I've often heard it said that you can have your life flash before your eyes. Typically, it's a phrase associated with some type of near-death experience. I didn't think that it was something that actually happened; I figured it was just a trope that worked well on paper or on television.
But speaking in front of the crowd of tearful, fearful faces outside of the White House in February, after the Trump administration announced they were rescinding a Title IX Guidance that helps protect transgender students, I was transported back to another crowd. I was suddenly fifteen again, and just for a moment, I was attending a Gloucester County School Board meeting that had been convened so adults could furiously debate which restroom I would be allowed to use. It was a congregation of fear and division instead of love and inclusiveness—one that was organized to vilify and endanger people rather than empathize with and protect them.
As the two sensations dovetailed—the overwhelming memory of standing up in front of that school board to try to advocate for my basic humanity, and the cheering that greeted me in front of the White House—I felt as though the wind had been driven from my lungs. Much of what's happened to me in the past few years has felt surreal, and I was finally struck with the reality of how far I'd come. In that moment, I grew as a person.
At the school board meeting, adults applauded each other as they made hateful remarks about my body and my humanity. At the White House, a community had gathered together, boisterously cheering as they prepared to step into the next stage of our collective battle, hand in hand. The applause melted together in my mind, and comments suggesting that there is something about me that is broken or unacceptable transformed into comments celebrating the transgender community and the beautiful diversity of humanity. Old wounds—some of which I knew I carried and some of which I didn't—turned to armor.
In front of the White House, I saw transgender children so wonderfully affirmed. Some of them were scared, perhaps not understanding what the situation meant, or perhaps understanding it all too well. I saw mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, siblings, aunts, uncles, educators—trans themselves, or fierce allies or relatives of those who are. I saw people who had a common goal in mind: to create a world in which every person is treated with the same dignity and respect, a world in which institutions do not use their power to attack the vulnerable minorities of our nation. A world where it isn't so scary to be trans, or to love someone who is.
I hugged and cried with so many people that night, and I didn't feel a single ounce of defeat. My heart ached with a bittersweet fullness. I was awed and inspired by the turnout, but it wasn't lost on me that it was a shame that the rally had to be held at all. Our presence was the physical reminder that there are vulnerable youth who are directly harmed by the debates over the humanity of trans people.
I have been fighting my school board over their refusal to allow me access to the boys' restroom for several years now. By the time my case has closed, I'll have graduated already—but thousands of children will feel the effects of a world without protection in the interim. I want to bottle the unity and love of that night and send it to every single transgender youth in the nation. I want to give them all the kindness and support I have been so fortunate to receive. I want to see them all happy and healthy and successful, because no one should have to sacrifice their rights or basic dignity just because they are transgender.
Moving forward, I am optimistic. I understand the deeply troubling realities that many transgender youth and adults face today, and I understand the troubling political climate that has many of us feeling unworthy or unloved or afraid. But I have also seen some of the deepest, loudest love that exists anywhere on this earth, and I know that there is some of it out there for everyone. When I was fifteen and the only support I had was my immediate family and one or two other people, I felt like there wasn't any love out there for me. After being so woefully outnumbered in both school board meetings, I was positive that that was the end of the road, and that I would be subjected to a permanent exile of shame and discrimination for the crime of being born. But I was given a voice that few get, and I now want desperately to give it to the community so that our rallying cries can all be heard.
As stressful and painful as this process has been in some moments, I'd do it over any number of times. I am so proud to be a part of a community with so much to give to the world. The vibrancy and diversity of the transgender population is so valuable and so unique. It should never be dulled because we have to fight for our right to exist.
Regardless of what comes next, on an individual level and on a national one, things will be okay. Even our darkest moments are only moments, however permanent they may seem. Love is the heartbeat of our community, and that can never, ever be defeated.