I remember very well the feeling of being trapped. Of being hunted and found and targeted. In Jr High School a boy with freckles and a blue striped shirt came up to me at lunch and said very clearly that he was going to "kick my ass", that day, after school at 3 p.m., by the pool. There was no reason and there was no discussion. He wanted to hurt me and he wanted it to happen that day.
The entire afternoon was spent in terror as I had never fought anyone before and the only thing I knew about defending myself was what I remembered of the colorful gang fights in the movie version of "West Side Story". And exactly how many hitch kicks would it take to bring down a bully? I had no idea. I was riddled with fear.
You see, when I was 14 years old, I moved a certain way when I walked down the hallway at school. I spoke a certain way and I sounded a certain way and it upset people. Girls seemed to like me, and I liked them because I understood them, and I loved them, and I was one of them. I was artistic and I took up enormous space. I was loud and I was big and being transgender was not only against the law in the late 1970's, it was unheard of. But you see, I was born that way and there nothing I could do about it. It upset people, though. Deeply and with a vengeance. They saw Boy and I knew Girl. I wasn't the one who was confused. And so, there were many who wanted to hurt me. I was hit, thrown down stairs, tripped, slapped, and one time someone poured a bucket of fish on me as I was on my way to the bus one morning.
I ignited hatred. And I never understood why.
So after school at 3 p.m. I tried my best to run past the pool, but I was caught by the boy in the pin-striped shirt and his small circle of on-lookers. Cheerleaders. Accomplices who came to be audiences and accepted no blame. And they surrounded me and I was beat and bloodied and left on my back, filthy and wet. I didn't fight back. I was ashamed and believed somewhere in me that they were right. That the boy in the shirt gave me exactly what I deserved. My freakish nature needed to be pounded out of me and if I really cared about my family and others, I'd simply stop acting this way.
It took me years to un-hear that voice.
As they all left. I lay in the dirt, the afternoon sun washing over me and squinting as my friend Carmen gave me his hand. He and I walked home, with me sobbing and shattered and him wiping my tears and promising me he would stay by my side for the rest of the year. Which, in fact, he did.
And now, the circling is happening again, only this time it is an entire state of people. They are passing laws that restrict trans people from using the restrooms and locker rooms they identify with. First North Carolina and now Mississippi. And they want what the boy in the pin-striped shirt wanted. They want to meet me after school at 3 p.m. They are setting a trap for me in bathrooms, these bathroom bullies and they are gathering audiences. These laws are designed for the demise of trans women. They are in no way about the safety of women and children and the predatory nature of our trans tribe. I have been sharing restrooms with women since 1980 and as far as I know, no one's ever died. These people in these states are angry and they're angry at me and they want me and my brothers and sisters gone. So they've created a trap where bullies can wait, either within the confines or outside the door. And there are still others circling as accomplices and reaping rewards as audiences.
You see I still walk a certain way. I still love women and I still take up a lot of space. And that makes them angry.
For them, I am still the man who made a choice to dress this way and surgically mutilate my body so that I may pretend to be a woman. They call me "sick," tell me I have a "disorder" and remind me I am "suffering". Now, to be perfectly honest, I am a huge fan of slasher films and most things Kristin Wiig and Will Ferrell, so certainly "sick" is in my wheelhouse. I cannot abide mess or having certain foods on my plate touch other certain foods on my plate, so having a disorder is a given.
And as far as suffering goes, I don't know anyone who hasn't suffered. That is part of the human experience. If you do not suffer, you do not expand and you do not change and you do not receive. Perhaps suffering is one of the great gifts of this thing we're all in. Perhaps the people who choose to relinquish their suffering through whatever means, or choose to pretend it isn't happening or that it never happened, are the ones who are stuck. They may be unable to see newness or flaws in the humanness of us all or they may disconnect from any kind of spiritual malfunctioning, and this causes them undo distress and a compulsive need to control others. So what they believe to be true becomes Fact instead of Faith.
And then we all must walk like them, sound like them, and live like them.
Last month in a women's restroom I frequent often on the camps of the University in which I teach, a woman turned to me and asked:
"Are you sure you're in the right room?"
It had been so long since someone came at me with that kind of vitriol, that for a moment, I thought I might be suffering from that end of the semester exhaustion and have wandered out in the hallway and accidentally peed in the water fountain.
"I'm not." I said pointedly. "I belong here. This isn't something I chose. This is something I am."
You see now, I am no longer living in silence or fear of the ones who hunt me. Now, I speak and step up. And I feel the angels reaching out to me to lift me up off the dirt. I am awake enough to know their hands. I am alive enough to feel what's true for my brothers and sisters in the fight and these laws will not stand. They will not hold.
Our life is change. It is not meant to stand still. It is meant to have loss and beauty and tragedy and greatness and ease and rage and chaos. It is meant to be lived, not controlled. It is given to us by a gorgeous sense of the possible and in that we were all born to make manifest the glory of who we are all becoming. We cannot do this without change. So we must help those who want us to conform. And that can look like many things. I am angry. I am resentful. I am working on moving into the next thing, but for now, I will not stand in silence while I am relegated to the bottom of the list of souls to save. And so we will fight this. With grace, and hope and righteous ease. You will not stop us, for we are born of you and we are meant to be counted and we are designed to survive.
This is a battle cry against a small group that want us dead. And so we will join together to outnumber the gathering circle to form a tribe of joyful revolution. And so we will break the cycle of old thinking and create a space of newness. This is a human right to express who we are as spiritual beings. And I for one, will not be killed off by a few bullies who are too afraid to look at themselves in their own mirror before making the decision that I'm the one they're mad it.
So know this bathroom bullies: We will not falter and we will take flight. This is one afternoon none of us are alone in the schoolyard. And because I walk this way, and because I sound this way, I take up space and I am finally becoming who I have always been and I am no longer frozen in fear or lost in shame. And just so we're clear, at 54 years old, having survived AIDS, heroin addiction, prostitution and homelessness, I still have a few good plies and fan kicks left in this trans body.