Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'm not a Mainer

While I’m not a Mainer, I had the good fortune to spend sunny slices of my childhood here, on the beaches of York and Kennebunk, climbing the rocks of Acadia, finding snakes on Deer Isle, and driving across the Airline to catch a ferry from New Brunswick to visit my grandparents, Camille and Marie, in Nova Scotia.

In the summer of 2002, after a brief tenure teaching in Maryland, my then partner and I, both quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved back to Maine (we had briefly lived in Winslow a few years before and found Maine to be a special place). And If I can help it, I’m not planning moving away anytime soon. You see, four years ago I embraced my identity as a transgender woman.  I did so partially because of Maine and the people who call Maine home. As you probably know, Maine was one of the one first states in the country to pass a non-discrimination law protecting gender identity and expression. And while that is significant, I had found a network of trans friends and allies who were, and still are, great supporters. Unfortunately in the process I lost my job, among other things, and wasn’t able to find a new position as a teacher, which broke my heart.  I’m employed now, but it took awhile to get back on my feet.

My new job as program coordinator at EqualityMaine has reintroduced me to Maine. And in the short time since starting last winter, I’ve traveled nearly 30,000 miles across the state, from Eliot to Machias, and many points in between; schools, coffee shops, police stations, and even the Statehouse. I was nervous, almost hesitant taking the position, knowing I’d be traveling to parts of the state that have little exposure to trans folk like me.

But you know what, it’s been okay, I was going to write “great”, but there’s always room for improvement (that’s the teacher in me). I haven’t heard many negative comments about who I am, well about my gender that is; there are plenty of other comments.  And yes, I get stares and second glances, but I guess Mainers are too polite or private to say anything to my face. The worst is when moms and dads herd their kids away from me in public, at Target, or in women’s restroom. I’m not a monster, and that hurts. I do think I’ve used a lot of energy worrying about the negative and I pay extra attention to my surroundings, just to be safe, and I’m sure it takes it’s tool. It must.

So tomorrow, November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s the international day to recognize individuals from around the world who were killed because of anti-transgender violence. And I feel honored to have helped a little and organize two events in Maine, one in Portland and the other in Bangor. And while I'd like to think I'm safe, I'm not. We will read the names of nearly 200 people who are no
longer alive, simply because of whom they were, and that’s just the reported and known cases. Sadly, there are many, many more. 

Last week the GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) National Climate Survey was released, including a snapshot of Maine.  This is the most current data about how LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) youth are faring in school. Unfortunately it wasn’t good news.  81% of LGBTQ youth reported being verbally harassed in school, and nearly 40% reported being physically harassed and abused because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. 

I hope you agree it’s critical we stand together and support the trans community as well as LGBTQ youth, not just on Transgender Day of Remembrance, but at PTA and school board meetings, at the Statehouse, and when we talk with our neighbors over coffee or shoveling our driveways. If you like, let them know you know me, a transgender woman who loves to laugh and swim in the ocean, because we are better people than the state we’re in.