Before meeting a potential landlord, I take a look in the mirror

May 13, 2021 2:24 pm
House Republicans block proposal to protect LGBTQ workers

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After driving around trying to find the address, I park my car. I don’t have to stop and check in the mirror or untangle curls from earrings. But at this point, I do it reflexively and catch myself being… not quite myself. When I step out, my heel lands flat on the ground. That’s a strange sensation, but it pales in comparison to the lead up to this drive and this meeting. Because, for lack of a better phrase, I have “de-tranned” myself.

“Mr. Adams! Good you could make it.”

And there’s always a pause, like the person knows something they said, or something about me is not quite right.

“…would you like to see the house?”

I walk forward, up the stairs, and hope I can talk, show off my intellect, and use the “right” gestures to make up for whatever this person, this landlord, thinks of me.

It’s terrifying losing housing in a pandemic. I’ve been on two housing hunts since March 2020, and in both cases I was aware at every turn that Louisiana allows a landlord to legally discriminate against me for my gender presentation. Each call, each meeting, was a gamble.

“Will this person care? Is asking for correct pronouns—the bare minimum—safe in this negotiation? And if I wait to reveal this truth later, will they serve me an eviction notice?”

Despite recent statements by state representatives, who opposed a bill banning discrimination against LGTBQ renters, refusing to rent to me should not be cast as a difference in belief systems. This is not about religious expression. To those who are categorically against us, you’re not tacitly supporting trans people by allowing us to take up space in your property and pay you rent. Housing is not a gift. 

So, for years I have butched it up, worn what feels like wrong clothes and the wrong face, to do business. This touches my work as a journalist, too. Protests are not a place for makeup because tear gas and any pepper spray can react with it and  cause more serious burns. I’ve “de-tranned” for interviews with state officials and police out of fear and wanting to be in the best position to criticize the person with power in front of me. It is exhausting, and a classic example of putting other people before yourself.

The strange beauty of the pandemic—or rather, how we combat it—is that masks cover the most clockable parts of me. The mask lends towards people gendering me female, which at least is not a man. When covering COVID-19 press briefings, Gov. John Bel Edwards himself has called me ma’am a number of times. But this ambiguity is not there with a name like “Alexander” on my emails and renter’s applications.

I don’t know what I’m going for with my gender right now. It feels like I am reaching for “woman” in a way I never have before. But, for now, that’s not quite right, either. I say this because I am a fully-realised, visibly trans person who is grounded and supported by that trans identity. Yet, I’m moving around, unfixed and constantly discovering new parts of me. And it’s not just because I am non-binary. Most trans people I know deal with this (and some celebrate it).

A couple months ago, in the thick of my second pandemic housing search, I realized I had to stop scrubbing myself away. I am out to my family, estranged because of it to some, and out on the internet and at work. I’ve already refused to go back on myself in those spaces, so I had to ask myself, “Why am I doing this for a landlord who could legally retaliate anyway?” Not only was it hurting me, but because I could be evicted because of my gender identity, it wasn’t even protecting me.

When looking for housing in December 2020, I decided I would wear makeup and my signature heeled clogs to meet the person who’s now my landlord. I decided to charge through my anxieties, block out stares, and misgendering. I played hardball in my negotiation by pushing into my most confident self just to exist and get business done. It was a new stress, but a better stress than the one than I’d been living with. While this landlord could at any point use my gender to oust me, I put down all my cards right at the first meeting and have found whatever I needed within myself to hold my ground.

The oddity in all this, to me, is that the same things that bring me so much stress—how I look, how I sound—are the same things that make this “bold” decision possible, but for different reasons. I am using my whiteness, English being my first language, and pivoting to my most confident and intellectual voice, all to code-over my gender. To charge forward and advocate for myself. This is not possible for thousands of trans people across Louisiana. Specifically, people routinely targeted for violence by fellow citizens and the State. Trans-specific housing protections is one small and crucial step in protecting us, your neighbors, your fellow Louisianians.

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Xander Adams
Xander Adams

Xander Adams is an award-winning queer/non-binary radio producer, sound designer, and public health reporter based in Louisiana. They are currently freelancing for Scalawag Magazine, Vox Media, and TransLash Media. They grew up on the Mississippi Westbank—half a mile from the river. In their reporting, they focus on HIV, Hep C, prison healthcare and conditions, and policing. Alexander created the sound-art podcast Smash/Cut and has worked with 70 Million, MIT’s Undark, Night Vale Presents, Netflix, CBC, BBC, WHYY, and WWNO.