I feel I should have seen it coming. Since early childhood, my child loved playing in dirt and climbing trees. As she got a bit older, there were scores of Transformers, dinosaur toys, and Legos strewn across our living room. She hated wearing the dresses I’d occasionally trot out of the wardrobe. Ponytails and hair clips? Forget it. My daughter wanted short hair, no fuss.
In her persistence to play hardand stubbornly eschew dolls and tea partiesI saw a strong young woman in the making. My husband and I were happy to see our little one developing her own interests.
But at the age of 10, she changed. Seemingly overnight, my bright and vivacious child turned inwarddark and morose. She was angry, often hiding in her room; she wore hooded sweatshirts to cover her head, and hair hung limply over her eyes. As her behaviors became more alarming, I could feel my daughter wanted to disappearand I had no idea why. No counseling, parenting classes, playgroups, or mommy-and-me get-togethers had prepared me for what was about to happen.
One day I saw an email from school addressing my child as “Michael.”
“What does this mean?” I asked my daughter, my heart pounding. I remember the feeling of time standing still. When she spoke these words, I felt as though the world had simply stopped. Willing myself to remain outwardly calm, I asked my child why she felt this way. Everything in me wanted to reject what I heard: that for years she’d felt male because she is a boy.
That began our family’s transformation. No longer did our family of four include a boy and a girlwe had two boys. Old photos were taken down and put away. We slowly told members of our extended family. Each day brought different challenges as we grew to learn and accept our son’s identity.
The town we live in, Anchorage, Alaska, has experienced a similar journey. Two years ago the Anchorage Assembly extended protections against discrimination in housing, employment, and access to public facilities to people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. After the defeat by public vote of an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law in 2012, this moment represented major progress. Just two assembly members of the 11-person board voted against the proposal.
Tomorrow that landmark decision could be undone. On Tuesday, April 3, mail-in ballots are due on Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would force trans people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender listed on their original birth certificate. Prop. 1 redefines one’s sex to be an immutable biological condition defined at one’s birth. Because the law is unenforceable by local law enforcement agencies, it enables vigilante citizens to uphold the law if they think a trans person is in the wrong bathroom. They could threaten them, force them out of the bathroom, or worse.
Anyone could harass my sonor me for that matterif this proposition passes, and that is truly frightening. It’s nearly incomprehensible that my hometown is prepared to accept or reject my son’s basic human rights. I grew up here and chose to raise my family here.
Hundreds of Anchorage citizens, businesses, community leaders, and faith groups have formally opposed Prop. 1. My family and I have been thrust into a public eye as we share our story. I have been on panels, at fundraisers, and have canvassed city streets. I’ve spoken at the Women’s Republican Clubwhere I stood face-to-face with Jim Minnery, the man who started the proposition that will directly affect my son. I’ve written letters, and have done my best to encourage, strengthen, and support my transgender community members and their allies. I hope it is enough.
I believe that most people want to do what’s right. If people can learn to understand the stories of transgender residents who will be impacted by this law, they will agree that non-discrimination protections are vital to the health of our city and state.
For my people like my son, it could be a life or death situation.
My son, who eight years earlier was dangerously depressed and unhappy, is today someone who demonstrates self-confidence, compassion, and ambition. Now a senior in high school, he is well-adjusted, poised to graduate with honors, and ready to attend college this fall. He’s a recipient of a merit-based scholarship and scored in the top percentiles on his ACT exams. He’s recognized in his school for being a leader and community builder.
I am in awe of the young man we see before us and know his success would be impossible without a community and a city which supports his right to be who he is, without gendered limitations and expectations.
When Anchorage debated its nondiscrimination ordinance in 2015, the session ran well into the night. The crowd overflowed in the theatre next door, where the proceedings were projected onto a movie screen. People against the ordinance wore red to show their opposition to LGBTQ rights, and even young children were in red, dressed by their parents for the occasion. When anyone testified in favor of the ordinance, the audience booed and hissed. Some shouted hurtful slurs.
I testified before the assembly with only three or four minutes to share my story. It seemed barely enough time to state my name, and I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of scarlet hate.
We had a part in making history, but it was sobering to witness how much hatred surrounded us.
My sonthen just 15had to sit with the overflow audience. Later I found a draft of a school paper my son wrote about that night. “Tonight was the first night I can remember being afraid for my life, just for being who I am,” he wrote. “I was afraid to go to the bathroom because I was worried someone might follow me in and hurt me.”
Such is the reality for far too many trans people. Seven in 10 transgender individuals claim to have been assaulted, threatened, or violated in a public restroom, according to UCLA’s The Williams Institute.
But it was the first time my son realized how easily his life could be made vulnerable to that discrimination.
This issue, as much as conservatives say it is about “safety and privacy,” is about my son’s right to health and safetyas well as his right to claim his place in the world. It is about his right to continue thriving, even when so many people want to take that away from him. I hope with everything in me that we defeat Proposition 1, ensuring that my child and others will be safeguarded and nurtured in the community they call home. But even if Prop. 1 passes, I know that we are on the right path and the right side of historyjust with more work ahead of us.
We will continue to advocate, educate, and stand up for the rights of transgender Alaskans. Our family’s future depends on it.
Image via Getty