I was honored to be allowed to speak on behalf of the Women’s March on Washington, at a rally in support of trans* youth last Saturday. Here is a modified version of the speech I gave.
Hi, I am CAM, activist, transfeminist activist, blogger and state organizer for the Women’s March on Washington. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here on behalf of the Women’s March on Washington, Connecticut Chapter and National, in support of trans youth, especially trans youth of color, who, as usual, are particularly vulnerable. Thank you to the groups and trans youth who organized this event, and everyone who helped make it happen. It matters.
I was hoping to talk today about a few c-words. No, not those c-words. Courage and community.
When we transition or come out, many of us hear the phrase, almost a cliche, “You’re so brave.” I always felt uncomfortable with that phrase for a few reasons.
The first reason was that I certainly didn’t feel brave. I felt desperate. Scared? Definitely. Alone? Check. Nauseous? er…at times. Brave? Not so much…
The second reason was that I never considered it possible to be brave about something over which I had no choice. Over which I simply was. Should I also be brave about having been born with elbows, or hair?
I didn’t boldly march out to my parents at 8 and declare that I was a girl (some do). I floundered around in fear for decades, waiting for what I deemed to be the least horrible moment to transition. ‘Okay, we have legal protections, my insurance covers many procedures, my friends and family know, hold my breath, and…’
Pretty much the opposite of brave, really. Cowardliness comes to mind. Great, abiding cowardliness.
I transitioned anyway, and I survived, mostly. But even while my gender dysphoria was relieved (ahhh!), I was getting ground down by the stupid. When HB2 passed, it felt like much of the world hated me for who I am. I’m still not entirely convinced that it doesn’t.
Last November, I pushed through despair into righteous anger and dedicated activism. I had grown up with the 50% rule: half of transsexuals born in the 1970’s and before were not expected to live past the age of 30, due to increased rates of suicide, homicide, risky behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, drug and alcohol problems, constant poverty and general systemic abuses, etc. All of these issues are still problems today, but the percentages are a LOT better than they were thirty years ago. We have gained legal rights and protections I would not have thought possible even ten years ago, when I was lobbying for those rights here in Connecticut. Public awareness, backlash be damned, has been turning in our favor for years now. I knew one thing with certainty last November: I was NOT going to let a band of bigots turn back the clock on our hard earned legal rights and improved quality of life.
I had lived mostly ‘stealth’ prior to the last election. This means I simply lived as the woman I always wanted to be, without disclosing my past to anyone. I decided at that point, however, to live out and proud. I have continued to do so as I renewed my activism. That, for me, was my moment of courage.
More and more these days, I am seeing, hearing of and meeting out and proud youth and young adults who are embracing their full selves and sharing their beauty with society, putting them a mere 30 years ahead of me on courage and leadership. Truly, you are heroes. I would invite all cis* allies to show a fraction of your courage. Speak out against transphobia and other forms of bigotry, even when no-one is watching. Even when you stand alone.
I realize that in this world of hate, not everyone can be out when they wish to. Not everyone can transition when they wish to. No one, no one, owes anyone else one word of justification for how they keep themselves safe. Being out and transitioning are personal decisions, which no one else has a right to judge.
For those of us who can, or dare to, whether they can or not, it matters. Every time one of us is able to live out and proud, or speak out and proud, it helps humanize and normalize all of us. Our very presence, our existence, our stories and our voices are radical acts, and they matter.
This brings me to the other ‘c-word’: community.
Consider taking time and energy to invest in our communities, now and throughout our lives. Building and supporting queer communities and safe spaces nurture us and give us strength to face an otherwise hostile world. Especially when times are darkest, it’s important to pull together. That’s why groups such as True Colors, GLSEN, PFLAG and others are so important. Be there, contribute, participate. It matters.
Consider, also, becoming part of non-queer communities, as your true and open selves. As bigotry rears its ugly head, more and more people are taking a stand for openness and equality. Now, more than ever, people are seeking to be consciously open to the lives of oppressed minorities. Lending our presence and our voices in these other organizations keeps our issues alive, builds alliances, and helps humanize and normalize our lives to a broader public. This is how we win the culture war. It matters.
The Women’s March on Washington had trans leadership, trans speakers, and trans-inclusive principles of equality. Likewise for other vulnerable minorities. Here in Connecticut, I was accepted into the organizer’s circle, as an openly trans woman, and given a voice within that group. I am very proud to say that the Women’s March on Washington supports trans youth, trans people of color, and all other vulnerable minorities. We are proud to stand beside you, and warmly welcome you wherever we are.
I encourage everyone to get active, if you aren’t already, and to stay active if you already are. Your voices matter, your presence matters, your lives matter. Thank you.
Of course, despite writing, rewriting, editing and practicing before, I thought of the best lines after leaving the podium. Here is one: “There may be a lot of bad people out there, but you have a lot of nasty women by your side.”