When Vanderpump Rules introduced their newest cast member, Billie Lee, during the show's Pride episode this past season, she was immediately confronted with a conversation transgender women hear way too often.
As soon as Billie introduced herself as a transgender woman, someone in the audience shouted out "you're gorgeous, wow." Later, cast member Jax Taylor said, "When I first met Billie, I had no idea she was transgender. Whatever she had done, you did a great job, you got your money's worth, because I couldn't tell."
While Billie and Jax are friendly on the show, what he said in that moment was problematic — and it's something Billie has heard many times before. Ahead, we talk to Billie about why compliments like Jax's can be offensive, the pros and cons of living "stealth," and what it's really like to date as a trans woman.
"It’s been a struggle, to be honest. I’ve found that my generation and the older generation — it’s really difficult to date them. They’re more set in their ways and conditioned by society and they think that they’re homosexual if they date a trans woman. The fact is that they’re not homosexual if they’re attracted to a trans woman. A lot of men, especially depending on where they were raised, they're scared. They’re scared to be judged by society and be judged by their friends and to be considered a homosexual.
"So I used to live stealth, which is living as a cis woman and not telling people that I’m trans. I did that because I finally got to a place after I fully transitioned where I just fit in. No one noticed. And I felt like oh my god, that’s such a relief. I wasn’t being attacked anymore, and opportunities were coming, and I didn’t want that to go away. I didn’t want to scare anyone with my truth, so I just decided to hide it and was stealth for two years. During that time, I attracted a lot of men and I dated a lot of men and I didn’t tell them. I found myself hiding things. They’d ask about my high school or my childhood and I found myself making up stories. I’ve never been a liar, so it made me feel really uncomfortable. But I loved these men and I didn’t want to lose them and I didn’t want to lose their love and affection and their acceptance. So I wouldn’t tell them.
"Eventually, I would get to a point where I was like, I love this person so much, I want to spend the rest of my life with them, I need to tell them. I'd tell them and they'd completely shift. They would break up with me and leave me and say, 'I will never look at you the same.' It really changed their entire world.
"It really stuck with my generation, and older generations, that being trans is not good. But I do have to say that the younger generation is more open and accepting. So, my trans sisters would tell me that it’s so easy to date a younger guy. I’m 34, I don’t necessarily want to date a 21 year old just because he’ll accept me. I’m trying to have kids in the next couple of years, so that’s not what I want to do. But I have noticed that we are evolving."
What was it like when you stopped living stealth?
"I would get a lot of comments like 'oh my god, you’re so beautiful, you can’t even tell.' In old times we’d call it 'passing,' but we don’t like to use that term anymore because it sounds like if someone does have more masculine features and you can tell that they’re trans, that they’re not beautiful. So the people saying those things to me, to them it’s a compliment and they might think they’re saying the right thing, but really they’re offending my entire community. They're offending people who aren’t necessarily that feminine or who are still comfortable expressing their masculine energy as a trans woman.
"At first when I stopped being stealth and living openly as a trans woman, I was enjoying the compliments, but the more I got involved with my community and they really helped me love myself and love my trans experience and my trans sisters, I realized that wow, they’re all so beautiful. It doesn’t matter if they’re masculine. It doesn’t matter if you can tell that they’re trans. To me they’re just so beautiful and so powerful."
You said that people had their whole world-view shifted when you came out to them. Did that happen multiple times?
"Yes! Probably three times total. Even the concept of me telling someone I’m trans was so scary. It was something I was dreading because I was so afraid. I felt like I threw a bomb in their lives. They questioned everything. They questioned their masculinity, they questioned their sexuality.
"Now, I have friendships with these people and they are way more open-minded and actually grateful to the experience because they’ve said that I changed their lives. But for the first year, we didn’t talk. They broke up with me, they hated me, and they were just really upset. They think that I betrayed them. In a way, I did because I wasn’t being honest. But, at that time, I was just protecting myself.
"There are a lot of trans people who do live stealth, and not just in their relationships. They don’t tell people at the workplace, because they don’t want to get fired or harassed. We still live in a society where being transgender is not accepted and people have to protect themselves, especially if they want to keep a job. The unemployment rate in the trans community is three times higher than the general population and that’s because employers reject trans people. We're kind of forced sometimes to hide and lie about our trans experience, so we can keep food on the table."
It's interesting to me that the men you used to date changed their opinion later on. What advice would you have for other cis people who are dating trans people?
"One of my guys who dumped me before he found out I was trans he would say, 'ugh, I’m so attracted to you. I love your feminine energy. I love your voice.' As a trans woman, for a man to say he loves your voice, it’s like woah, amazing. The point is, sometimes people are going to be attracted to a trans person. It may be their voice, it may be their shoulders, or the way they carry themselves or the way they express themselves. They need to be okay with that and okay with expressing who they're attracted to.
"It's a dream of mine for heterosexual men and cis people to step up and say, 'Hey’ I'm attracted to this person who’s trans, and I love this person for who they are and everything they’ve been through.'
"Trans people are very powerful, because we’ve experienced a lot and we’ve been through a lot. When you come from a dark place and you rise up, you have this power and this light behind you and people are attracted to it. I’ve noticed that cis people are very attracted to me and my trans sisters and brothers. It’s just that they get to a point where they’re scared. My advice for them is, don’t live in fear, live in love. Sometimes you will get shit from society, but that’s how we make change. We don’t make change by hiding and not telling the truth. I know society says it’s wrong to find trans people attractive, but it’s time we stand up. We need people who are in love with trans people and are attracted to trans people to speak out instead of hiding in a hotel room or paying for sex. Because I’m not at a place in my life where I can be a secret anymore."
Do you have advice for other trans people who are dating cis people?
"That’s a hard one, only because I still struggle with it myself. People saw me dating Jeremy [Maddix] on Vanderpump Rules, but they didn’t show the part where I was really scared and nervous [about] being rejected.
"When you’re a trans person and you’re dating cis people, you really have to love yourself. You have to be secure with your trans experience. Because sometimes cis people have insecurities about trans people, and they reflect those insecurities on to us and then we start feeling bad for being trans. I went through this whole journey of loving my trans experience and loving the boy that made me who I am today. But at the same time, I would date someone and they’d say 'Oh, I want to have my own kids. You can’t have your own kids and that’s not cool with me.' And then here I am thinking 'Oh my god, why am I trans? I can’t have my own kids.' I beat myself up and I get depressed and I almost fall out of love with myself. So I realized that before I enter another relationship, before I date another cis man, I had to be secure and love myself. Because if you’re vulnerable and you’re nervous and you’re insecure about being trans, then you’re just going to get eaten alive by these people."
How do cis people's insecurities affect you?
"Even the little things they’re insecure about are triggers for us, like being outside and holding hands and being affectionate. A lot of times people want to have a date in a house, and that's a trigger for me. Even if they don’t say ‘I’m keeping you a secret,’ they do little things that stem from fear and shame and being judged by society.
"I think it’s great to date cis people, and I love the fact that I’ve dated cis people and I’ve educated and inspired them, but at the end of the day you just feel like a punching bag. People put all their shame and their insecurities on you and we deal with enough of that already that I don’t need it projected on to me from someone else.
"When I’m out with my trans friends, we'll go around and talk about dating. Everyone is always like ‘Oh god, I’m going to be single forever. Dating in cis society is awful as a trans woman.’ So, I feel this overwhelming pressure sometimes because I think, am I going to be single for the rest of my life? But I have to stay positive and I have to stay true to myself and continue this journey of loving myself, so I can find someone who is secure."
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