When I walked into the room, I knew I’d be the only trans person. I experience that feeling a lot. Unless it’s a PWR BTTM or G.L.O.S.S. show, I know what kind of crowd I’ll see at the Rickshaw or the Knockout. When I sit at the bar at Church Key, I know who else is coming in for $7 beers; hint, it’s not a lot of other trans folks. But this was different. This was an LGBT focused event hosted by my employer. There were over 30 people there. But I still knew. Well, I don’t really know. We never really know. That’s what makes moving through any space as an out trans person so important.
I was having a conversation with someone about my professional goals, talking about how I want to keep moving up in the company. Obviously this is not an entirely altruistic goal. I’m a good employee and I feel I bring a lot of value, but I also like paying my rent, and San Francisco isn’t getting any cheaper. But I also want to provide an example I’ve never seen as a trans employee rising through the ranks. I don’t know any out employees in senior leadership positions. That’s a gap we still haven’t closed. It is better than it used to be, but coming out can still have an adverse affect on one’s career. I want to see that example of someone moving up, of someone not being held back because of who they are. I think about possibility models, and we’re not all going to be actors, models, writers, and activists. So sure it’s a little selfish, I want to get mine, but I also want to be that person who shows others being yourself won’t hold you back, no matter what it is you do. I want someone else to see that. I want to become the example I never had.
There is power in harnessing being that out person. I don’t want to be THE trans employee. But I am a trans employee. I own that. There is power in being that out person willing to start those conversations. Not that it is any trans person’s job to educate others. Many folks just want to live their lives.I can only provide one person’s experiences and thoughts. I don’t speak for the entire community anymore than anyone else. But I do have the capacity to have those conversations. Some of that is the fortune of a life that has unfolded quite well. So part of me that likes to pay back that relative fortune by giving back where I can, whether that’s time, money, or words. But I just like having those conversations. Not everyone does, but I think that’s just who I am, who I’ve always been. Hopefully it’s better than 2008, but there’s still a chance that I’m the first trans person someone actually meets.
A funny thing happens when we start telling our stories. We realize we are not alone. Our stories are acts of recrudescence, and in that renewal we forge connections. Despite our differences, many of us have more in common than we sometimes remember. With an LGBT audience, there is the shared experience of trying to figure out who we are in a world that goes out of its way to bury examples of who we are, of who we can be. The shared pain of being punished by a world for who we are, the shared joy of overcoming that. It can be easy to focus on the differences, and we should talk about them. HB2 affects me on a much more personal level, just by virtue of the fact it was explicitly passed to try and keep me out of bathrooms in many places in North Carolina. But it’s not my struggle alone. It never was, and it never will be. These bathroom bills may explicitly target trans women, but they rely on noxious enforcement of specific gender norms about who looks like they belong in places. That’s something anyone who’s a little different than society tells them they should be can understand. And I was in a room full of people who are a little bit different than society has told us we should be.
I can’t reach everyone, of course. But it’s not about reaching everyone. It’s about reaching those I can. Sometimes it’s just starting those conversations. Sometimes it’s standing up to be counted. Sometimes it’s pushing back when the next person shares some terrible meme on Facebook. The most powerful tool I have is my voice. And while I don’t go looking to pick fights with bigots, I also won’t back down. I refuse to be silenced. Other people need to hear our voices. There are still folks out there who need to see they are not alone. Keep talking, keep reaching out, keep an open mind, keep hoping, and keep working toward those hopes because they just don’t happen on their own. That’s what I can do. The next time I walk into that room? Hopefully I won’t be the only trans person there.