At Oregon Food Bank, we hold people experiencing hunger at the center of all that we do. And we know that food insecurity disproportionately affects the trans and gender non-conforming community — disparities that have been worsened by the economic fallout of COVID-19. 

To mark this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility, we sat down with Stacey Rice — local storyteller, educator, author and former Executive Co-Director at Q Center, the Pacific Northwest’s largest LGBTQ community center. She shared with us her journey as a transgender woman and what cisgender allies can do to create more welcoming communities. Sincere appreciation and gratitude to Stacey for her labor, advocacy, wisdom, and willingness to share her story!

Oregon Food Bank: Stacey, thank you so much for joining us! Could you please introduce yourself?

Stacey: Hi! I’m Stacey Rice, a 63-year-old white transgender woman who lives in Portland, Oregon. I am from the South originally and have lived in Portland for nine years.  

OFB: In addition to getting to spend time with you, we asked you to join us today to talk about the Transgender Day of Visibility. Can you tell us a little bit about the day?

S: Sure thing. The Transgender Day of Visibility is a lovely thing in that it celebrates the resilience and the successes that transgender people have experienced and are experiencing, and it serves as a day to highlight the issues that the transgender community faces. Trans folx are incredibly resilient. They put everything on the line to be true to who they are, but the community has incredible disparities and there are issues – deep issues – that the transgender community faces when it comes to everything, really: employment, housing, access to medical care, and violence, especially. I find that this day serves as a great opportunity to share to the world: this is a trans person, this is their experience, this is their life and this is their journey.

OFB: Why is the Transgender Day of Visibility important?

S: A very large majority, more than 60% of folx, said they’d never even met a trans person. These days, like this one, are incredibly important to show who we are as trans people. Folx have so many misconceptions about who a trans person is. We see them all the time. Just recently, we can see them come up in the many bills being introduced and in state legislatures to prohibit trans people from participating in athletics in high schools and grade schools. Alabama is working to pass a law that would make it illegal for a doctor to actually prescribe hormone replacement therapy for trans children and Arkansas just passed a bill concerning this. They could go to jail for doing that.

Stereotypes get built up about trans people: “They’re just confused.” According to the stereotypes and misconceptions, I’m really just a man, just play-acting. Another example can be seen in Dr. Rachel Levine’s story. She was just confirmed as Assistant Health Secretary and is a trans woman. The questions that some of the men asked her on that panel were just incredibly transphobic; they were stunning. She has to be an incredibly strong person to stand up to that, and I truly commend her. 

These old, tired tropes and horrible mis-characterizations of trans people are everywhere. An example of these causing harm can be seen when my home state, North Carolina, passed a bathroom bill 8 or 9 years ago that required trans folx to use the bathroom that matched the gender of their birth certificate . The first time I went home to visit family after this passed, I was so shocked. What a horrible thing, picking out a community like that just to score points with their super conservative base. 

But, I will say, in a positive vein, things have gotten far better from a visibility standpoint. I’m so thankful that over the past few years, depictions of trans people in media, in film and television have improved. It used to be horrible where the trans person was always the antagonist, the murderer. We still have a long way to go, but compared to 20 years ago when I transitioned, there’s really no comparison. Things are far more  open now and there are more trans role models for folx, which is great. 

OFB: Yes, we have a long journey ahead of us. Where do you think these mis-characterizations stem from? Is there a lack of understanding around gender identity in general? 

S: You know, I think each of us has a sense of our gender identity. Deep within ourselves, we know who we are, gender wise. For most folx, they never have to really question that. From an early age, you just know how you identify and you’re able to live that way. For trans folx, it’s never been quite that easy because your outside shell is totally opposite and different from what you feel inside about your identity when it comes to gender.

I can remember around five- or six-years old, it was just so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that everybody was treating me like the little boy they saw, but I knew inside that I was this little girl. I had no way to tell my parents what that was about. I don’t know if I didn’t have the words then. 

As I got older, I think I was really afraid on some level that I would lose them or lose their love if I told them who I really was. I was afraid they wouldn’t accept me, or that they would just make fun of it. I ask people sometimes, “did you have to make a decision about your gender, or did you just know?” That can open minds, give them pause to think. 

Gender identity and sexual orientation are both experienced on spectrums. Nobody fits in these little boxes that people try to put us in. Something we used at Q Center, when SMYRC was a program there, was the Gender Gumby, which was great and really got people to think about gender and sexual orientation differently. 

I think it’s just so important that folx realize this: trans people are just like you. You may not be trans; you might be a straight male, for example, but trans people are no different than you. We all have the same hopes and dreams and wishes and desires. We all go through the same things in life as a human. I think that’s where the disconnect comes; the vast majority of people don’t think about it that way, they just see it as really odd or weird.

OFB: What can we do individually to be more inclusive of all people, specifically those that are transgender and gender-non-conforming? 

S: Trans folx can speak up as much as we are able or feel safe enough to, but there are only so many trans people in the U S. I believe roughly 0.5% of the population identifies as transgender. We need that other 99.5% to really step up when they have the opportunity, to be a strong ally, to correct someone when they’re wrong or saying phobic things about anybody in our community. 

That vast majority needs to be on board to help us with that because while our community does a pretty good job of raising hell when we need to, we can’t raise all the hell. So speak up. Create those ripple effects of change. Interrupt when you see or hear something. 

This requires a basic level of respect, which is where pronouns come in. They are huge, and it’s really about respect. It’s about acceptance. When trans people say, “this is how I identify” it is on others to then say “I respect that. It’s not up to me to be your pronoun guardian, to tell you you can’t use certain pronouns.” It’s incredibly hurtful when you’re in a situation where somebody is not using your correct pronoun; it hits so hard in your heart.

I can recall an experience I had a few years ago with a cardiac surgeon. I was fortunate enough to have friends with me as we talked to the nurses and doctors. As we prepared for surgery, the surgeon walked in to go over any questions we might have. My friend, Elizabeth, asked “What will be Stacey’s diet when she gets out?” He started to answer her, saying “He’ll be able to do this, he’ll be able to eat that.” 

I was lucky that in this most vulnerable moment in my life, I had friends to support me, and they interrupted his misgendering. I was initially confused, wondering why he was talking about my male friend who was with me. Despite being corrected, he continued to do it, and I eventually just had to stop him. Rightfully, the hospital had a responsive executive team who listened to my concerns and, needless to say, that surgeon was removed from my team.

This was about more than a word or a phrase. He wasn’t going to respect me and my gender, no matter what this woman right in front of him said. I immediately knew he would not be invested in my surgery, which is not a concern you should have when trying to prevent a future heart attack. It is so important to recognize a person for who they are. Pronouns may seem like a simple throw-away thing; they’re not. 

When you’ve been known for so many years as one pronoun and you’re trying your hardest to be seen as a different pronoun, that’s not trivial. It’s a pretty big deal. I struggled deeply with self-esteem and self love because at five-years-old, who I was inside and outside weren’t matching, which led me to feeling like there must be something deeply wrong with me. In times like that situation with that surgeon, it really hits right back at that soft spot

OFB: What can organizations do? 

S: In addition to the things I already mentioned, there are many opportunities to be affirming and accepting in the workplace. It can start with a statement in an employee handbook mentioning your policies for welcoming LGBTQ+ folx and protecting gender identity and gender expression. Gender-neutral bathrooms are also a great way to be inclusive and to mitigate all the hysteria we’ve seen over the last six-to-ten years about trans women and bathrooms. In meetings, setting a standard of sharing pronouns is also a great way to ensure people are seen and respected. 

This really becomes about opening your heart as a person. It’s a hard thing for so many people to do, opening your heart. It’s constant work. As I was beginning to transition, I was struggling deeply with the fact that I was just getting so frustrated with the pace of my journey. My therapist at that time said something so profound and simple that to this day still informs me: “Stacey, it’s baby steps.” 

In the spirit of baby steps, I encourage you to take it upon yourself to spend 15 minutes and read through some literature. I’ll share some resources with you all (below). Take some time to educate yourself about who the trans community is. If you see organizations that are involved in transgender work, support them. Volunteer and learn more about what they do. Get to know a trans person. If you see there’s some trans-related events happening, go be a part of it, if you feel so inclined.