Defining Moments: How Tough Is It Being Trans?

Dominique Jackson
New York

The following is based on the first episode of Defining Moments With OZY, which is now airing on Hulu.

I thought that everyone would just be like, “We accept you, we love you!” Blah, blah, blah. But I would never have come out if I were [still] living in Tobago. Trans people on the islands are murdered, and nothing is done.

There was this person … people on the island treated this person badly. Taxi drivers wouldn’t pick them up; they had no place to live. I would see people discriminate against them; I would see people laugh at them. But this person was so happy. When you saw them, they weren’t walking with their head down and looking sad. They were walking around like really happy. Singing and dancing!

People would say that was crazy, that they had lost their mind. But what I’ve come to realize is that that person had found their truth. They didn’t care what anyone else thought.

A lot of the men who kill trans women were in relationships with them. Like, all of a sudden, if you deal with a trans woman you’re gay.

When I got to a certain age, it was no longer “cute” for me to do girlie things. Growing up, I didn’t know what trans was. It was always, “You’re not a girl. You’re not a girl. You’re not a girl.” I did not see a future for myself at all.

Ballroom saved my life. You could come into the bar with all kinds of burdens and troubles, and someone would get up on that stage and you would see makeup, you would see hair and you would feel this sense of freedom.

I couldn’t go back home. I ended up in New York.

How can you be homeless and happy?

You had people going through the same thing and we were there for one another. It was shared and very communal. My mother, who is rooted in the church and the Bible, she did not understand it. The lowest point in my relationship with my mom [was when] I told her I hated her. And I’ve never, ever forgiven myself for that. I never hated my mother. I just wanted to feel acknowledged.

Sex work … made me feel like I was nothing, that I was dirt. The most traumatic part was having to negotiate with people for my body. There were times I thought I would never get out of a car. And then I’d realize I had to get into another one.

A lot of the men who kill trans women were in relationships with them. Like, all of a sudden, if you deal with a trans woman you’re gay. A man dating a trans woman is not a gay man. But people tend to force that on people. So now, with all of these things in [their] head: “I’ll just kill her.”

June 29. My surgery date. Life just came right back into me. I really wanted to live again. I wanted to prove to my mother that being trans didn’t mean that I was some degenerate. It’s about the mindset, and the mindset is love.

Before I had surgery, Pose called, and I did the first audition and I was just like, “Oh, dear God … I have to play this role. But I know I’m not going to get it.”

After surgery, I was not supposed to be in heels. I had stitches … and I got called back. I went into the room and there was Mr. [Ryan] Murphy [the creator of Pose] and I was in pain.

He asked me about my relationship with my mom. I said that I love her dearly and I understand that I can’t force people to understand me, to comprehend my situation, so I just love them from a distance.

Then they called me and said I had Pose.

You just can’t give up.