CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Near the end of comedian Shaine Laine’s standup routine, he reveals to the audience that he is a trans man. Tonight, there is a roar of laughter after his line: “And I do like saying I’m a gay man first and a trans man second because then bigots have to choose what they’re more upset about.”

There’s both truth and pain behind Laine’s jokes. The truth is that trans people are more than four times as likely as cis-gendered people to be raped, beaten, or killed. The pain that Laine has lived those fears himself.

“I’ve had to be escorted back to my car by like the venue security or the other comedians or the producers or something because people felt that if I had gone out there alone, I could have not been sitting here,” Laine says.

And sadly, those numbers are only going up. Between 2013 and 2019 crimes against trans and gender non-conforming people have gone up 587 percent, according to FBI data. According to those in the community like Rell Lowery, a large reason is that people fear what they don’t know.

“We’re just asking to be respected. But as you said, the numbers continue to increase. But the answer to that, it’s a lack of a lack of knowledge, a lack of people wanting to wanting things to change and a fear of the unknown,” said Lowery, a trans man and trans activist.

In hopes of bringing understanding, Lowery and Laine, and along with Jenny Gunn and Johnae Wright have all agreed to share their stories with Queen City News.

For Wright, she knew something was different as far back as her memory goes. “I felt it, I knew. The genitalia that I was assigned with at birth was uncomfortable,” she said.

Despite outside appearances, on the inside Wright was already beginning a lifelong journey. A lifelong battle with her body. From an early age, Wright was struggling with something called body dysmorphia. A mental health disorder where the person is worried about the way their body looks. It’s something Lowery struggled with as well although he too didn’t know the words to describe it.

“I wanted to be one of the boys. So, I didn’t understand like, hey, why is my shape, not like this? Why can’t I go out without a shirt on, you know, why can’t I just not do my hair? Why do I have to go get my hair done and things like that? I just didn’t understand. Like how can I fix this? And at that time, that was what, in the eighties? I had no idea what trans was. I just knew that I didn’t fit, and I didn’t want to fit in the other categories that my cousins were doing,” Lowery said.

With Laine, it was the same. “Like just crying my eyes out, saying I wish I was a boy. I wish I was a boy, just for a day.”

For Laine, bullies would poke fun and by second grade, trauma would set in.

“One time the bullies pulled down my pants to show the boxers because they knew like I wore them. And then that just went down a whole rabbit hole of things. They were like ‘look at Shaine. Look at Shaine wearing boxers thinking he is a boy’ and all of this,” Laine says.

For Wright, her trauma would also come at home. Her father hit her for showing her true self at home.

“That creates fear. You create that type of fear in your child when you gender police them. And when you tell them these things and it’s like, oh my gosh, it’s so natural for me to act out in this way, but I’m taught not to do it, you know? And it is not fair because this is something that’s naturally happening, and I can’t stop it,” Wright says.

It was the fear of having a similar reaction that prevented Gunn from ever daring to ask for help from her parents.

Growing up in Texas in the 1970s with a dad who served in Vietnam, she says she never dared to ask for help from her parents despite knowing from an early age that she felt different. 

As Bethany Corrigan, executive director for Transcend Charlotte, explains, a large reason for the fears is how society is conditioned to view gender.

“Okay. So baby is born in a hospital setting, for example, let’s say the parents decided not to determine the sex ahead of time. Mm-hmm baby comes out. The first thing out of the healthcare worker’s mouth first… boy or girl,” Corrigan says. “It’s the very first thing that this kid’s auditory canals are going to pick up is conditioning.”

And they say when children start to question how we’re conditioned and they are told to stop questioning it, the effects can be devastating.

“It can lead to anxiety and depression. It can lead to, you know, some forms of stunted development,” Corrigan says.

Even worse, it can lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide itself. Data shows 86 percent of trans youth consider taking their own lives, 56 percent actually try it.

For Gunn, who was too scared to ask questions, and without resources, she went searching for them herself once she could drive. As she tells it, ending up in the basement of a university library reading through periodicals.

“It gave me a scientific diagnosis of boy that thinks he’s a girl. Then I started reading what I’d have to go through, and I was alone and petrified. Literally in the basement of this college library going, ‘God, that sounds awful’ and knowing, I couldn’t tell anybody. I felt gross. I felt so scared and, and I could feel the suicidal ideation coming up. You know, I felt maybe this world wasn’t meant for me,” Gunn says.

Gunn pushed through by pushing those feelings further down within herself. Just like Lowery, just like Laine, and just like Wright. But the thing about repressing those feelings is eventually they’ll come out.

If you need additional help, here’s the link to PFLAG Charlotte and to Transcend Charlotte.