Early this November, a ballot question in MA became a referendum for the state of transgender rights across the country. Question 3 asked if a law that had already passed in Massachusetts legislature supporting trans rights should be upheld. The fact that it even made it to the ballot was discouraging. But our little state suddenly had all eyes on it—if YesOn3 couldn’t pass in Massachusetts, it wasn’t going to pass anywhere.
Last year my spouse came out to the world as genderqueer. Their pronouns changed to they/them, and I, who struggle to call my children by their correct names and have been known to utter such verbal profundities as “the hand is on the other foot now!” suddenly became far more conscious of the words I use, despite my spouse’s sweet assertion that pronouns didn’t matter for me.
I had known long before the world; long before our friends, our family, and our children. It had been our secret, and you might think it would be difficult for me when my spouse suddenly changed who they were in the eyes of everyone else.
And I won’t lie, and say it was easy. I don’t like change, and people can say things that cut to the core. But after some adjustments, I realized it relieved me of the pressure of keeping someone else’s secret. I have an expressive face, and lying is not my forte. My spouse’s decision to come out gave me the chance to talk about it, to support them, to proudly say, “This is my person.” Years of hidden photographs made it to my Facebook wall and Instagram feed. I was free to show the world how wonderful and beautiful the person I love is.
But the battle for #YesOn3 terrified me. Not only did it mean the difference between my spouse having the right to be themself, but it also meant that if it didn’t pass, we would have to know that there were more people filled with hate or fear than hope. I didn’t know if I could bear to know that people out there were so fearful of this big, loving person that they could vote against a measure designed to make sure that my spouse had the same rights as everyone else—the same dignity. The same right to not be hurt by discriminatory policies.
And it did hurt. There were those comments that referenced a “need to be special,” and “we already have laws that cover discrimination.” Yes, we do, but there is a growing sentiment in the Trump Administration that those discrimination laws do not cover gender identity, and Massachusetts had taken the proactive step of making our own laws to protect those individuals. To then have enough signatures to place that law on the ballot was a slap in the face and a harsh reality.
I tried to have polite conversations. I did. I tried to not allow my emotion over the ballot measure to color how I interacted with others. But I didn’t always succeed. I posted emotional status updates with links to articles on my Facebook. I chimed in when someone had the wrong idea about trans people and bathrooms. It pained me that I couldn’t explain well enough that studies show the suicide rate for trans individuals goes down when they have policies and a government that supports them, and how much that statistic affected me, affected our family. I worried constantly that my emotions would alienate a vote.
Near voting day, Laverne Cox came to speak out for trans rights. She was a beautiful, eloquent spokesperson, and I had to hope that her bright star would change a few minds. But I still worried. The night of November 6th rolled around, and I still hadn’t had the results of the ballot measure. I knew it was worse for my spouse, because it would affect them personally. When Ms. Cox tweeted a thank you to Massachusetts I nearly passed out. I double checked and triple checked. #YesOn3 passed 70-30 across the state—and later I would discover that of every city, only 4 voted more “no” than “yes,” and even in those four, the “no” won by only about 10 votes or less.
I was elated, and yet somehow still wary, my mind stuck on the fact that in my hometown, the vote had been 60-40. Should I worry about that 40 percent? Could I have done more? A friend mentioned several days after the election that they voted yes on 3 because of things I had posted. A gym teacher told my child they had voted yes on 3 because of a conversation they had with her that involved pictures and stories of home. I was no Laverne Cox, but my voice had made an impact, and so had my child’s.
Yes On 3 passed, but in some ways it seems that, although it bodes well for trans rights across the states, the battle has also moved to higher ground. On November 23rd, the Trump Administration moved to have its military transgender ban moved to the Supreme Court. Since my spouse is also a US Army veteran, this one hits almost as close to home as #YesOn3. Time will tell if the Supreme Court Justices will decide to bypass the lower courts and take up the challenge to the ban, but with a conservative-leaning court, it may do just that, and I fear that fight will lead to more challenges of trans protections rights across the country.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to have conversations, educate, emote, and sway opinion in the ways I know how. As the late, great activist Harvey Milk once said, “Hope will never be silent.”
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Photo: Sharon McCutcheon/Pixabay