Transgender Awareness Week: A New York Story by David Burns

I’m not able to speak to you in any way about first-hand experience of transgender struggles. I’m a CIS male, and can only tell of how I first came to know and meet with transgender people and see them not as crude tropes or stereotypes.

I relocated to New York in my early 20s to box as a career. I was approached by someone who wanted “presentable articulate young guys who could handle trouble” for door work downtown. Before my nose was broken too badly and my eyes were crisscrossed with scar tissue, I seemed to fit the bill. It was pitched to me as the safest door job in New York. A gay bar with a discreet clientele who just wanted a quiet evening. Some evenings there were transgender women there who were absolutely not welcome at other gay bars.

They were in the main funny, smart but also totally isolated because at that moment in history they were very much on the edges of any sort of culture. Gay culture included. All you can ever be to anyone is kind, and I felt that they needed kindness more than most. Also, to be acknowledged as a woman.

Hold the door open when they enter and call them ladies. A simple act of recognition that often made them smile.


To see more of New York’s transgender nightlife at that time, check out Paris is Burning on Netflix. This documentary focuses on NYC drag queens and their ‘house’ culture, which provided a sense of community and support for the flamboyant and often socially shunned performers. Groups from each house competed in elaborate balls that took cues from the worlds of fashion and music.


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