A new relationship starts with an introduction, so I suppose I should start my Bilerico contributions by introducing myself. My name is Donna Rose, and I am perhaps most widely known as a transgender activist. I hesitate to pigeon-hole myself right off the bat because I think of myself as so much more than any one aspect of myself. To reduce a person to a word or a phrase or even a sentence really doesn't tell you much.
I sometimes refer to myself as a "reluctant activist" because it was never in my plan. In fact, when I transitioned from David to Donna at 40 years of age in 1999/2000 my goal was a simple one. I only wanted to be Donna - nothing more, nothing less.
I have since learned that what you think you want and what it turns out that you really want are often two completely different things. Over the course of the past several years my eyes have been opened to things I never realized existed, or chose not to see. To go from a professional white man in our culture to something that is perceived to be less involves a significant learning curve. To go from a straight world to a queer one took some adjusting as well, and getting used to the fact that society now perceives me to be a lesbian is not the same process as coming to terms with being transgender. Similar, but different.
More than anything, though, I had never knowingly experienced discrimination before. I had never had people pre-judge me without knowing anything about me. I bought into the great American lie that if you're a good person, mind your own business, work hard, believe in God, trust others, and are kind to animals then good things would happen in return. So as I started down this path to be Donna and saw dear friends choose to remove themselves from my life, a marriage of 16 years to a woman I continued to love crumble into dust, my relationship with my son deteriorate, my career suffer, and any number of other things I came to some profound realizations.
First, my own path of self-acceptance helped me to understand that to be transgender or gender variant is in no way to acknowledge any level of sickness, mental illness, moral weakness, perversion, confusion, selfishness or anything else typically associated to our situation. In fact, it's not the situation at all that's the problem - it's just part of the tapestry of the human condition and is only scary or threatening in relation to others' insecurities and fears. The problem is how others perceive it and subsequently react to it, and we collectively suffer miserably for that. So, in a very real way I found myself faced with decisions to fade into the anonymous safety of the woodwork as generations of us had done out of self-preservation or to make a stand and speak up when I saw things that just weren't right. The choice is an obvious one to me, and I'll do the latter ten times out of ten.
Second, Community is a fundamental concept in my world. I didn't transition to withdraw from life. I transitioned to begin living it in the way that feels most comfortable to me. I remember growing up thinking that I was the only one in the world who felt like this. It was a lonely, frightening, frustrating existence and my mid-life epiphany that there were others like me who were living happy, fulfilling lives was both terrifying and electrifying at the same time. I celebrate the communities that embrace me by embracing them right back.
There is a huge difference between a community and a ghetto. A community is more than a group of people haphazardly thrown together because of a common trait or characteristic, or who huddle together for protection. It's something that someone actually chooses to be part of. Community is a spirit based on both commonality and difference in another of those unique paradoxes of life. Each of us is part of any number of communities - ethnic, regional, spiritual, professional, or any number of other traits that we share with others. The best of all worlds is when they all align. Unfortunately, that rarely seems to happen.
I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to be involved in some very worthwhile efforts and to work with some amazing people. On my way to being Donna I wrote a book and got involved with the Human Rights Campaign in 2003. I was subsequently invited to join their Business Council, a sort of steering committee on workplace policy best known for overseeing the annual Corporate Equality Index. Workplace issues are a passion of mine and I'm tremendously proud of the work that we've done over these past few years to further awareness of the challenges that GLBT employees face and to further transgender education.
Through those relationships I was asked to join the Board of Directors in 2005, becoming the first (and only) transgender board member and subsequently being asked to be Board co-chair for Diversity. Being the only trans person on that board was sometimes a heavy burden for me but one well worth carrying because I believed. I was heavily invested in the organization in many, many ways but much of that came to an end last fall over ENDA. I am patiently waiting for those wounds to heal, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about this in subsequent posts.
I remain involved with a number of organizations and efforts because we share something I have come to refer to as the 3 P's. Passion. Principles. Pragmatism. And, to whatever degree I have become a leader in the transgender community or the larger GLBT community I use those elements as my guide. They rarely steer me wrong and even when they do, I'm comfortable with the decisions I make.
I reject any notion that T does not belong with GLB (or vice versa) or can arbitrarily removed from it. It just doesn't work that way, and these struggles are things we must all win or lose together. Gender variance is simply part of who we are as people and we need to get that. Our youth get it, so why can't the rest of us? Arbitrary letters or labels do not accurately reflect the complexity of our community so reducing ourselves to those kinds of simplistic definitions does significant harm and needs to become a thing of the past. That goes for those in the trans community who succumb to their own homophobia, as well as for those in the broader community who would jettison the T as a sorry, needy, whiny orphan that hasn't paid its dues yet. That kind of thinking smacks of elitism and needs to confronted as such.
We are at a historic time in our movement's history. Stakes are high, and generations that follow us will be affected by the things we're doing - or NOT doing - today. As a result, relationships will be strained. Commitment will be tested. Leadership will rise to the top, while faux-leadership will be exposed for what it is. I sometimes ask myself whether I signed up for all of this when I stepped forward as a naive newbie - ready to do my part. The truth is that we do what we do because it needs doing. I can't imagine life any other way.
I look forward to being part of the Bilerico family and to sharing here as part of yet another community. Somehow, it already feels like home.