Imagine waking up in the body of the opposite sex.
For some people this could be a fun exercise, a chance to trade places with your wife or husband and see the world through a new lens. But what if your gender—the ingrained qualities and characteristics that tells you from birth that you're meant to be male or female—leaves you shut out from this new world view?
Suddenly, pretending to be the opposite sex seems extremely difficult. And when you are a transgender person forced to live as the wrong gender every day, it can be torture.
Every waking moment you devote energy to acting a part that, in truth, you do not relate to. It is painful, alienating and at times terrifying. I know—because I've walked in those shoes for 40 years until it all came crashing down in 2009.
I was at a crossroads: I could sink deeper into my abyss of lies. Or I could speak the truth and risk everything—my family, my friends, my business, and most of all, my security. Michigan is at this same crossroads when it comes to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson's discriminatory ID policy.
A driver's license is a tiny document that has the potential to cause tremendous harm for transgender people. The wrong gender marker on a driver's license incites discrimination, harassment, accusations of fraud, and in many cases, violence. This is why the ACLU of Michigan is challenging the driver’s license policy in their state. And this is the same reason I, a born and raised Michigander, challenged a similar policy when I moved to Alaska.
After coming out as a transgender woman, I legally changed my name in June 2010. I applied for a new driver’s license and received it with my new name. The Secretary of State clerk saw me as female, identified me as female and replaced the gender marker “M” with an “F.” It may seem small, but this change has a monumental effect on our ability to fully transition into the gender you identify with as a transgender person.
However, my excitement over my new ID was short lived. One month later, I received a letter from the state office in Juneau, Alaska warning me that I had 30 days to submit proof of what was between my legs or else relinquish my new license. I refused.
Treating Gender Dysphoria in transgender people requires a team of doctors and psychologist who work hand-in-hand following guidelines set forth by the World of Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH). Under these guidelines, transgender people must assimilate into society as the gender they identify with in order to meet the prerequisite for gender confirmation surgery. Therein lies the problem.
We as transgender people must assimilate into our true gender, but many states (such as Michigan) do not recognize it. Consequently, these states enact inconsiderate policies that force transgender people to go through great lengths to prove who they are, whether it is at the airport or on a job interview.
In April 2012, with the ACLU of Alaska in my corner, the Alaskan court granted me the correct ID, and Alaska's lieutenant governor signed into law legislation protecting my right to correct ID.
This was a huge victory, not only for transgender people in Alaska, but also for the transgender community nationwide. And I am grateful to have played a small part in this victory.
But the fight continues in Michigan. And I encourage all Michigan residents, current residents and former residents, to stand up for the state's transgender community and their right to have identification that represents their true selves.
We're all in this together. And in the end, we all win.