That talk is about so much more than the title suggests, and one idea is so well developed that I felt it was essential for me to include it here.
"LGBT equality is gender equality and gender equality is LGBT equality"
Good evening everyone. My name is Sarah McBride. I'm 25 years old. I'm a native of Wilmington Delaware, a proud graduate of American University; that's right, go Eagles! I'm a movie buff, a policy nerd, a sister and a daughter.
It took me twenty-one years to muster up the courage to say those last words; sister and daughter. Today they are among my proudest identities and tonight I'm able to walk out on this stage as the woman that I am. But I have to admit that it hasn't always been that way.
I remember as a child lying in my bed at night praying that I would wake up the next day and be a girl; to be my authentic self and to just have my family be proud of me. I remember looking into the mirror struggling to say just two words: I'm transgender. It was a fact that I thought about every single waking hour of every single day. With every penny thrown, with every birthday candle blown out, my wish was always the same.
For every trans person it feels a little different. For me it felt like a constant homesickness and not a homesickness in my own body but a homesickness in my own life. An unwavering unyielding ache in the pit of my stomach that only went away when I began to embrace my true self but I could be seen as me. But I kept it inside. I told myself that if I could make staying in the closet worthwhile by becoming successful in making a difference in the world that those things would fill the void in my life.
It seemed as I grew up that my dreams and my identities were mutually exclusive. During my sophomore year at American University I was elected president of the student body. At the same time I was also struggling with my identity and whether or not to come out as transgender. In the end though I had to be true to myself. My life was passing me by and I was done wasting it as someone I wasn’t.
I came out to my family on Christmas Day in 2011, (there's really nothing to do once you open the presents) and I came out my friends during the following weeks. Eventually on my last day as president of the student body I told the world that I was really Sarah McBride in an op-ed in the A.U. student newspaper.
I have to be honest that I was scared about the possible reaction from the university community but all I got was support. At the same time though, people oftentimes tried to express their support by saying “I hope you're happy now”. I hope you're happy now - that seems like such a small motivation for transitioning; for taking the steps that I felt like I needed to take to have my inner gender identities seen and respected.
I didn't transition to be happy. I transitioned to be me. I didn’t transition to create a positive but to removing a negative. To alleviate a nearly constant pain and incompleteness. Transitioning didn't bring me happiness. It allowed me to be free to feel every emotion, to think more clearly, to live more fully, to survive, to be seen to be me. And while transitioning freed me in many ways, there's no question that in becoming myself I face new barriers.
Like all women, my path to womanhood is unique. No two paths are the same. Each of us travel with different privileges, challenges, and perspectives; some limiting, others illuminating. And as someone who at least tried to think critically about the phobias and the isms and the discrimination in the world, I thought I more or less understood what to expect. In the end though I had been so understandably consumed with the transphobia that would come my way, I didn't fully realize the misogyny and sexism that I would face. And it was everywhere. From the subtle to the blatant. A world of contradictions and double standards.
I never realized how disempowering and unsafe it would feel to have a stranger feel entitled to make a comment about my looks or my body; inviting comments for having the audacity to walk down the street. If I wasn't smiling I was told to smile. If I am smiling it's a special invitation for more comments.
You're treated like both a delicate infant and a sexualized idol in the exact same moment. Your thoughts are dismissed and your emotions minimized; your insecurities emphasized and your body objectified. The simple and the mundane decisions that I never had to think about in the morning before soon became integral to avoiding a thousand judgments. And in finding my own womanhood I was told that if I was too feminine that I was a caricature or inauthentic; as if masculinity is some sort of natural state of being; a default - a preference. But if I wasn't feminine enough, then I was told that I wasn't a real woman. Pop culture, television, movies, music, politics, fashion; all telling all of us what it means to be a real woman.
I had finally, finally, come out of the closet only to find myself stuck in the kitchen. And it became clear very quickly that the same forces, the same forces that said to me “No you're not a woman”, those are the same forces that say there's only one way to love, only one way to live, only one way to act, only one way to dress, only one role to play. And those forces; they're not just the same people. They're the same beliefs and the same dogmas. It’s why the fight for LGBT equality is so inextricably linked to the fight for gender equality. Homophobia, transphobia, and sexism - they're all rooted in the same prejudice. The belief that one perception at birth, the sex we are assigned, should dictate who we are, who we love, how we act, and what we do. And that's why LGBT equality is gender equality and gender equality is LGBT equality and when we fully, and I mean fully realize that as feminists, as LGBT people, as allies, and as a society then we will be able to build a world where every little kid can know that they can grow up and be successful; they can be independent, they can be gay, they can be trans - they can be anything that this society says is mutually exclusive with being feminine or being a woman but they can be any or all of those things and still be seen and still be valued and still be respected as the equal humans that we all are.
Our dreams and our identities do not have to be mutually exclusive. Working together to fight sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and yes, racism "enable-ism", they won’t be.
Thank you very much.