What a difference a decade makes. From the most lonely of places, from the darkest of moments, from an abundance of hopelessness, the miracle of Christmas has a particular meaning to me. It is a meaning that rightly defines the last ten years. It is a time for me to look back at the year coming to an end. It is an accounting of the relationship between authenticity and potential.
Christmas 2005: I had finally decided pretending to be a man would never work for me. Ironically, the launching pad for my journey into authenticity began with me living on the men's side of the local rescue mission, 47 years old and 47 days sober.
Christmas 2006: I had become part of a church where I had been celebrated into the life of the church as a transgender woman. I had started my journey into authenticity, but there were only two or three places where I could wear my authenticity publicly.
Christmas 2007: I was living full-time as my true self. A very special Christmas, indeed.
Christmas 2008: I had started speaking publicly about being transgender and began writing a monthly column for Liberty Press. November 4th, I voted for the first time as Stephanie. I cast my vote for our first black POTUS in, of all places, the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka.
Christmas 2009: I had gone back to college. I was beginning to speak out and testify in support of LGBT equality. I was also elected to the board of directors at my church.
Christmas 2010: The Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project (K-STEP) had been formed. I gave my first presentation at a national transgender conference. I achieved an Associate's degree in Human Services Management. And then, 5 days before Christmas, The Topeka Capital Journal ran a feature story about my journey.
Christmas 2011: I had testified before the Kansas Legislature for the first time. I became state vice-chair for Kansas Equality Coalition (KEC). I worked with the Lawrence chapter of KEC to help pass an ordinance adding gender identity to the protected classes. The Topeka chapter of KEC successfully spearheaded a campaign to add protections for LGBT students and staff at Topeka USD 501 schools.
2011 marked the Fourth of July Weekend Transgender Tour. In four days, I drove 1600 miles, stopped in 30 different Kansas cities, walked up to random people in parking lots and asked them what they knew and what they thought about people who are transgender. I also began writing for lgbtSr.org.
Christmas 2012: I had become state chair of KEC and spoke numerous times on transgender education and equality. We formed a new organization in Topeka - Capital City NOW - because there needs to be a chapter of the National Organization for Women in the capital city of Kansas. I travelled with an amazing soul-sister to Bangkok, Thailand for gender confirmation surgery.
Christmas 2013: I became the first openly-transgender appointed official in Topeka (Human Relations Commission). Equality Kansas of Topeka (formerly KEC) worked to add gender identity to the protected classes for City of Topeka employment. I began writing for Huffington Post. K-STEP held our first TransKansas conference (in Lawrence).
Christmas 2014: We formed a new organization - Topeka Pride. In September, our first community pride event drew more than 2000 people to the North Topeka Arts District. K-STEP held our second TransKansas conference in Wichita. Capital City NOW held our first Womyn Rising conference. I achieved a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Washburn University. I also began the Transgender Faith Tour sharing my journey of faith in institutions of faith.
Christmas 2015: K-STEP held our third TransKansas conference in Manhattan. Topeka Pride held our second community pride. I was asked to join the Topeka Chief of Police Advisory Board. Capital City NOW held our 2nd Womyn Rising conference. And we formed a new organization, Capital City Equality Center. We are well on our way to being able to open an LGBT center in Topeka.
In November, I gave a presentation at The Reformation Project - Kansas City Conference. December 8th, I shared 18 minutes of my story for TEDxTopeka. I am one semester away from having my MSW and I am ten years clean and sober.
So why am I sharing all of this? I think it's amazing I have been able to participate in so many wonderful things in the last ten years. But that's not really what this is about. What is it really about? Two simple questions. What happens to the potential of human beings if we can't be who we truly are? What happens to the potential of human beings if we can?