My intent to run was started early last year, when I was about a year and a half into my transition. Prior to coming out, and early on in my transition, I had almost no self-confidence, crippling dysphoria can do that to you. My whole life had been spent creating this shell around the real me, even if I didn’t know it. Even now I struggle to overcome the effects of 30 years of repression and denial.
When I first started running, my focus was always on economic and labor issues, education, and healthcare. I’m a Democratic Socialist, and a big part of that for me is realizing how much social issues, while still very important, are used by both Democrats and Republicans to distract people from the underlying economic struggles that directly benefit many politicians and their donors. Legalize gay marriage and people won’t bring as much attention to the fact that the minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2007 while corporate profits are through the roof. Of course, the main reason it took so long for gay marriage to be legalized is that LGBT issues are used as a wedge issue for Republicans to get into office, when it’s clear that all they want is to slash social programs to pay for unnecessary tax cuts that will hurt their voters as much as it hurts the “others”.
I work two jobs, three if you count the campaign. My wife and I have struggled to get by, we still struggle sometimes. Most people in my district know the struggle, which is where we find our common ground. It unites us, far more than me being trans divides us.
That’s my biggest takeaway, and the biggest message I focus on when talking about LGBT issues. Me being trans is the least interesting thing about me, I’m just like any other young woman running for office. The fact that I stand a chance at making history in Kentucky is a side effect of the fact that we need radical new minds in politics, and a sign that being queer in 2020 is a bigger deal than it should be. Our sexuality and gender shouldn’t hold us back, but too often it does, because we’ve been othered. We’re distinct without difference.
- What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?
Trans woman, lesbian. It took me more than 30 years to come to terms with my own gender identity, and a big part of that was that I was told for a long time that you couldn’t be a trans girl and also like girls. That’s kinda just how things were treated back in the day. It took a shift in the dialogue in the community, and the way trans people are treated by healthcare providers, for me to realize I might be welcome.
- What does the word Queer mean to you?
It’s a multifaceted word. When I was younger, it was a slur. Now, it’s a widely embraced community identity. It’s something that’s taken me some time to wrap my head around, but I get it completely.
- Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?
I’ve lived in the same part of town my entire life, the south end of Louisville. Growing up wasn’t too bad, although I had pretty severe dysphoria without having any idea of what it was or that it had a name, which took its toll on me. My mother was involved in a lot of volunteer activities, and I spent a lot of my childhood helping her with different projects. I had a pretty privileged childhood and adolescence, lots of friends growing up, but I always felt like an outsider, even with people I truly cared about, and who truly cared about me.
- What would you say to anyone struggling to come into their own identity?
It’s ok to be unsure. It’s ok to not have a clear answer to questions about how you identify. You don’t owe anyone else an explanation. Take however much time you need to live your true life.
- How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
I try to let me being trans be the least interesting part of me, but it does creep up, especially with me entering the public spotlight. I was able to transition in-place at work, but I still struggle with correcting my identity with longtime patients. Working on my presentation and “passing” is a constant process, I don’t know for sure that I’ll ever get to where I want to be.
- What issues do you see in the queer community?
– Fragmentation. It took a lot of digging to find any sort of mutual support for trans people in Kentucky, and just as much to find trans-affirming healthcare without jumping through humiliating hoops. – Attacks from law enforcement and government. Gay and Trans people are being assaulted and stripped of any and all protections by bigots in government, and if a trans person, especially a trans woman of color, has any sort of run in with police, it is downright frightening. You never know what can happen in that situation. – Abusive behavior at home. Queer youth that have to deal with hate and abuse from their parents. I’ve talked trans teenagers through suicidal periods when they fear asking anyone else for help.
- What do you think would solve those issues?
It’s going to take a societal shift. We do as much as we can on our own, but yeah, we’re an extreme minority. It’s going to take a lot more activism and an absolute end to bigoted legislation, and resources put into organizing and providing safe places for queer people to just live their own lives.
- Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
To an extent, yeah. I feel like there is a bit of exclusion for non-passing, older, and unattractive trans people, and while I’m fine with not being included in absolutely *everything*, it does start to feel like you don’t belong after a while.
- Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
Wherever I am, I like being busy. I like having something to work on, it helps me feel comfortable and alive no matter what. But, as much as I love engaging with people and being out and about, I mean, home is where all my stuff is.
- Who influenced the life you live now?
More people than I could name. My mother made me value helping and serving others, my father made me value being self-sufficient, my sister helped me stand on my own when I was struggling. A friend of mine who’s no longer with us inspired my creativity. Politicians, public figures, celebrities, fictional characters, and many many authors have expanded and influenced my worldview. If I have to name one who rises to the top, though, I’d say it has to be the members of the trans support network I’m a part of, who inspired me to actually get involved in politics to make real substantive changes for people.