Pride is not just a month in June to highlight the progress and struggles of the LGBTQIA community — it should be a conversation year-round. As global citizens, we strive to be part of a larger community that supports everyone, whether they're the same or different, and there's always room for more learning and understanding for all of us.
When we recently caught up with Vanderpump Rules' Billie Lee to talk about her journey, we also got educated on the transgender community from her perspective, and learned what she wishes people were more conscious of in their daily lives.
Personal Space: What do you wish people understood about you as a transgender woman?
Billie Lee: Being trans can make people feel uncomfortable. A lot of people do come from a place of fear because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or upset someone. It’s important for me as a trans woman to hold space for people like that because I’m here to educate.
I always tell people when they’re hiring, 'Don’t be afraid to hire a trans person because you’re afraid to mess up a pronoun.' Be open and ask them questions. Be open to learning.
At the end of the day, us trans people are human. We want the same thing everyone else wants. We want love and we want acceptance. We deserve the same rights as everyone else. Trans rights are human rights. I just want people to know that no matter what you see on the outside, on the inside we are human and all of our blood is red, we all have a beating heart, we all have feelings, we all have a soul. I hope people have compassion for that.
PS: What is an impactful way to be an advocate?
BL: It’s a tricky situation. I know a lot of people aren’t trying to discriminate against anyone, but at the same time our unemployment rate is three times higher than the general population. We can’t get jobs. It’s time for people to feel uncomfortable. I think we get really comfortable in our life situations, and some of the best ways we can grow is living an uncomfortable life and being uncomfortable sometimes.
[Some employers] may think, 'Maybe my employees might not like this,' but just hiring someone and living through that uncomfortable space for the first month of anything new is so important. You’re changing people’s lives.
I’m on the board as an advisor of Equality California, and they focus on laws and protecting trans people. Job-wise you can look at TransCanWork [for] companies that say, 'I want to hire someone trans but I don’t know what to do,' or, 'I can hire people that are trans, how do I find people who are trans?' They help connect people.
Trans women of color are really suffering and being murdered left and right. My thing is, if you see a trans person, offer them support, housing, a meal. It really is a community that is suffering so bad in our country and is being shunned by our own government. It’s like if you saw a little kid just running around homeless. You have to see us that way because these people have no resources and are being kicked out of their own homes. They’re being left on the streets and then they’re being murdered on the streets. I can’t stress that enough.
PS: What advice would you give someone who is struggling with his or her own identity, or sees a friend struggling?
BL: These are really big decisions — you have to be patient with yourself and hold space for yourself and allow the time to really discover who you are and what you want. I did a lot of little ceremonies for myself. I remember when I was feeling very insecure about my past and letting people know that I used to be a boy I felt ashamed and I was like, ‘Why am I feeling this way?’
I took time out and put all of these old photos on the floor of me as a boy and I lit a candle. I prayed and I cried and I thanked that little boy for everything he did for me and all of the things he went through to help me become the woman I am today and get me where I am today. I couldn’t be here without that little boy. I think sometimes we seek advice and people’s approval from the outside, but really all of the answers are within.
PS: If nothing else, what do you simply wish people would stop asking or saying to you?
BL: Gender and sexuality are two different things, and you don’t need to know what’s going on in a trans person’s pants. Some people think, 'Oh, you’re trans so do you date gay men?' Gay men like men. They don’t want women with boobs. I’m very feminine and I embrace my feminine energy. [Also], you shouldn’t ask about people’s genitals. I’m not going to walk up to you and ask you about your vagina. That automatically makes trans people feel like, 'What?!' At the end of the day, your gender is not just about your genitals.
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