Skirting the Issues: The Ripple Effect
Call me naïve, but I believe in the power of story, particularly one’s own story. Personal stories can move us in completely unexpected ways. It’s for this reason that when I meet someone new, I like to ask, “Please tell me your story.” What I’ve heard in response has never bored me.
I practice what I’m preaching here. Recently, the Board of Directors for the Hennepin County Bar Association had before it a resolution that I helped write. The resolution called upon all Hennepin County lawyers—8000 attorneys strong, the 10th largest bar association in the country—to “take affirmative action” to defeat the anti-marriage amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution that will be voted on in November.
I was one of three people invited to speak in support of the resolution. “I used to be a boy,” I started. “Now, I’m a girl.”
I paused and looked at thirty faces looking at me. They still seemed interested. And why not? After all, it’s not every day that you hear someone talk about flipping genders.
I continued. “When I was male, I was a first-class citizen. I could legally marry the love of my life, Lydia. Now that I’m a woman attracted to other women, I’ve become a second-class citizen. If by some miracle Lydia came back to me, ironically, we wouldn’t be able to marry. Under Minnesota law, I’m not good enough to marry my soul mate.”
I explained that nothing about me had changed other than my outward appearance. I’m still the same good person I was before I transitioned to a woman. In fact, in many ways, as a woman, I’m a better, healthier person than I ever was as a man. I asked, “Why is it that once I found my authentic self, I lost my rights?”
I watched as people nodded. They understood.
Many Board of Directors members were already against the anti-marriage amendment, so it may be that my words were merely icing on the cake. In the end, not only did the Board think the resolution was a good idea, they went beyond it and joined Minnesotans United for All Families, the umbrella organization that’s leading the fight against the anti-marriage amendment.
A couple days later, I was at a social event for the Bar Association when a man introduced himself. Sam was at the Board of Directors meeting and had heard my “second-class citizen” speech. “It made me think,” he said. “I never considered that someone could lose rights simply because they were honest about who they are.”
Sam related that his wife was against gay people marrying. “She’s way more conservative than me,” he confided. However, after hearing me speak, Sam went home and told his wife about me and how I’m a once-married-man-now-unable-to-marry-woman.
My story apparently resonated with Mrs. Sam.
“After I told her about you and how you’d be unable to remarry Lydia, my wife suddenly changed her mind about the anti-marriage amendment,” Sam said. “Her words were, ‘That’s not right.’ Now, she wants the amendment defeated.”
I couldn’t keep from smiling. It felt good to think something I said had rippled across the pond to positively change someone’s opinions. That my words had helped turn black to white.
In the larger picture, it’s not going to be that easy. There are powerful, entrenched forces bearing down in support of the anti-marriage amendment, and we’ve barely experienced the media ads that those who hate us will put forth. We run the risk that other Mrs. Sams will tune out, rather than tune into, our common humanity.
Still, don’t underestimate the power of our personal stories. Every LGBTQ person should talk about whom they love and what they want as human beings. I don’t care which alphabet letter you are—gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender or queer— just tell your neighbors, coworkers, and that somewhat cold relative, about how you want the ability to marry just like plain old straight folks. “I’m in love with Susie. We simply want what every straight person takes for granted—the ability to say ‘I do,’ and then make our life together in a house with a white picket fence and a neurotic, yappy dog running around in the front yard.”
That kind of story ripples across the pond, too. If all of us speak up, the collective ripple could become a tsunami. I’m convinced of it.
And so, please, tell them your story.