This Presidential election means a great deal to me, in fact, and I imagine it means a great deal to anyone along the LGBT spectrum. Many of us have watched with delight the laws President Obama has passed to further LGBT rights, and transgendered individuals in general, I'm certain, have been incredibly relieved at the changes to our personal rights during this administration. Thanks to the liberal majority, we have seen our rights to employment and freedom of international travel (via passport gender marker legislation) become greater than many of us thought we would witness so soon.
Why is this election so important to me? Well, I'd like to see our country continue to progress in a positive direction as pertains to LGBT rights. Certainly, I'd love to see jobs increase, unemployment decrease, socialized medicine become a reality, and the like, but I'm a realist. One thing I do know is that we cannot expect to see changes occurring on a grand scale when those in government are in opposition to the views of the people. Hence the need for democracy--- hence the need for people to have the ability to voice their opinions on a large platform, and have those opinions not only heard, but listened to. Many of us still believe this is the case but, really, is it?
In legal terms, I am currently entitled to employment and medical care without the fear of harassment or denial. Prior to the very recent legal precedent proclaiming that transgendered individuals cannot be denied access to necessary health care or employment based on their condition, many of us were forced either to cope with the insensitivity and, often, blind hatred of those in the medical profession and employers in general, or to migrate to those areas in which our rights were protected. Now that these rights are guaranteed by law, however, we're free to live where we want, as well as seek out employment and medical care without fear of repercussions. Or are we?
Sadly, there is a vast divide between what is law and who decides to enforce or violate said law. I recently worked for a restaurant in Indianapolis, a city in which gender identity has been one of the protected statuses in Equal Opportunity Employment law for some time. While I had no difficulty becoming employed at said restaurant, despite having to out myself during the interview, I did later experience harassment at the hands of other employees. Yes, I was guaranteed freedom/protection from harassment; no, I did not receive it. This was not, of course, the fault of my employer; rather, as we are all autonomous beings, we all make our choices. The woman who chose to discriminate against me may have been in violation of city ordinances, but a law is only valid insofar as it is enforced.
Ultimately, no one can be safe in one's workplace, community, home, or otherwise until ignorance is wiped out on a grand scale. Passing laws won't necessarily do this; even those officials whose job it is to enforce the law are often guilty of rampant violations. It is only in educating those people, and people in general, about the repercussions of their violations of said law, and about the repercussions of their hatred, that we might begin to make headway on feeling safe, essentially, in our own skin. Even then, we in the LGBT community have a long, hard road in front of us.
I don't expect people to be perfect. During the days and weeks leading up to this election, I heard many people talk about how Obama had done this wrong, or how Romney would do something else right. "Sure, Obama has done many good things for our country, but look at all the bad!" I've heard from people on the fence. Do we expect, however, for this man to be a saint? Mayors of small towns often face great difficulty in making decisions that affect only a couple thousand people; how can we think that one man could correctly decide everything for a population of three hundred million?
What I do expect is that I won't have to put myself in harm's way on a daily basis. Years ago, I had a habit of traveling the country alone. In fact, this would likely still be a habit of mine, if not for an added life partner and a chronic difficulty in securing permanent, gainful employment. I can't count the number of times I found myself in what many might consider to be sketchy situations; a girl in her early twenties walking alone through downtown West Los Angeles or Manhattan's Greenwich Village long after midnight should never expect that harm will miraculously avoid her. However, for me, those myriad trips were trouble-free.
After living in places such as Los Angeles, Sacramento, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, and Denver, I couldn't imagine that I would ever again feel afraid in a small town. How could I, when living in a city never once gave me pause? I've been around the block a few times, sure. I've lived among the homeless population on Venice Beach, and I've (regrettably) sought out drugs on L.A.'s "Skid Row". I'm no stranger to danger, to coin a phrase; I figured, if anything, living in small town America would be boring beyond belief. To top it off, that small town in which I've recently found myself living is the same in which I went to high school.
It has been many years now since I ran on the wrong side of the tracks. I live cleanly now; in fact, it's the rare occasion that I'll even drink a beer. After my one-night incarceration in L.A. in 2008, I made certain nothing like that would ever occur again; though my fault then existed only in not fixing a minor licensing problem, I was careful to make reparations and stick with the straight and narrow. In the years since, while I have had a bit of a phobia of the police, there has been no cause for it aside from past experience. Unfortunately, though, poverty can place one on the wrong side of the law without one's ever intending to do so.
Since the untimely death of my mother-in-law this past July, my partner and I have experienced myriad financial difficulties. After leaving our jobs and livelihood in Indiana to return to Colorado for the funeral and estate planning, we had nowhere to live but with my parents, who are still living in that aforementioned small town where I went to high school, and where the economy never quite has recovered from the 2008 nationwide economic crash. I found a job within two months of our moving in with my parents, but it was ill-fated; my partner found a job within three, and is lucky if she receives twenty-five hours per week. Through the financial strife this situation has inevitably caused for us, we have managed to keep our heads up as well as possible, even with having been forced into homelessness for nearly two weeks thanks to a dispute with my parents; that said, we had to let a few things slide. Unfortunately, one of those things was our car registration.
We were lucky enough to have been sold, for a very small sum, my brother's car back in the early summer of this year. At the time, the registration was current; to keep things legal, we acquired our own, low-cost, car insurance. When the registration expired, we knew we had a month during which to bring it current. That month came and went, however; my mother-in-law died only a week and a half after the registration's expiration. By the time, then, that, two months later, my partner and I had driven out to a secluded area in my parents' town to talk, the plates had been expired for two months. As the date on our title was only a month prior, however, and Colorado law states that one has two months from the title date to register a new car, we figured we were fine. When a local police cruiser showed up and shone its spotlight on us, we assumed all he would do was make sure all was well, then be on his way. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Perhaps my mistake was in thinking that police are meant to "protect and serve", as they often display on their cars, badges, uniforms, and the like. Sure, my partner and I were in a parking lot at the base of a mountain, after dark, and we were the only ones there. We were standing outside our car when the cops pulled up; she was smoking a cigarette while I was nursing the e-cigarette that's brought me through nearly three months of tobacco abstinence. When the cruiser pulled up in front of us, I figured we'd get a cursory, "Everything okay?", then would be sent packing. Instead, the cop jumped out of the car and hurried toward us, then asked immediately for our identification.
"Why do you need our IDs?" I asked. "Were we doing something wrong?" Fingering his gun, the officer grew all the more stern.
"Why do I need your IDs? Why are you asking me questions? Give me your ID!" he said. At this point my partner, who suffers from PTSD, was beginning a panic attack.
"Just give him your ID!" she said frantically, and I complied.
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"You don't ask me what the problem is! You're out here, in the middle of nowhere, after dark, and you're asking me what the problem is? What's your problem?" We would have continued with the not-so-pleasant banter for hours had he not shone his flashlight on my ID and stopped dead in his tracks. "Wait... how do you pronounce your name?"
Without thinking, I said, "Luc." I shook my head, wondering how he could have difficulty with such a simple name. Then, as he looked quizzically between the license and me, I realized my mistake. "Oh. Sorry. I'm transgendered. I haven't been able to change my name yet because---"
"Yeah, well, I don't know about any of that. What the hell were you doing out here?" My partner began to tell him about her terrible day, about the memories of her recently dead mother that had prompted our needing to get away from people and light and the like, but the officer was disinterested. By this point, another cruiser had pulled in alongside the first, and the officer manning that vehicle had begun circling our car with his flashlight. "What's in the car? And whose car is it?"
What transpired next was something I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams; despite our being in possession of a title signed over to us and insurance paperwork in my name, the officer accused us of having stolen the car and its expired tags. He insisted upon searching the car, despite having no reasonable cause. "Sir--- er, Ma'am---" he addressed me, "come over here and unlock the vehicle."
"It's Sir," I said, "as I told you before."
"Yeah, well, I'm not so sure about that," he said brusquely. "Open the car."
After a few more off-color remarks about my gender and orientation, my partner had had enough. "You know, I don't think we've done anything wrong here, and you have no right to talk about my partner's transgendered condition like that," she said. The cop whirled on her, eyes ablaze.
"Would you quit saying that? It's not a 'condition.' It's a choice. It's a choice, plain and simple. Now open the car."
In the ensuing half-hour during which I was ridiculed at length by the officer presumably hired to "serve and protect" about something that, for me, was only a choice insofar as I chose to change my life for the better rather than ending it completely, I wondered whether I could really be safe anywhere. As we weren't violating any laws, my partner and I were, finally, told we were free to leave; not even a warning ticket was issued. In the end, though, I felt as if my security had been irretrievably stolen from me. Not once during the entire encounter did the officer's hand leave his pistol; not once did I receive an apology for being harassed for over an hour for doing absolutely nothing illegal. Instead, I was simply another casualty of the ignorance that is running rampant throughout our nation.
I have no intention of chalking this particular experience up to hormones. Certainly, I might have felt more empowered and less vulnerable had I had the benefit of testosterone at the time but, regardless, I would feel as I do: as if my opinion no longer matters. I was born in 1982, into a world where people were told that if they wanted something badly enough, all they had to do was work hard for it. I was born into a country that preached the greatness and availability of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to every citizen. I was born into a country that perhaps did not yet give equal rights to those with estrogen coursing through their veins as it did to those with testosterone, but it was moving in the right direction. Thirty years later, I'm not sure what kind of place it is in which I'm living. All I know is, my choice has, repeatedly, been taken away. That day two weeks ago, it may have been the police who stole it from me; tomorrow, it may be the President. I can only hope and pray that, someday, I can take it back.