In 2016, Washington State dealt with its first anti-trans initiative, I-1515. The backers of this initiative, Just Want Privacy, led by the Executive Director of the Family Policy Institute of WA, Joseph Backholm, failed to gather the number of signatures needed to make it on the November ballot. Six anti-trans bathroom bills failed to make it out of the House or Senate during the last legislative session. My husband and I testified at the Senate hearings, opposing two of the bills on behalf of our transgender daughter and the impact these bills would have on our family. Ultimately, one of those bills made it to the Senate floor in 2016. However, it failed by one vote, in large part due to Republican Senator Joe Fain, who voted against party lines in support of trans equality, and our family is grateful for his act and for the other senators who did the same.
I worked non-stop with an extraordinarily committed team of LGBTQ activists to prevent the removal of anti-discrimination protections that have been in place for eleven years now. When the initiative failed, a colleague told me that I should be excited because we had succeeded. My response was that I didn’t fully believe it was real. It took time for me to feel any relief. What hit me, at the time, was that it didn’t feel like a success. It felt like even though we had survived a long, emotional battle, the war was simply put on hold.
Writing has been difficult over the last twelve months. My mind has become an intersection of crashing thoughts. Countless times I’d start a new piece, only to get a few paragraphs in and hit a stumbling block or a wall. Sentences fragmented. All my attempts evolved into heartsick and furious rants. The words became a white noise so loud, I’d just quit. I constantly felt overwhelmed by a crushing sense of suffocation. For the first time, writing feels like a task. My ability to bring human connection to life through my words is missing. In place of the freedom of storytelling, there is an emptiness that lingers like a bad break-up. Joy has been just out of reach, something I tried to earn by giving more. Doing more. Being more. It’s a relentless trap because what I really want has no guarantees. No assurances or promises.
Death comes for us all, eventually.
Families raising transgender children are racing against a perpetual clock. Trans females of color even more so. Since the start of 2017, seven trans women of color have been murdered. Suicide and murder are two of the top fears parents internalize. Next is sexual assault, which often leads to murder, suicide or all three. At a minimum, the main basic tenet of parenting is to keep your child alive to adulthood. Will my daughter reach a point where death offers relief from the pain and struggle of being born transgender? How many of her trans friends who I care deeply about will reach this tipping point?
Two weeks ago, a family in a support group I belong to, lost their teenage trans son to suicide. This teenage boy came from a loving, affirming family. His death shows that the degree of discrimination, transphobia, and violence can be insurmountable for a trans person with the most accepting, loving family and community. Let me stress that every trans person murdered and every suicide affects everyone within this community. Trans people, partners, parents, guardians, and other family members of trans children feel the loss. This grief is rooted in a loss for the individual life and a threatened future for all trans people. Each death feels like another step closer to the possible death of our own child. I recognize that this is a reality similar to what families of color have dealt with for generations. As a mother, it has driven me to love and educate my daughter fiercely and pro-actively, preparing for another battle that now has arrived.
The same group that initiated last year’s discriminatory initiative is back with another version, I-1552, which is even worse. Just like HB2 in North Carolina, it is written with equal amounts of transphobia, bigotry, and discrimination. In a frightening similarity to strategies used under the Nazi regime, this initiative inspires fear, spreads ignorance and suspicion, restricts travel, and pits people against one another. I-1552 insinuates that trans people are in bathrooms to do harm to others instead of being there simply to use the restroom. Without access to a restroom, trans people will be significantly hampered in the amount of time they can be safely away from home. Under I-1552, peers of my child and other trans youth would be given a significant monetary payout for each time they reported seeing transgender students in the restroom of their true gender.
For over a year, I contributed hundreds of volunteer hours, dozens of public speaking engagements, meetings, constant conversations about toilets and gender fighting the initiative in 2016. Knowing there is another year of the same ahead is overwhelming.
On February 23rd, I was invited to a round table with Senator Patty Murray. Speaking on behalf of parents of trans youth, and on the edge of tears, I told her I am tired of fighting. That my soul is worn down. She looked me in the eyes and said, “You can’t be tired. We need you,” with earnest conviction.
All I could do was sigh. Because the senator is right. My daughter needs me. She and the other trans youth of Washington State need my voice and the voice of all the other people who believe that they deserve the same privacy, respect and safety that everyone should have. Even knowing that, I can’t help but wonder, Where do I go from here? How do I dig deeper and find resolve to sustain this fight without it breaking me?
- By taking another step.
- Staying connected to my support system.
- Learning to say “NO” once in a while.
- Increasing self-care.
- Actively seeking gratitude.
- UNPLUG from the Matrix regularly.
- Remembering that there are allies in both parties.
Senator Fain recently sent me a letter with this message, “I did not vote with my party on the bathroom bill last year because when faced with challenging issues that touch so deeply on personal dignity I try to err on the side of protecting dignity and preserving individual rights. If this issue comes up again this session I will continue to do so.”
None of this will be simple. Getting lost in the toxic dialogue online is like quicksand. I will find myself at a breaking point probably more than once this year. There may be more Facebook rants and ugly cries in the future. The pressure is intense. The fears are unimaginable. A constant sense of urgency and crisis management weighs heavily. Not only does my community need me, my daughter needs me more than anyone else. My capacity to love fiercely is enormous and powerful. As activist Valarie Kaur said, “What does the midwife tell us to do? BREATHE. And then, PUSH, because if we don’t push, we will die…Tonight, we will breathe. Tomorrow, we will labor, in love, through love, and (our) revolutionary love is the magic we will show our children.”