Life as a Transgender Woman Whose Parents Voted for Trump
Olive, with her parents. (Courtesy Olive)
This story is part of “At Risk in the Trump Era,” a four-month investigation by USC Annenberg advanced radio students, exploring how vulnerable communities across Southern California react to the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. The series profiles individuals burdened by new worries — looking for work, signing up for school, or even deciding whether to publicly express their sexual orientation or religious affiliation.
Renee Gross brings us the story of Olive, a transgender 20-something in Los Angeles who says her home life with her parents has gotten more hostile since Trump took office. Olive and her parents have asked only to use their first names.
Olive is parked in front of a grocery store miles away from her home. She pushes back her seat, undoes her pants, and pulls them down over her hairy legs. Then she slips on a skirt, top and jean jacket.
"Aaah, freedom!" she exhales.
Olive calls herself "vampire trans" because she dresses as male during the day, but at night puts on makeup and wears women's clothes.
She chose the name Olive partly because she used to imagine herself go-go dancing in olive-colored clothing.
But at home, she goes by her old name: Richard.
She lives with her parents, immigrants in their mid-60s.
“The transgender. That is ridiculous for me,” says her mother, Tatiana, who's from Romania.
Olive and her mom often fight about Olive’s identity. But there are days they’ll spend time together, even making Olive’s favorite comfort food for breakfast, a Romanian dish of sweet meatballs.
“We love him, you know,” Tatiana says while they mix the meat. "But we don't like what he's doing, what direction he chooses in life. So we are very worried about him."
Tatiana turns to Olive. "What's your response on this?"
"I feel like you just don't, you don't see what my life is like," says Olive. "I don't think you will ever really see much of it because we don't agree on how I should live my own life."
"It’s something [like] the end of the world, you know, [that] even the president is against and everybody's against," says Tatiana.
Olive’s parents are big Trump supporters. Olive vehemently opposes the president.
Later, Olive says that conversation left her feeling depressed. She and her parents are always getting into dramatic fights.
Olive is trying to save up money to leave her parents' house. She has a degree in film and she eventually wants to be a cinematographer. For now, she works as a production assistant on a TV show.
Olive says during one recent fight, Tatiana told her she wanted to commit suicide. She just couldn't deal with her child's gender identity anymore.
“I was thinking about her killing herself,” Olive tells me. “And then I was thinking about just me killing myself. Like, who's going first?"
Olive says around the time Trump got elected, she seriously considered killing herself.
"The energy in the house was just kind of upsetting." Olive recalls. "Right as he got elected, both my parents were screaming and shouting, "Woo-hoo! Go Trump!' They were just pointing at me like, 'Haha we won.'"
As the weeks went by after the election, Olive says she just felt alienated. “And then I was in a lot of pain. I decided I didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”
She knew of a bridge that she used to go to with her dad. It’s on the L.A. River near a bike path.
"I just left my house one night when it was too much,” she says. “I drove there. I got there. And then my friend called me. And I was like OK, I’ll do this later.”
A few months after Olive planned to kill herself, Trump rolled back protections for transgender students in public schools.
Olive talks about it with her dad, Harry, a hefty man with black hair and a receding hairline. At one point in the conversation, Olive brings up the high suicide rate for transgender youth.
“You don't like hearing that, right?” she asks her dad. “That trans kids kill themselves?"
"Well, I always believed that trans is a mental problem,” says Harry. “I don't get it. For me it is disgusting. Disgusting."
Olive says she’s heard comments like this from her parents many times. She just tries to let the words run right through her.
“They are not trying to hurt me,” she says. “I don’t need to feel hurt by them.”
She says this fight with her father is a little easier than the ones before.
“We're fighting less these days. It’s not as bad now. It's, like, calmer.”
It’s calmer, in part, because the fighting takes so much of out of them. They feel spent.
But even though both parents thoroughly reject Olive’s gender identity, she wants to take care of them. She can’t remember a time when they weren’t struggling with depression. Olive is an only child, and even as a teenager she worried about her parents' health and their ability to navigate old age.
“I felt like I was responsible for them, like they're my kids,” she says. “Sometimes it still feels like that.”
For now, taking care of them still means hiding her identity. At least while she still lives with them.
In the parking lot where she changes into her skirt and blouse, Olive puts on her makeup. She dodges her stubble as she outlines her lips in red. She says she loves the name of her lipstick: Rage.
“The intensity of it is nice," she says. “More than a mask, it’s like armor on my lips.”
“And I just feel a little stronger for some reason.”