Struggling for Visibility as a Black Trans Person

by Akir Jackson

Each morning I wake up invisible, just another faceless black body people avoid seeing on San Francisco’s streets. As a transgender homeless man who hasn’t medically transitioned, the world interacts with the gender assigned to me at birth, not my true male identity. This erasure compounded with anti-Blackness leaves me dehumanized and rejected by all sides. 

When seeking shelter, I’m turned away from men’s quarters and told to sleep with women based on my sex assigned at birth. This forces me into unsafe situations that leave me vulnerable to violence, sexual harassment, and assault. Health care centers also refuse to acknowledge or respect my male gender identity. Being repeatedly misgendered and called by my deadname by staff causes deep gender dysphoria. The humiliation makes me avoid seeking medical care altogether, no matter how unwell I become.

Without access to hormones or gender-affirming surgeries, my feminine-presenting body distorts the man I know myself to be inside. I bind my chest tightly with Ace bandages or duct tape, despite the pain and restricted breathing it causes. This is my only method to conceal my anatomy. I wear oversized, baggy clothes that hide my shape, praying I pass enough to avoid notice. But passersby still leer, mock, and shout  at me on the street, “Is it a he or she?”. With my masculinity and dignity stripped from me daily, I’m left feeling emasculated, powerless and adrift.

As a Black transgender person unable to safely transition due to poverty, I am trapped in an endless cycle of job discrimination. Most employers take one look at my nonconforming appearance and declare that I’m not the “right fit” for the role, shutting the door in my face. For the few desperate enough to reluctantly hire me, the workplace harassment about my looks and gender quickly becomes unbearable. I withstand staff and customers’ bullying for as long as I can before I inevitably return to the streets, without even the meager wages I need to survive.

Navigating public spaces comes with near constant dread to a visibly queer Black trans person like me. Transphobes and racists see me as an easy target for their ignorance and hate. I’ve been verbally and physically attacked countless times simply for existing in my skin. Slurs, spit, blows rain down on me without cause. I’ve been jumped, beaten unconscious, ransacked while passed out on the sidewalk. With no safe refuge, each day compounds the trauma of the last. I sleep with one eye open, ever vigilant of the dangers surrounding me.

In a city filled with rainbow flags and “All Are Welcome” stickers, my overlapping identities are left unacknowledged. Mainstream LGBTQ+ spaces cater exclusively to white, cisgenderand binary narratives that exclude transgender men like myself. Black communities frequently retain rigid, heteronormative ideas of masculinity and gender that further marginalize my queer identity from yet another direction. I’m left stranded somewhere between, forced into limbo—a perpetual outsider no matter where I turn.

Beneath their polished facades of progress and inclusion, San Francisco’s systems continue to fail society’s most vulnerable. Without access to basic resources, community support or safety nets, I’m discarded like garbage into filthy alleys and underpasses. The cold indifference of a city that would prefer that I didn’t exist just to preserve its own self-image.

But I refuse to be erased or made ashamed. My life and dignity hold innate value and worth, despite what this city tells me through its active neglect. Resilient and defiant, I persist so that future generations of transgender people may live fully in their truth without fear of the discrimination I’ve endured. My identity is no less real, valid or masculine for transcending cisgender conventions of gender. And I will be seen, heard, embraced and valued exactly as the man I am, in all my complex intersections. 

The systemic change I’ve waited lifetimes for is long overdue—not just tolerance, but full humanity, equity and compassionate care accessible to all. Our liberation is intricately intertwined, and progress rests on lifting up society’s most marginalized voices. The revolution begins by listening to those pushed aside, abandoned on the outskirts to suffer. For only then can we build a city where identities no longer dictate destiny, and our shared humanity rests above all.