Being an activist, and now one of eleven transgender people running for office around the United States this year, is a balancing act. Running in Seattle there is a great deal of support — more than in most cities in the U.S. — for a transgender candidate, and yet it is still not an easy road to travel.
The supporters get that this is a movement, much like when the first women and people of color ran for office. Then there are those who are so steeped in their privilege that they ask questions like, “Why does it matter that you are transgender?” or “What does being transgender have to do with running for office?” I breathe and gently respond to these inquiries with an understanding that even though trans visibility has risen a great deal in the last couple of years, most people have still never (knowingly) met a transgender person. This is part of the disconnect. When there is an entire class of people that you have never had personal contact with you don’t have any real experience from which to draw.
Another part of the disconnect is that we (trans people) challenge society’s preconceptions — the black and white of gender. The binary. We were all taught that gender was a simple matter of anatomy, right? Now the ground that you are standing is not as stable; there is variation to something you thought was a rule. This makes many people feel unsettled. I don’t hold that against them, as this construct is something that has been spoon-fed us all our lives — from churches, schools, governments, all of the people that want to control us and keep society in lockstep. With this being the message we have received since childhood, accepting a new norm will take time and patience, with people being out, and telling their stories, and gentle teaching, to create change. Bearing all of that in mind, I respond to such questions with gentleness and empathy.
So why does it make a difference that I and a few other people running for office around America are transgender? It makes a difference because having diverse voices in leadership and decision-making positions is important in order to represent our diverse population. It is important because no one like me has ever had a voice at the table in my city or state. It creates change because it says to young people who may not fit into the current gender norms of society that you don’t have to hide, and you can do and be anything. It helps us all to grow, stretch, and to realize that we have much more in common than we have differences. We want mostly the same things — safety, access to healthcare, good education, fair job opportunities and housing, and to love whom we want. It builds bridges, and reminds us that we are all human beings, and that we come in many flavors. If we can start from a place of recognizing the things we have in common that brings people’s walls down so that we can embrace our differences without feeling threatened by them. It helps us understand that our differences really should not separate us, but should and can enhance our cities, states, societies, and our lives.
Some people seem to think that we have equality, and 99 percent of those think that transgender people are not from a marginalized community. In actuality, we have not achieved equality in the U.S. Here is a small example of that; out of the 100 people in the U.S. Senate only 21 are women, 2 are African American, 0 Native American. In Congress we have 535 members, 20 percent of which are women, 48 individuals are African American, 2 are Muslim, 0 Native Americans, 7 out gay/lesbians, 0 are transgender. 92 percent are Christians, only 28 Jewish people, and 2 Buddhists. We need more diverse voices and perspectives in these positions all over the country.
There are groups in our society that have not had the same access and opportunities as has much of the country. I am part of one of those groups. Better representation of these marginalized people will give greater voice to their experiences, and therefore, in time, lead to better understanding and change. To those of you who thought equality had arrived, *WAKE UP* — we still have a great deal of work to do. And if you are from a marginalized group, I hope this inspires you to step up and step out wherever you can. Tell your story, share your struggles, your joys, and your heartache, with love and strength.