Seeking Positive Representation

A Trans Woman’s Experience in Cleveland, MS


A resident of Cleveland and a Delta State alum, Curtis Lehr, identifies herself as a non-binary transwoman. According to recent studies, there are around 1.4 million people in the United States that identify as transgender.

Curtis Lehr

When Lehr first started transitioning, she considered herself more gender fluid and non-binary, then she became more of a non-binary transwoman. Some trans people think non-binary people make the trans community look bad. She disagrees and believes that it comes down to respectability politics.

Lehr was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. She said that pre-coming out was a confusing time for her. She realized that the way she was expressing her identity wasn’t working for her, and that transitioning was the right decision.

She never made a public announcement about being trans. Instead, she came out through gender expression and fashion. Her experience of coming out has been largely accepting with her friends and the general community of Cleveland. The only real issue she’s had is not being able to find a job since graduating nearly two years ago.

In order to give herself time to be sure coming out to her parents was the right decision, Lehr decided to wait six months. Growing up, she had a good relationship with her parents, but when she started transitioning, her parents got annoyed that she was keeping certain aspects of her life a secret. Her relationship with them deteriorated from there, and they eventually cut her off financially after graduation.

Lehr says her parents frame of reference comes from their interpretation of certain Bible verses. According to her parents, the Bible has to be interpreted literally. This has been the crux of their disagreement. Lehr’s parents first believed her transition had solely to do with sexual desires. After that, they were concerned she was molested as a child. As these kinds of dialogues continued, she distanced herself from parents because it “took a ton of emotional labor to deal with it,” Lehr said.

Through the conversations that Lehr has had with her parents, she’s gleaned that a lot of their opposition stems from adherence to societal gender constructs. Lehr eleborated, “Not deviating from the norm, which can create a new norm, of not wanting to change or progress.”

The way Lehr views gender is that it is wide open to interpretation for people to be whomever they want. “There’s no harm in respecting what people say they want,” said Lehr. “Everyone’s gonna have their own interpretation of gender. Which relates to intersectionality and how it effects them.”

There are some people who continue to claim that being transgender is a mental illness. Lehr says, in her own experience, this rhetoric comes from people who are trying to be openly antagonistic, and who aren’t going to actually listen to what others have to say. Lehr says, “As a trans person, you have to pick your battles because you only have so much emotional energy throughout a day.”

Most of the negative reactions to trans people come from learned responses, and Lehr states: “People aren’t gonna be inherently hateful to a certain people group. It’s something learned from media representation and societal norms.”

It’s important for trans people to have positive media representation, and to critique negative media representations of trans people because that could be someone’s first or only exposure. Lehr said, “We need positive exposures where we’re not the butt of a joke.”

Lehr recognizes that positive exposure will come slowly: “It’s not going be something that happens overnight.” She stated that increased representation of people who happen to be trans is one of the most important needs for acceptance of the trans community. For individual trans people, progress comes down to increasing visibility, while also keeping themselves safe.

“As a trans person, you have to play every situation by ear,” said Lehr. “You have to think a lot about what to do and how to act so that you don’t get murdered.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) website, so far, in 2017 alone, 23 trans identifying people have been murdered. One of them was Mesha Caldwell, also a resident of Mississippi. Caldwell, who lived in Canton, was fatally shot on January 4. Her murder is still being investigated with no suspects arrested.