The civil rights battle became real when privilege disappeared
I was assigned a male gender at birth during a time in our nation’s history when it was all but impossible for me to articulate my feelings of not being in the right body, let alone realize my dream of living life as the little girl I knew lived inside of me, genitalia notwithstanding.
So I did the best I could with the hand I was dealt. I never believed it would ever be possible to live the life I dreamed of, so I lived the life I had. It was like knowing there was this parallel universe that nobody else could see, and in that universe, I was a girl. And I had no way to get there, though I desperately wanted to.
I grew up in the 1960s, watching the fight for civil rights from afar.
The Watts Riots in 1965 happened not far from where I lived in terms of miles, but it was a world away in terms of the privilege of my white middle class life. I didn’t understand at the time why there was a riot — I was only 7 — I just knew it was on my mom’s birthday.
Shortly before the Woodstock Music and Arts festival happened in 1969, there was a riot at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, igniting the fight for gay rights. I only read about it years later.
In the early 1970s I watched as the Equal Rights Amendment was passed, first by the House of Representatives and then by the U.S. Senate. Women I loved and respected were passionate about the E.R.A., and I was mystified that it was never ratified. I still am mystified by that.
More recently, in February 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. About 4,000 were issued before the California Supreme Court put the kibosh on it. Eventually, California voters passed Proposition 8 — Prop H8 — in 2008, which eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry. (It was later overturned by the courts and marriages resumed.)
Those are some of the major civil rights battles I remember.
But up until 2012, I was living as an upper middle class white guy, married with two kids. It was a life of privilege, in so many ways.
I would love to be able to say I have always been a warrior for civil rights. But I wasn’t. While I did nothing to prevent anyone having equal rights, I did precious little to help the cause. After all, I wasn’t African-American, female or gay. There was nothing preventing me from being with or marrying the person I loved; I was already married. And no one ever threatened my safety for public displays of affection.
My head was planted firmly in the sand. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
It’s hard in a million different ways, like being over 50 and being dropped into a culture in which you weren’t raised or socialized. Also, our society has no time or patience for those who are transitioning, and being stuck between genders during transition is monumentally difficult.
I had always embraced the privilege I was raised with. But when I transitioned in July 2012, I gave all that up. And it was overwhelming.
I never went to bat for civil rights like I should have because I had my own life to worry about. Besides, I wasn’t really personally affected by this inequality. As a matter of fact, if I’m completely honest, I benefitted from it. I was at the top of the heap: a white, upper middle class male. Right?
That’s the life I’d concocted.
Yeah, about that.
As I type this, I’m single, very female, very lesbian and very much in love with my girlfriend. We have even discussed getting married. So those things that were abstract for so long are suddenly critically important to me.
Is that karma? Or is it just another one of the magical things about being transgender — that you can figuratively go to sleep a white, married, heterosexual male and wake up a lesbian?
Today, I can’t get married to the person I love in my home state of Texas. I am now concerned that showing affection in public will put me in harm’s way. And I’m not used to that; it runs against everything I feel in my heart.
Frankly, it sucks! Hell, there are people in Austin who want to put me in jail for using a public restroom! Hello? Shoe, meet “Other Foot.”
How’s that for a parallel universe?
So here I am, anxiously awaiting the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality. It matters to me now. It affects me and yeah, it’s just the right thing to do. I sincerely hope marriage equality becomes the law of the land.
So as a woman and a lesbian and a member of the trans community I owe a huge debt of thanks to those who did fight the good fight, those who sacrificed so much to make things easier and advance the protections that we are now beginning to see.
My eyes have been opened. I came late to the activist party, but I’m here now. Just ask Matt Rinaldi and other elected officials who are probably tired of hearing from me.
Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 1, 2015.