Photo by Mellie Cynthia
How The Coming Out Has Changed Her and Other Transwomen’s Lives
By Jessica Hawkins as told to Mellie Cynthia
In 2014, Sgt. Jessica Hawkins decided to come out as a transwoman police officer. With her badge, she wants to protect DC’s transgendered community from negative stereotypes and stigmatizations. She tells of her struggles and the rewards she has earned after coming out.
I believe that I was just born that way. I always thought that it was shameful and kept the secret. The only question I asked was ‘is God okay with this?’ That was the struggle that I had when I was growing up. But, then as I got older, I don’t think God really looks at it as a sin. I don’t think I am broken. I just think that I was given a challenge by God to see how I overcome it.
I was born in Miami, Florida, and ever since I was little, I always felt female. I often dressed in my mother’s clothes, played with the girls in my neighborhood, and enrolled in Girl Scouts. I always wanted to do the girls’ stuff, not the boys’ stuff. My childhood hero when I was growing up was Wonder Woman, not GI Joe.
I was raised by a single mother and she was awesome. Then towards the end, she started drinking a lot, really heavily. And that’s when our relationship started going south and I couldn’t live with her anymore. When I was 13 or 14, she just started drinking so much that I had to stay away and got to the point where she drank herself to death. And afterward, I stayed with my grandparents in Virginia. They all knew about me but no one told me that they knew.
Sometimes I do have self-doubt, but then at the end of the day I am like ‘everything is going well’. The way I used to live was bad. Before coming out full time and living as Jessica two and a half years ago, I was a very mean person, very mean spirited.
There were many struggles for years (before coming out). I often dreamt about just being able to live full time and be me. I often thought I’d rather serve tables than being a police officer, as long as I could be me. But then, I realized that life is short and I need to make a decision.
So, at my 40th birthday, my resolution were these: lose weight because my weight was 270 pounds, and I lost 60 pounds, and I used to take heart blood pressure pills and cholesterol pills, so my goals were to lose weight, get in shape, make Sergeant and get my pilot license. I achieved everything I wanted. On February 2014, I came out full time to the whole world. It has made me at peace with myself. And, being at peace with myself, I made peace with the rest of the world.
I am going to be happy with my self-image and more confident in the work life, I knew that I was going to lose a lot of friends. I fully anticipated my car being vandalized, my locker being set on fire, being shunned or ignored by other officers.
(But, I could say that) I am lucky. Every transgender woman that I know has gone to commit a suicide if not made an attempt to commit suicide. That’s because we are in the point of life that no matter who you are unless you were born with parents who are extremely liberal and are very open minded, you are going to have a hard time. They’re often mistreated by their family, kicked out or shunned by the family, even the closest member of their family and friends have now turned their back on them.
Even worse now, with the new legislation and the laws in the country, we have almost 20 states that have passed anti-LGBT discrimination laws under the guise of religion. It rolls back our time clock to before the civil rights movement, before Martin Luter King’s days. It’s scary. I get to feel and see what it’s like to be a black American and citizen back then because I am going to suffer the same scrutiny and discrimination that they suffered until we win this battle — which is going to take years. Knowing that there are so many people out there that are not there to support you makes it hard to continuing your life.
Those are most of the biggest issues that transgender women have, not being accepted and not being allowed to live in the freedom they want to live. A transgender woman can’t use the bathroom (that fits her gender identity) because her birth certificates say that she is male, when she lives as a female in her whole life, and enforcing her to have surgery that may or may not need or want. (I think) it’s just cosmetic. It doesn’t change the functionality by having a gender reassignment surgery because your gender is female regardless what was between your legs.
Actually, (the police badge) makes me more vulnerable. When I was on the street or going to the court wearing this uniform, all the young people who were there for bad reasons, always had some nasty things to say, because they feel protected, because this is a badge of trust, the community trust me not to hurt them, to enforce the laws fairly, and unbiased, even if someone insulted me, I can’t hurt them. That’s what the badge means. The badge protects them, it doesn’t protect me.
(But I will keep becoming a police officer)because every time I talk to the transgender victims, they’ll have a light and shred of hope that if I am doing it and surviving it, they can too. If I show up in the sexual assault cases, where there are transgender victims, they feel relieved that they are going to be okay and not going to be judged or humiliated or degraded. There isn’t going to continue with insensitive questions or insensitive comments from other officers or detectives.
People view transwomen as an easy target and weak, no self-confidence, they are just someone to pick on, that’s why they often become victims so often. I want to build a bridge between the police department and transgendered community. Because trans women are so much in fear, in the more that their crimes are recognized, transgender women are commonly victimized. They might not be innocent at that time, they might be doing something wrong, prostituting, they might be doing something that they shouldn’t be doing, but they still deserve more than just being disrespected on the street. I also want to build a strong relationship with allies towards the transgendered community.
My other goal is to try to paint the picture that transwomen can become positive role models, that we are not all living on the streets and doing sex works, we are not perverts or villains that you see on TV that media often portrays us to be. I will have nine years and a month to change it as a police Sergeant.