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Roxanne Hutchins is a 50-year-old trans woman from Whistleville, Georgia who has been working with trans women of color for the better part of three years. In addition to being a local drag legend, she has made it her mission to increase visibility for the community as a whole. She is a quiet, private woman offstage, but a force to be reckoned with when she’s out. She has been medically transitioning since 1996, and considers this a lifetime commitment.

Roxanne1-220x300 Trans About Town: Roxanne HutchinsI’m not sure about you, but I would consider you pretty famous in this town! To what would you attribute your familiarity in the Houston transgender community?

Commitment. Once I knew that I was trans and made that commitment to be my genuine self, it made me walk and act with consciousness. This allowed me to identify to people. I was never treated like a “drag queen”, but always like a lady in the gay community. Many people recognized me for who I was before I even admitted it to myself. Once you commit to that life, and you walk the walk and talk the talk, people will see and respect that.

Tell us a bit about the work that you do with trans women of color.

I’ve always been like a big sister to people in the community. I have plans to start a “big brother, big sister” program soon to mentor people just coming to find themselves. I’ve taken a step back temporarily to take care of myself, but when I return that’s definitely a plan I have going forward. We also have plans to start a fundraising campaign to grant scholarships to get surgeries and things done.

In the past I’ve volunteered with an organization called MSociety, and we developed a program for black trans women called SOS, Save our Sisters. We are going on our third year. It’s a place for black trans women to meet and mentor each other. We talk about our lives and help each other with issues that we have. We have also been helping other people get their name and gender marker changes done, with the help of some people here in Houston. We want to do so many more.

I also think it’s important to know that the things I want to start will be open to all trans people. We cannot segregate ourselves, because if we keep seeing ourselves as different, then all we will see is the differences.

Roxanne2-300x300 Trans About Town: Roxanne HutchinsWhat do you feel is the more rewarding part about that work, and why are black trans women particularly in need of visibility in leadership?

After my attorney helped me change my legal information and we set up a clinic, we were able to get several groups of women’s name and gender changes done as well. That was so rewarding, it changed their lives. This was almost a year ago. To know that you had that kind of impact, and in some instances might have even saved some lives, that was big. I really felt very proud of that. I want to do that again, I want to do more.

For the second part of the question, I feel like visibility in leadership is so important because people need to be able to see themselves in their representation. We have such strong leaders, but some may not know that. They don’t see people in those roles that they can look up to. It’s difficult to build people up if they don’t see people that look like them in leadership. But being trans doesn’t have to be all that you are. We shouldn’t marginalize ourselves. The struggle of transgender women is the struggle of all women. When we see women in positions of power we should identify with them, no matter what color their skin is or if they are LGBT or not.

What do you feel are the biggest issues that trans women of color face in society right now?

Safety. When I’m out in the world, people don’t see me as anything other than a black woman. But when I come home, I’m alone. It’s when I’m the most trans. Sometimes I ride the bus, and the walk from the stop to my house is the longest walk for me, because I don’t feel safe. I’ve been followed and catcalled. I found it odd. It could have turned ugly or even fatal real fast. I can’t speak to white trans people, but black trans women are really a fetish. That can be dangerous, and it affects our dignity and self-respect.

Roxanne3-297x300 Trans About Town: Roxanne HutchinsWhat are the biggest differences between your generation and those that are just now coming to light? How have trans women your age paved the way for younger women?

The journey is so different now. The destination has changed. When I was young we simply set out to be women. We set out to live our best lives, whatever that looked like to us individually. Sally didn’t do it like Betty, but they both did it. Now it seems there is a recipe. There are understood ways that you transition. That’s because people are sharing their transition stories more openly now. We didn’t share experiences we just shared resources. This is good hormone doctor, this is where I get x, y, or z. That was, if you were asked. And now it’s okay if you never have bottom surgery or even top surgery for that matter. Trans is so different today, so different. It is exciting I have to admit, to see what happens next for our people.

I don’t feel that we’ve paved the way for anyone in some ways. We paved the road, but the grass has grown over it because people aren’t walking that path anymore. The way that trans people are taking now is nothing that we have made for them. That’s okay. It’s a good thing. It’s just different.

Roxanne4-300x261 Trans About Town: Roxanne HutchinsTell us about how the terminology has changed since you were coming up. What words do you use that some now may find triggering?

When it comes to triggering it really drives me crazy when people tell others what they can be sensitive about. Tranny isn’t so much a trigger as just downright insulting to me personally. In my day, a tranny was a prostitute. I have never been a hooker. The word tranzy was a term of endearment amongst “us girls”. That word seems to have disappeared from the lingo. My sisters from that generation still use it, and that makes me smile.

Do you have any closing thoughts?

Part of me feels some kind of way using trans in general. Why can’t I just be me, not trans this or trans that? I don’t identify as gay or trans or anything, just me. If we took some time to be the same, instead of just different, then we might get a lot farther. But at the end of the day, your journey is your journey and we have to respect that. Whether you’re trans or cis, it’s ok cause we’re just women. Some people drive a Maserati, some drive a Pinto. They’re still cars. And we are all just people.

We are stronger together than we are apart.

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