Written by: Gina Duncan
Transgender Inclusion Director
The Weight of Authenticity:
Fighting For Transgender Equality
Some days you wonder why you made such a radical decision to turn your life upside down. Some days you wonder what your life would have been like had you not decided to transition to your true gender. Would life be better if you decided to endure? Would life be less heavy enduring an inauthentic life versus a life you had to fight for every day? This new life where you had to fight to just use a public bathroom?
The burden of authenticity seems to become a heavier load each day. With each school board, city, county, or state anti-transgender bathroom law being introduced to further marginalize our community, the weight increases. With each hate speech by some right wing extremist about how we are a threat to children in bathrooms, my shoulders slump further. With each attack on our transgender young people, I cry a bit more before I fall asleep.
But then I get up and get dressed, carefully apply my makeup, do my hair, and drive to some company or to some conference, city council, church, or school board and I tell my story. I get the opportunity to set the facts straight about bathroom hysteria and falsehoods about transgender people being perpetrated by the religious right. In most cases, I have been invited to speak and I am well received. In some cases I am testifying for our side, or participating in a panel debate, with the opposition spewing their hateful rhetoric that cuts to my soul while I sit there maintaining my professional debater’s demeanor. Remember to be the ‘happy warrior’ I have been told.
I have done this a lot over the last ten years since I transitioned. Doing it a lot, you get a knack for reading your audience. Some simmer with a quiet disdain and are determined to not make eye contact. Some sit with wide-eyed fascination of seeing a real life trans person, like a day at the zoo.
Then there are those with a distinct, squinted eyed look of determination. Those are the eyes of our allies, eyes of concerned parents of trans kids, eyes of scared trans kids wanting to know there is a path to peace, despite the lies. They want some kind of assurance that they have a place in this world.
Sometimes my audience appears to be a mix of all of the above and hard to read.
Such was the case this week as I was invited to speak at the Manatee Tiger Bay Club. As I ate my chicken Caesar salad, I scanned the crowd. A well healed, older set - as expected. They were retirees, ex-military, execs and business suits and several politicians worked the room.
The format seemed fair. First a law professor set the stage and spoke of the legal ramifications of the collision between LGBT rights versus religious freedom. Then a young Baptist scholar spoke of the immorality of the LGBT community, its ill effects on our society, and the “insanity” of letting little boys and girls use the same bathroom and see each other’s genitals. He spoke of how our nation was under attack from a liberal agenda that encouraged our young to turn towards the gay and transgender lifestyle. I took notice of the smiles and polite applause when he finished.
Then it was my turn to step to the podium. I have to say, I am over this bathroom debate, and I hold nothing back when pushing back against the fear mongering and misinformation. And, I thought, what do I have to lose? I was speaking to a hostile crowd, so I let it loose. I educated them on the transgender journey, I dispelled the bathroom predator myths, and I refuted the religious freedom argument. I asked them to pause for a moment and try to remember the day they chose what gender they were going to live this life as. Uneasy laughter filled the restaurant as I said, “Me too. None of us remember choosing our gender, just some of us have a gender that doesn’t align with our body.”
My ten minutes were up, and as I took my seat, I was surprised by the applause. It was loud and long. Looking out upon the smiling and nodding faces, I made a heart shape with my fingers back at them.
I often say to people that I have the best job in the world, being able to perhaps change a heart and a mind any given day. I might have changed a few that day.
Stepping out into the afternoon sunlight, my steps were light and my shoulders felt unburdened.