(Opinion) — Melody Cain has been judged by others her whole life, and she knows it’s never going to stop. That fact has taken its toll both physically and mentally on the Casper transgender woman — from her school days when she was repeatedly beaten for using the boys’ bathroom, to today, when looking like a man dressed as a woman brings icy stares and cussing from adult men and women.
She isn’t a cross-dresser; Melody, 59, was born biologically male but has identified herself as female since she was five years old. She worked as a Christian pastor and raised her children as their father until four years ago, but says they always called her “Mr. Mom.”
“I was the one who took care of everything,” she explains. After her kids grew up Melody needed to do something for herself — live her life as the woman she knew she was. Hormone treatments helped, and so did finally being able to use the women’s bathroom.
With the national uproar over a recent U.S. departments of education and justice order that schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity, Melody’s perspective on the issue deserves to be heard by the entire state. Especially Gov. Matt Mead and Wyoming’s top school official, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, who announced last week they will oppose the new rule even at the risk of losing millions of dollars in federal education funding.
“I wasn’t ‘out’ as Melody in high school, but the men’s bathroom was horribly uncomfortable,” she said. “I had enough female traits in me that the boys made horrible fun of me and teased me to the point I wouldn’t go into [the bathroom]. I would go outside, I would find an alley, I would do anything other than use the boys’ bathroom.
“I would skip class anytime there was PE, because they required you to shower and I wouldn’t do it,” she said. “I just didn’t belong there.”
She was beaten up so regularly in fifth grade that she was made to spend the lunch hour and recesses in the principal’s office. “The kids would file by and there I sat in this little wooden chair for everyone to stare at and point at. It was horrific.”
Mead and Balow both noted that some Wyoming schools have made accommodations for transgender students, including non-gender bathrooms. Melody firmly declares that’s not the solution to the problem.
“I’d seen them around and I tried using one once, but it’s like hanging a banner over my head,” she said. “I don’t need more attention in my life, I want less. In the school system it just sets the kids apart. You might as well put a marching band behind the child every time they go to the bathroom.”
Melody was scared the first time she used the women’s bathroom after beginning her transition. “I thought for sure I would catch a lot of flak from the women, but I didn’t,” she remembers. “I’ve always been totally at ease, carried on conversations. It’s always been a safe place for me.”
But far too often the rest of the world isn’t a safe place for her. Soon after she started to publicly identify as a woman a woman accosted her while shopping at Sam’s Club.
“This lady slapped me and broke a necklace off my neck, and was yelling that I shouldn’t be out in public in front of her daughter,” Melody said. “She threw in a few Bible verses and that kind of stuff, and she beat me up pretty good. No one came to my aid or anything else.”
At Wal-mart last year, Melody said she was followed throughout the store by four men who kept shouting “faggot” and “sissy” at her. She finally gave up trying to shop but the men kept berating her in the parking lot. She managed to make it to her car and sped off.
Her friends get angry when they see her pointed and snickered at in public. But Melody says she’s over it. “I just turn it around in my head and say they’re staring because I’m that beautiful,” she said. “And that’s what I have to do to survive.”
Her most horrifying experience by far came when she hoped to have a relationship with a man and moved to another Wyoming city to be with him. “He raped me. He was going to use me for the sex trade,” she says.
Melody didn’t feel safe calling the police department. “Most police don’t know how to handle transgender people, and I knew if I told them [what happened] they would say I just yelled rape and they would just laugh at me. They would be like, how do you rape a transgender?”
Although she’s cautious wherever she goes, Melody says her experiences in Colorado are different than those in Wyoming. “When I go down to Denver I’m totally at peace. No one notices or cares.”.
Moving to the Mile High City, though, isn’t an option for the Cody native. She can’t afford a move or the high cost of city living. She also worries that even though the people she’s met there are generally more accepting, the huge population “increases the chance of something bad happening.”
The former pastor says she decided she had to live openly as Melody because each of her church services “kind of touched a deeper and deeper part of me and brought more of this out of me, and I couldn’t fight it anymore.”
The change, though, came at a devastating personal price. “Most of my family turned their back on me,” she said. Her sister, who is also a Christian pastor, says Melody’s transition goes against the Bible and her beliefs. “One brother said he won’t speak to me ever again,” Melody said. “Any so-called friends that I had from before have walked away from me.”
She does have supportive new friends, and two important people in her life have stood by her. One is a cousin in Cody. The other is “a girl I was dating at the time — I came out to her in the very beginning of our relationship and she swore she’d stick with me to the end, and she has. She’s still the one who’s taking care of me now and makes sure I have a house to live in.”
The bathroom controversy has driven many people to voice irrational worries. Some North Carolina school districts have changed policies and now allow students to carry mace. Some parents have even threatened to bring guns into bathrooms to protect their children. Melody wants people to know that the transgender community isn’t to be feared.
“They think we’re perverts,” she said. “They look at it as a sexual thing and it’s not a sexual thing. If they only knew that a true transgender loses their desire for sex. It’s put on the back-burner of life.
“It actually brought me a lot of peace when all the hormones kicked in and my mind wasn’t on sex. I just didn’t think about it.”
Melody says the joy she has in life comes from trying to help people, “reaching out and teaching others that you should get beyond what you see.” But it’s definitely not easy.
“If you look at me, who — by the world’s standards — am I supposed to have a relationship with?” she said. “People look at me and say, ‘Well that’s a man dressed as a woman.’ If I start to have a relationship with a man, I’m a homosexual. If I start to have a relationship with a woman, then everything changes and they look at me like I’m a lesbian.
“No matter what I do, no matter who I’m with, the world’s going to judge me.”
— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact interim editor Matthew Copeland at [email protected]