It was funny, my first Halloween costume, my mother got some baby clothes from her sister.
She said because I had really long, beautiful eyelashes, I looked like a little girl. So she dressed me up as her daughter for my first Halloween. I wanted to call and tell her. You were more right than you realized on that costume, but she passed away before I got a chance to tell her.
The first inkling was when my sister was born. She was born in 1976, and I was four at the time. Up until that point, I didn’t realize kids were different. It was just me and my two brothers.
So I thought we’d grow up, and as we’d grow up, some of us would decide if we wanted to be male or female, and I thought I was going to grow up like my mother. But when my sister was born, you’d start to see, changing her diaper, you’d see the difference. It’s like, you know, I’m going to be stuck like this my whole life.
At various points in time, I would spritz myself with some of my mother’s perfume. Nice rose water kind of stuff. It had just a lovely, elegant smell of roses that I loved. Sometimes I’d try on some of her blouses, I liked the little rose prints when nobody was looking.
I remember watching TV. And I don’t remember what show it was but one of them had a transgender character in it, and they transitioned, and I was like, “you can do that?” That was early teens when I saw that. So that has been in my head, like, you know, I’m gonna transition.
I wasn’t talking to anyone about this. It wasn’t safe. Because my stepfather (who I lived with and had grown up with) was basically a neo nazi. I remember one time he said to us, “if I find out any of you guys are fa**ots, I’ll kill you all”. Telling him I was transgender was not going to happen and I didn’t want to tell anybody because I didn’t want to risk it getting back to him.
After we left him, my actual father’s side of the family reconnected. They’re all very conservative and or very religious. Neither one of them looks at the ‘transgender’ very well. So I dealt with it and had a few suicide attempts dealing with the depression.
I remember one of the times I had spent like six months in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt, but initial talking with a psychiatrist, one of the first questions he asked me was “do you think you’re a girl?” It scared the hell out of me. I was like, “can you see it on my face or something?”
In the nineties it was rough [to transition]. I had planned in my head that I would transition and then ‘come out’ to my family once I was done transitioning. But in the nineties, you had to go to a psychiatrist, for close to a year and then you had to wear the clothing of the gender you identified with, for a good year before they would write any kind of letters of recommendation for even hormones.
I started hormones in 2018. About a year or so before that, is technically when I truly started the transition, because that’s where I started to grow my hair long. I started buying some nondescript women’s clothing,but stuff that wasn’t so obviously women’s clothing. I sort of eased into it and it worked. People used to see me in women’s clothing and I just increased the obviousness of what I was wearing, a little over time.
In January 2021, my mother passed away. In March, I lost my job. In July, my father passed away and then in September, my apartment building in Pennsylvania burned down. I lost everything. I’ve been between the streets and couch surfing since then.
It was about winter time in Pennsylvania, and I had some friends in Sacramento who said I could stay with them for a little bit until I found a place, but I didn’t find a place in time.
At that time I was in Sacramento and I ‘came out’ fully to everybody as being transgender. There were people that [had known], my friends knew. My family never knew so I came out to [to them] and [afterwards] my family stopped talking to me.
I tried messaging them and they just ignored [me]. I haven’t talked to them in over two years now, and I believe that if my family was a little bit more open-minded or if I didn’t ‘come out’ I’d probably be able to stay with them right now. But even though I’m homeless, it seems like I’m actually making more progress towards bigger goals, especially within my transition.
At the time I lived in Pennsylvania, I made too much money to qualify for the fee waiver [to petition to change your name]. And they also would have had to publish in the newspaper, like a couple of newspapers about my name change [Pennsylvania law requires a person to publish in two local newspapers when changing their name]. I did not like the idea of having to put in a newspaper, ‘changing my name to Alyson to match my gender identity.’ So when I came out here, I looked into it. I was working at Amazon Weyland in Sacramento, so I didn’t necessarily qualify for the waiver, but still didn’t quite make enough money to cover it.
But once I got here [California], I got on Medi-Cal and having Medi-Cal automatically qualified me for the [name change] waiver, so I didn’t have to pay the filing fee. In California, if you’re doing a name change for gender identity, you don’t have to publish the name change in the newspapers and my privacy was protected.
And then… Six weeks later, I went and picked up the paperwork and had the judge’s signature and stamp on it and now I’m officially legally ‘Alyson’.
[The name] gave me a sense of self. Having a male name and a male body in the years before, I always felt like a pretender. But now, that I’ve been taking the hormones, my body’s been feminizing more, my skin’s getting all nice and soft, and my breasts are starting to grow. Having ‘Alyson’ as my name, I feel more like myself.
I’d been dealing with depression for a bit and I attempted suicide [and I was] transferred to a hospital that had a psych ward in it. I forget what town it was, but it was a little north of Sacramento and I was there for about a week and a half. They were initially going to send me to a shelter that was a faith-based shelter. I [asked], “are they going to be okay with LGBTQ? I’m transgender, I don’t want to sit there, and go there, and they’re going to start calling me by my dead name, and start having me wear boy clothes again. Not happening.”
They came back a day later with a bunch of printouts for Housing Matters. “Oh!”, they said. There’s a place called Housing Matters. You go there, you talk to this lady, you get in”. They made it sound like when I got here I would be ‘in’ there.
I got to Housing Matters and they were relatively full so I joined the waiting list. I just kind of lost it again and they wound up calling the cops because I was becoming suicidal and they took me to Telecare and I spent a couple weeks at Telecare and then at Encompass Housing for a little bit.
For me, being transgender sitting on the streets is scary. I’ve had a couple people be somewhat nasty. If you were at a darker, more secluded place, [they] might have gotten violent. They’d think, “oh, homeless trans girl, nobody’s going to care about her.”
The biggest thing for being transgender is just watching where you go. Because there are times when I’m out, and I find myself getting really nervous. I still get sneers from various people, even in Santa Cruz. Although, in all honesty, I generally feel safer in Santa Cruz than any other place I have [been] but still not a hundred percent. You still have some that just don’t understand.
I want to be an advocate for the homeless community. As a member of the LGBTQ community, my angle on things might be a little interesting, and something that needs to be considered as well. [Solving] homelessness is dear to my heart, so to say.
This story was collected in November 2023 by Andrea Feltz, Community Conversations Program Manager