems, and I listen but that was unexpected (the confessions and boob exposure). Laurie commented on this post about people who are “aching balls of need” and it’s so fitting to this story.


  6. It sounds like Shanaya is dealing with two issues, her gender identification and her need to be loved. Seems like she has made progress on her gender (although I think people underestimate the damage ANY operation does to the body, as well as dangers involved on taking massive hormones) but she sounds like an aching ball of need. Aching balls of need are not attractive to anyone, regardless of gender. She will continue to push lovers of either gender away until she is able to meet some of her own needs, and have something to give that doesn’t have needy strings attached. Personally, I think she should stay a gay man/transvestite, save money on the operation and hormones, and put her energy into building strength and independence as a PERSON. When she has something to bring to the table, the love she seeks will come to her. No amount of changing gender will make you whole if you are not whole already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent points Laurie. I think she’s also struggling with her past. I didn’t think about damage from surgery; it’s also probably very expensive and not covered by insurance. Your “ball of aching need” assessment is also spot on. A lot of people who are needing and aching for authentic, romantic love are ill-equipped to find it. It begins with self-assessment and self-value. Your comments definitely apply to any gender.


  7. Your title sums the dating game up. Shit can happen to anyone. All that other stuff really doesn’t matter

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It is always wonderful to see that some people realize that, underneath it all, we’re all just people.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very true. More similarities than differences. I appreciate you chiming in.


  10. This was a very touching piece. I think it says a lot about shared human experiences–like loss, and love–that can span gender. I’m glad that you were able to help support Shanaya during a time that she was feeling vulnerable, and I’m sure she was grateful for it, too.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree with Laurie’s thoughts above on Shanaya’s situation. She has the same hopes, and desires as the rest of us, but obviously it is much harder for her. Shoot, I’m still struggling with self-acceptance nearly daily! I am saddened by what happened, but glad she has someone such as yourself to call a friend. (Also your mom!)

    I’ve seen prostitution portrayed as an addiction on tv, though usually it is also tied in with drugs, and pimps will give them out to keep the girls happy, and they get hooked. I hope she keep holding onto hope, and finds someone who will love her, based not on what she was, or could be, but just as she is now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for reading. I wrote this a few years ago but last time I saw her, she was still struggling with depression and fear due to street harassment. She said men typically harass her because she has very masculine features. Others in her position who can more easily “pass” as more feminine (for lack of a better term) have it a little easier in day to day life. There was just too much going on to talk about out – friends being murdered (some by men who discovered their male genitalia – another subject all together). A lot of turmoil. Much of which stemmed from childhood abuse by male family members. I hope she finds that too. A barrier to that, for many of us, is old beliefs about ourselves that no longer serve us. Feelings of unworthiness, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. An amazing post that left me nearly speechless. It’s easy to sit in my chair and offer opinions on what’s right, but your post brought it down to the individual and the fallout if not caring. Thank you for opening my eyes today.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow! This is a sad story to me. He still carrying his past with him and having trouble letting go. We will never understand his pain. All he know is what makes other people happy. He’s just living for the moment.

    One thing she need to know is , a man going to be a man and a woman going to be a woman!

    Liked by 1 person


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