I came out in the '90s into the colorful Christopher Street culture. I hung out on the Pier on Friday nights with the butch Puerto Rican and Dominican dykes and the roller skating drag queens with their boom boxes expertly balanced on their shoulders, their skirts flying behind them in the summer night's air. There was always plenty of cheap booze and pot and $5 blow jobs to go around, and everyone shared whatever they had generously.
It was impossible not to get caught up in the palpable electricity that set in as the moon came out to dance alongside the voguing boys and us queer youth that took over the streets. Nearly everyone was in search of a cool breeze to break up the density of the concrete jungle's steamy summer, and we were equally zealous about the prospects of hooking up.
It was after AIDS was no longer a sure death sentence, but before Ellen reached national fame as a lesbian. It was before Mayor Giuliani ordered police sweeps of the Piers which turned into the first stages of major gentrification in New York City that would eventually push many of the queers out of Christopher Street and even the West Village.
And it was before the term transgender was widely used or known.
What I did know was that my friends, my lovers, myself included, did not fit into the gender binary. Some of us bound our breasts and tucked our penises and changed our names from the stodgy gendered ones our parents imposed, to a rainbow of expressive proper nouns. Some of us didn't touch a hair on our head, but were routinely perceived as outcasts from the incredibly limited confines of mainstream gender roles.
Our gender expression, regardless of our sexual orientations or gender identities, caused us to be the targets of harassment, discrimination and violence. We were beaten on the streets, arrested and harassed by police and by bullies, strangers and those we knew including family and peers. We were murdered. We were stripped of our dignity, our identity, our humanity.
And as we did not go silently into the night, and instead slowly rose up through the ashes -- as Ellen went from whispered embarrassment and canceled TV show to the number one Emmy-award winning daytime talk show approved by soccer moms everywhere, and proud married lesbian -- the binary gave way, as first in our little queer world, and then into mainstream, to a broader spectrum of gender identities and expressions.
I had friends and lovers who started to come out as trans or gender non-conforming. There were pronoun changes and medical interventions and social adjustments. I watched people I loved with all my heart struggle to break through all the bullshit of our social constructs to be free and fully themselves.
I joined the fight to speak up on behalf of those whose voices are stifled. We are agents in, and witness to, policies and laws coming into being to protect trans people, and so many groundbreaking firsts by brilliant and beautiful people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, and parents supporting their trans kids, and lawmakers speaking up on behalf of trans rights.
But as of today, trans women of color are the most targeted victims of hate. They are murdered by men who pass them on the street, by intimate partners in bed and by lovers who traded in love and understanding for ignorance and violence. We've lost eight beautiful souls from our earthly presence just in the first few weeks of 2015 alone. One is too many. Eight is an epidemic.
While the L, G and B in the acronym have by no means achieved equality, it is our friends and family who identify as T that are facing a life-threatening crisis.
I am not just a trans ally. I am a trans activist.
While I am not always read as cisgender and feel suffocated by gendered clothing stores and bathrooms, I recognize that I cannot ever fully understand what it is to be trans.
I respect my trans friends and family because, whether they mean to or not, they are the warriors on the front-lines of this battle. They are helping to rip the lid off the box of limited possibilities. And yet, many trans people are educating, advocating and pushing the conversation into mainstream about gender diversity all while fighting for their own right to live and breathe.
This not their battle. It is OUR battle. I fight alongside everyone who believes that no one has a right to lay their hands or words on someone else and judge. I believe that gender diversity will set us ALL free, and that we must secure equal rights for trans individuals because protection from discrimination is a human right, and it is our responsibility to make it happen.