In 2002, I opened the doors of the Sylvia Rivera Law Pro ject (sRlp). I had
raised enough grant money to rent a desk and a phone at a larger poverty
law or ga ni za tion, and had spread the word to other ser vice providers like
drug treatment centers, legal aid offices, mental health centers, needle
exchanges, and community organizations that I would be providing
free legal help to trans people. I never would have guessed the number
of people who would call the or ga ni za tion for help or the gravity and
complexity of the problems they face.
My ﬁrst call came from the men’s jail in Brooklyn.1 Jim, a 25- year-old
transman, was desperate for help; he was experiencing harassment and
rape threats. Jim is a trans person with an intersex condition.2 He was raised
as a girl, but during adolescence began to identify as male. To his family
he remained female- identiﬁed, but in the world he identiﬁed as male,
changing clothes every night when he returned home and trying to avoid
contact between his family and everyone else he knew. The stress of living
a “double life” was im mense, but he knew it was the only way to maintain
a relationship with his family, with whom he was very close.
When Jim was nineteen, he was involved in a robbery for which he
received a sentence of ﬁve years probation. During the second year of
that probation period, Jim was arrested for drug possession. He was sen-
tenced to eigh teen months of residential drug treatment and sent to a
male residential fac ility. In what was a purportedly therapeutic environ-
ment, Jim discussed his intersex condition with his counselor. His conﬁ-
dentiality was broken and soon the entire staﬀ and residential population
were aware of Jim’s intersex condition and trans history. Jim faced a
threat of rape and the staﬀ of the fac ility refused to help or protect him.
Out of fear and self- protection, he ran away from the fac ility.