“OMG Zoe! We need to take a picture of you!” I call up the stairs, morning coffee in hand.
“Um, why?” she calls down from the bathroom.
“Because it’s your one year out-a-versary, obviously.” I roll my eyes for dramatic effect, but she doesn’t see it because I’m, like, yelling up the stairs still. “One year of living 24/7 as beautiful you!”
And it is, by the way. A whole year now.
One year and one week ago, Zoe sent a message to hundreds of coworkers, saying, “Hey, I’m trans and these are my new names and pronouns, but I’m just as awesome as ever, so you may continue to think so.” (I might be paraphrasing a little.)
The result was overwhelming support. Replies started to flood her inbox within a few minutes. When she returned back to work exactly one year ago today, her closest coworkers lovingly decorated her cubicle, left heartfelt gifts on her desk, then fooled her into thinking she was walking into an emergency meeting in a conference room but - surprise! - it was one incredible coming out party.
It had cupcakes, you guys. Cupcakes and hugs. And probably some other stuff too, but they’re all secondary to sugar and love.
All my fears of how she was going to navigate the same job with the same people while living as a different gender vanished. Those 15 years of history didn’t make it harder for her to be accepted as her true self, they made it easier. In the end, the people she works with don’t care what Zoe’s pronouns are, they just care about Zoe.
Yes, it really can be that simple.
If you’ve been following my family’s journey for a while – the story of our child’s transition, followed by my spouse’s transition a few months later – then you know how big my little post about Zoe’s work party became. It was one of the biggest on this blog, and was featured in publications in several countries on 5 different continents. We heard from people all over the world, including several HR departments who shared that post as an example of how do things right.
So yeah, we needed a picture this morning, ok?
“Ok, sure. I’ll get my eyeliner on,” Zoe replies from upstairs.
My wife is hot. She doesn’t need eyeliner. But she might argue everyone needs eyeliner before 8 a.m. And she might be on to something. She's not just hot, but smart, too. I totally lucked out.
This morning, I woke up in fear. The last whispers of an ominous dream hanging over me.
In it, the political climate in Canada had changed to match the one in the US. Bill C-16, the trans rights bill that is this close to passing into law, was snuffed out of existence. A new government came in, and their goal of oppressing everyone who wasn’t like them was wrapped into tidy ideas like “safety” and “family values” and “religious freedom.”
In the dream, I was panicked. Hate had been let loose, claws out and teeth bared, and my family was trapped in the proverbial arena, exposed and vulnerable. All the steps our country had made to protect my same-sex marriage, to protect the people I love more than anything, were gone. Would our family become illegal under new laws? Would discrimination prevent us from living the beautiful life we had before?
I woke up, still panicked, and wrapped my arms around my sleeping wife until my heart slowed down.
And then I grabbed my sword and shield.
My family lives in a bubble.
We have good friends, extended family, coworkers, schools, neighbours and medical support. Nearly everyone we knew before we began this journey has chosen to walk alongside us and learn with us and love us. Some have left, but their spaces have been filled with the kind of people everyone wants to have in their lives: compassionate, open-minded, understanding and protective. We may live in a bubble, but its casing is pretty tough because of the people who created it for us.
It’s a good life inside this bubble.
But I know what it’s like outside of it, and I know not everyone has what we do. Just the other day, a local trans child took her own life, and my limited understanding of that situation is that she wasn’t getting the support she needed from the people she needed it from the most. Just outside of our bubble, there are people hurting and people dying.
They need bubbles, too. And fast.
Sometimes, the fear creeps up on me, as it did this morning. It’s a reminder that all the progress we’ve made can turn on a dime. Families like mine could lose everything. My wife could work in a place that doesn’t accept her, or lose her job and never work again. My daughter could be too scared to go to school, unable to be herself without serious repercussions.
These are the things that can happen if hate takes hold. Because make no mistake: hate does live here. It’s just not very loud right now.
Whenever I feel that way, and the panic starts to well up inside me, I stop. I take a few belly breaths, as my speaking coach, Mary, insists I do whenever I’m about to go on stage. It helps the adrenaline burn off so rational thoughts can return.
And once I can think rationally again, there’s really only one thing that comes to mind when I contemplate hate taking over and all the bad that would bring with it:
Well, guess I can’t let that happen, then.
That is literally my thought. It’s grandiose to the point of laughter, but that’s exactly what pops into my head. I can’t let that happen, so I won’t.
Not alone, obviously. There are plenty of people doing this work. There are folks hounding politicians and training school staff and helping religious congregations become more inclusive and insisting on better support at every level for the LGBTQ community. They’re doing big, important work.
And I? Well, I will continue to tell stories.
Like that time Zoe went to work and everyone celebrated her, so I wrote about.
And the time I got a message from a scared woman in Finland who had been terrified to come out to her partner and little girl until she read our story in a Finnish newspaper. And how they came to Canada and stayed with us all summer, and now live 10 minutes down the road and have become our family.
And the local woman who had never breathed a word about her true self until she read about Zoe’s coming out at work story - a workplace that resembles her own. And how she reached out to me, met with us, came out to her spouse, told her kids, transitioned at work, is living as her gorgeous self these days, and makes me smile wide every time I see her.
And so many more stories just like these. Too many to list here. (It’s a good thing I’m writing a book.)
Stories. They’re powerful. They connect us. They stay in our hearts. They shape our world. They make us see things in a new light.
Stories stay with us when we go to the polls and vote in a new government. They whisper to us when we’re in a position to stand up for someone else. They tap us on the shoulder when someone we love says, “Hey, I have something important I need to tell you, and I hope you’ll still love me when I'm done.”
I will keep telling stories; beautiful, empowering, painful, angry, enchanting, real stories. That’s how I’m going to make sure hate doesn’t take hold. It is both my sword and my shield.
We will change the world, one beautiful love story at a time.
One year of Zoe’s life lived to the fullest. One year of my life seeing the person I love finally be herself and falling in love all over again. One year of our kids being able to say “my moms” to everyone they meet. One year of a journey we’ve just begun.
Hope you have more eyeliner ready, my beautiful wife. We’re not done yet. We have a whole world to change.