Former prisoner, a transgender woman, tells of battle to choose her own name

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Injustice Watch covered the May 1 filing of two lawsuits that challenged laws in Illinois and Wisconsin that place restrictions on the ability of people previously convicted of crimes to change their names. In the lawsuits, the nine plaintiffs, all transgender women, say they have experienced discrimination, harassment, and violence as a result of the laws. Injustice Watch reporter Abby Blachman and engagement manager Charles Preston had the chance to sit down with Eisha Love, one of the plaintiffs in the Illinois lawsuit.

Production by Alecia Richards/Injustice Watch

ABBY BLACHMAN: Could you tell us your name and your age?

EISHA LOVE: Yes, my name is, hopefully, to be granted real soon, put some hope in this, but I go by Eisha Love, and I am currently now 30, I just had a birthday April the 10th.

AB: So, the Illinois lawsuit that was filed yesterday, we had the chance to read through it, and it mentioned the meaning of your name, Eisha, as well as the meaning of some of the other plaintiffs names. And so, we just kind of wanted to ask in your words, if you can explain to us the meaning of it.

EL: In my transition, I kinda thought of my auntie, and I kinda used her name, and her kind of battle with it – like, back and forth now, “No I’m the real Ieisha, Ieisha Love. Well, Ieisha Jamison, I’m sorry. Mine is Eisha, so hers is with the ‘I’ mine is with the ‘E.’ Something strange about it, you know I’m saying, I took on just, you know, being around family, and loving the name, and I kind of liked the fact that hers was like, she could have a name that was kind of two, two-syllable. Well she can use it in two ways, like Ieisha or Eisha. So it was just, I don’t know, so I was like, it’s strange, but yeah, I actually took it on, and I actually now am Eisha Love, hopefully real soon. But yeah, that’s the real meaning behind it.

Eisha Love speaking at a press conference May 1. Charles Preston / Injustice Watch

AB: Can you walk through for us why you are a plaintiff in this lawsuit and what the central issue is at hand?

EL: I feel like, I was offered, and was considered being a plaintiff because I felt like, being as though I’m almost 30 now, and I identify with my transition, and know who I am, and feeling comfortable walking the streets every day, and been through, hard situations, as far as being imprisoned, and just, I guess in doing so much, I’m saying, and like, really want to feel complete, to a certain extent.

And being as though, I got into a situation in 2012 that led me to not be able to get my name changed, I’m saying, because of the situation, of what happened, I had a first degree attempted murder on a young man that was discriminating against me in the gas station. It was like, it’s a long situation, but, you guys can look up, ‘cause I don’t really like to bring it up. Like now, thinking about it, I hate to talk about it.

But, due to the fact of that, caused me not to be able to get my name changed. And like now, I’m kind of in a different stage right now. Getting out of prison, and kind of like getting all the help and the support of people being by my side, and kind of rooting for me to get out, I want to do something different. I want to just work, and I just want to be me, and I want to feel complete. So I feel like me not being able to get my name changed is like incomplete, to me. And you know, at this moment in time, I don’t feel like it’s like, I don’t feel complete. Because I’m not technically Eisha Love, I’m just a person that exists as Eisha Love. You know? So I feel like this was something I needed to be a part of.

AB: So, something that the lawsuit mentioned is that you are a public figure and a public speaker. Can you talk to us about your experience as a public figure and speaker, and kind of what led you to that role?

EL: Well, let’s say this. This is a coincidence that all this came about. I just didn’t know I was gonna be the voice. And I kinda take it on in a strange way because, it’s not something that I’m kind of like strong with, but just me being myself I’m strong. I have a strong personality. But I can’t really be a voice. But me taking on this role, and given this opportunity to have a platform, as an advocate, is based around just being in prison, and going through situations I feel like, in being in prison, I felt like I thought what I did was right.

You know, getting into it with this young man that was discriminating against me, and then like the fact of me being trans, and I stood up for it. I feel like, if I would have been…the statistics, transwomen, and I’m saying they probably would have gotten in a situation like that, they’d probably be dead, or, just like, “Oh, I’m gonna leave him alone, and he gonna do it to another girl.” So I feel like, what I did, I stood up. And I stood up, and you know, things came about.

Me going to jail, a couple of other girls, you know, harmed, and along with that, that kinda threw me on a platform, I’m saying, meeting a transwoman by the name of Shannon that was coming and doing outreach programs for transwomen. Kinda helping ‘em out when they get out of jail, or, you know, just giving ‘em opportunities, and saying wants to get out of prison, because they didn’t want them repeating, doing the same thing. So from then, I’m saying like she sees something in me. You know?

It was like, I told her my story, and she was like, well, can I share this, if you don’t mind? Despite the situation and what happened? And I’m like, if it can give me any type of justice, anything, I’m pretty sure, yeah, I guess. I didn’t think of it, but now today I’m saying, you know, out of jail, an advocate now, standing before you, I’m saying, because of the situation, I think.

But yeah. That’s how I came about of having this role and this platform, which I’m grateful to have, I’m saying.

Charles Preston: Say, for instance, as if you were talking to your past self, like gaining the knowledge that you’ve got now, probably like resources or who helped supported you, what would you tell like a young Eisha about who she can go to for help?

EL: Howard Brown, Black and Pink was one of them individuals reached out to me when I was in prison and sent me a note. But it took a long period of time. I guess, I’m saying, from the noise of my documentary, I mean from the noise of Shannon taking my information and putting it on her blog, and people reading about it. They contacted me after, they was like, “Oh my god, we didn’t know, I’m saying, we interested in working with you. And just, you know, if you need a mentor, someone to just talk to.”

AB – What role do you feel, if any from your perspective, activism in Chicago played in bringing about this lawsuit or getting it more attention?

EL: Um. Well, I don’t think it did as much. I just think that it just made a face for it. It just put faces for the other 10…9 of the transwomen that’s plaintiffs as well. I don’t think it really did too much as a name for me. I think it just used me as a face showing that “Ok, this is a girl that identifies as Eisha Love and she don’t have her name fully changed, and she want to walk and be normal on a daily basis. This is her time for change and let her create change.

I don’t want to be the normal girl and you catch me on the internet prostituting, and you caught me back in jail. “We knew she was going back to jail anyway! That’s what we’re waiting on anyway. She wasn’t trying to do nothing with herself!” But when I go to public places, which I do, I work at a public place, and I’m around people. I love people, you know what I’m saying?

But I want to be able to be around people and not feel like I’m being singled out. And in public places, that’s what I get…often..on a daily basis. I’m always singled out because I look a little bit different. Other people be like “Oh, she look a little bit different.” or “She carry herself a little bit different.”…

They watching me but they don’t have to legally know that just who I am…just because I get situations like this:

There’s this Temp agency I work with…and we would have to get temp IDs to go into the [redacted]. And I informed them this. They were like [redacted]…Mind you, I’m the only Love’ in this facility. You don’t have to do that. You can say “Ms. Love” to be respectful, right?

CP: Yeah.

EL: That’s what I’d think you’d be. Because I’m a respectful individual despite…I can get ignorant at times…but I would feel that would be respectful if you just say “Ms. Love” because “I see that she’s transitioning”, ya know?

I had to come in one day and let her know that “When you do call the names outs–I’m not tryna be blunt with you–I am transgender.”  I have to now identify to you who I am, which I feel like I don’t have to. I’m working….I’m not trying to…we don’t have to talk about my identity right now.  “Anyways, can you just inform me by…like drop the last name because I really don’t exist at that individual…and ya’know, I prefer to go by Ms. Love. That would be nice. Please?”

And she consistently doing “slip-ups” as she say. AS SHE SAY. QUOTE-QUOTE.

“Oh I slipped up! I’m sorry. I’ll try tomorrow.”

I’m asking and coming to you respectfully.  Accidents do happen and I understand that. I’m down to understand that but “Love” is not hard to say. LOVE. We say “I love you.” every day.

Continue.

AB: Ok. Well, I guess you basically just answered this question. My next question was just going to be “Can you give an example when you had to face a certain situation where you felt discriminated against?”

EL: I have a lot. This is with housing. Just getting to apply with Heartland Alliance, they helping me out getting back on my feet for two years, I have to find an apartment. I’m looking for an apartment and everything. As I looking for an apartment, I run across one of the individuals–I think she was the landlord or the person that is over the property unit. I’m emailing her and she says “Oh yeah, I’m interested.” I tell her I’m with this voucher place or whatever. When I say, she instantly “Oh yes! Come! Please! Make sure you come to the interview! Make sure you come!”

This is through email. Mind you, my email says “Eisha Love” and has my cute picture on there, right? I look like a girl…cute! So, I get there and view the apartment. I wanted the apartment so bad. I really did. I really wanted the apartment.

So she’s like “Who are you?” I’m like “Well, I’m Eisha Love. I emailed you and we were talking, but I identify as [redacted] Love.”  When that point came, she was like…you like a girl. What?

I’m like “Well I’m trans.”

Me outing myself again.

I have to consistently keep having to out myself. Why I can’t just be that person and that’s that to conduct business?

She was like “Okay. Um…” The strangeness came about.

“She gonna wanna know some things about you.”

I’m like  “Ay! Well, c’mon! I want this apartment. Let me know. Please. I’m happy”

She say, “Well she wants to know if you have other company.” Do you kinda do this and do that?

I’m like, “Company? Well yeah I have friends.”

“Well, she don’t want company like that…like sex trafficking.”

I was like “WHAT?” This lady told me she don’t like sex-trafficking company. I said, “Well ma’am, are you stereotyping me based off me being trans. I’m a prostitute and this what we do? This is what you see me as doing in your unit? What?

You went from being from, and I have the emails showing this, “Come! Make sure you’ll be there tomorrow.”…to now stereotyping me. I really think she was the landlord or the person over the unit. It really made me feel some type of way. These are the situations and things I have to face just off of not having my name change. It’s plenty of more.

This is just real quick: But when you go to the club. They see a pretty girl. I’m all done, showing skin, body is all out. Y’know, in the club to see the men. Despite the identification saying female, [redacted] seems kinda odd. It’s not the typical name that an average girl would have.

That puts me at risk because the bouncers will be like “You better stay away from her right there.” You never know. That could put me at risk if I just have a conversation with him and he feels like I’m tricking him. In actuality, I’m not tricking you. I’m not trying to conference you. I’m just engaging in a conversation because you’re engaging with me.

I’m not a rude individual.

He put that in his head is what I’m trying to say. That’s what tends to happen sometimes. When a guy knows something, they instantly try to throw information to the next guy. He might not even care. But these are the risks we have to face.

AB: Well I think those were the questions we had prepared for you. Do you feel that there is anything that we didn’t touch on?

EL: Thank you guys for having me and I truly appreciate having this opportunity to share more about the whole…surroundings, hopefully change. To be honest, I didn’t know how big this really was until me and Lark (Mulligan, Love’s attorney) had to literally sit down. Lark had to explain it to me like “Eisha, this law hasn’t been challenged since 1994.” So what does that mean? “It’s something big. You’re not just doing, and y’all as a whole, aren’t doing it for one individual, ya’ll doing it for multiple people because it don’t just apply for transpeople. It applies to everybody.”

I’m like, “Well, damn. This is a big moment.”

So to be a part of it, I think on the internet….I’m not good with media. I kinda froze up but I hopeful that I can project a little bit more through you guys. That why I’m doing media more because I don’t like hands-on camera. I get froze quick. I’ll be like…[intentionally pauses] You waiting on me to say something? Okay.

Now, right here we’re just engaging in conversation, talking, chit-chatting…I like this. I can do this all day long.