On their own merits

Brittany Novotny is the Democratic candidate for Oklahoma's 84th District state representative; an attorney who had sexual reassignment surgery three years ago, she's up against an anti-gay Republican incumbent.

Now that I’ve gotten past the legal part of my gender transition, wherever I go with my life — and I sure as hell would like to just make something out of my life, which doesn’t look very likely after you’ve been sharing a bed with unemployment for over a year and a half — I hope for one thing:

That the word “transgender” doesn’t become anyone’s shorthand description of me. And I’ll tell you now that I won’t accept it.

I just won’t stand for it. I’m not gonna be “Transgender best-selling author Fran Fried,” “Transgender ‘Jeopardy!’ champ Fran Fried” or “Transgender chief cook and bottle washer Fran Fried,” or whatever I might make of myself. It’s gonna be “Best-selling author Fran Fried,” etc., or nothing, though if someone feels compelled to point out the gender trip on second or third reference, then fine. After all, no one would say “Black basketball star LeBron James.” How you’re born shouldn’t be what defines you.

As I’ve maintained all along, 1) I hate the word “transgender,” because it sounds so damned clinical; and 2) My gender identity is only a facet of what defines me — a big, honking facet at the moment, of course, but certainly not the only thing. And my friends and family already know that very well.

I’m already seeing the day when life becomes “normal,” whatever that means. Being out for well over a year in Fresno, hanging out in local restaurants, coffee shops and bars, shopping around town — I’m just doing what I was doing all along, only I look and feel much better doing it. As far as I’m concerned, save for the lingering joblessness, my life is normal, with intermittent bursts of very interesting.

While being out might indeed open some doors for me someday, that won’t last. Judging by the way I’ve been able to work my way into the general population so far, there will be a day, sooner than later, when no one even gives me a second glance. If they do give me a second look, it’ll be as an afterthought.

And as we come up on Tuesday, the fact that there are so relatively many political candidates across the country this year who are trans — and not confined to one area of the political spectrum — can’t be anything but a huge help on this level. Whatever their political beliefs, the candidates, who by chance all happen to be male-to-females, are running on their own merits, which is how it should be. And one day soon, it won’t even be a topic of discussion.

What sparked this post is the race for the 84th District in Oklahoma’s State House. This race has drawn more attention than just about any state legislative race in the country — not just because the Democratic challenger, attorney Brittany Novotny, is a post-op female (she had the surgery in 2007), but because the Republican incumbent, Sally Kern, a minister’s wife who is fervently anti-gay, has made an issue of her opponent’s “lifestyle.” Not to mention the head of a right-wing Oklahoma PAC has referred to Novotny as “a confused it” and accused her of having “hatred toward God.”

A member of urnotalone, the trans personals site where I have a profile, posted a story this week from the Dallas Voice, the Metroplex’s LGBT publication, which featured a 20-minute debate between Novotny and Kern on KFOR-TV’s “Flash Point” program last weekend. I watched the video of the debate, and while I don’t have even a My Little Pony in this race — and won’t pretend to know a damn thing about Oklahoma politics — two things were obvious to me: 1) Novotny did a great job of swatting away the negativity coming from the other side of the table; 2) Win or lose, she’s a most excellent role model, even if she might not want to use that term.

For one, she’s out and open and unafraid of what the public will think of her. For another, she’s put herself out there in a way most politicians don’t like, regardless of gender matters. She talked in the debate about going door-to-door to thousands of homes and talking issues with voters, and she said on her website she told a CNN reporter in September that it was her favorite part of campaigning. How many of us, period, relish cold-calling thousands of strangers face to face — especially in Novotny’s case, when she knows going in that quite a few of them will most probably eye her as if she were from another planet?

I’ve overcome most of my fears of being out in public by this point, but Novotny is about three steps ahead of me in that department. And for that, I salute her. I think she’s well aware she’s a role model on some level, but she also knows the place she really wants to be a bright example isn’t the gender front, but the political front.

There have been other races involving trans candidates as well this year. One high-profile campaign was Dana Beyer, a retired eye surgeon running for the Democratic nomination for state delegate in Maryland’s 18th District. But despite an endorsement from The Washington Post, she came up short in the September primary.

Also running this year are two incumbents. Stu Rasmussen — who, it’s safe to say, has had far more national headlines than all the previous mayors of Silverton, Ore., combined — is running for her fourth term, her second as her arguably better half. (When she won in 2008, she became the country’s first transgender mayor.) And Kim Coco Iwamoto is campaigning for her second term on Hawai’i’s Board of Education.

And this isn’t a big surprise, really, but there are two high-profile races in the Bay Area with candidates who are male-to-female trans. Victoria Kolakowski is running for Superior Court judge in Alameda County (that’s the East Bay for non-Californians), and if she wins, she’ll be the country’s first transgender trial-court judge. But the better-publicized race is across the Bay Bridge — Theresa Sparks running for supervisor in San Francisco’s District 6. Sparks has been a high-profile person in San Francisco over the past decade: businesswoman, current executive director of the city’s Human Rights Commission, former president of San Francisco’s Police Commission.

The twist here, though, is that Sparks — while nearly as trailblazing on gender identity as Harvey Milk was on sexual identity a generation or so ago — is viewed by many progressives in this most progressive of cities as the conservative choice, the pro-business candidate, though that’s not a consensus opinion. But to that effect, Sparks’ campaign has picked up quite a bit of soft money from business interests of late.

But if you really want right of center from a trans candidate, there’s the story of Donna Milo, who lost her Republican primary bid in Florida’s 20th Congressional District in August. Milo ran on a platform that was, among other things, anti-tax, pro-gun … and, believe it or don’t, anti-gay marriage.

So there you have it: several transgender political candidates across the country, just trying to win seats like any other politician — and winning or losing, they hope, on their merits and not what’s between, or not between, their legs. But win or lose, they’ve all succeeded in one regard: They’ve struck their blows against one of the last of the old-school societal taboos, and made it a little easier for transpeople in general to be seen as just plain people, period.

UPDATE 11/3: Well, some things are gonna take a little longer.

Novotny was trounced by Kern in her quest for Oklahoma’s State House, 65.9-34.1%. In San Francisco, Sparks is in a race that, with 14 candidates vying for District 6 supervisor, could take days to untangle. (It should also be noted that Sparks’ candidacy wouldn’t and didn’t turn heads in her district on the basis of her trans status — a drag queen and several other openly gay candidates were on the ballot as well.)

Meanwhile, Rasmussen held onto her mayoral seat in a close race in Silverton, Ore., while in Hawai’i, Iwamoto was re-elected to the state’s school board — but that might be a hollow victory, as voters also passed a measure that would abolish an elected board in favor of one appointed by the governor.

The one (very) positive story to come out of last night on the trans front is that Kolakowski, in a close race, won her Superior Court race in Alameda County, and will indeed become the country’s first transgendered trial judge.

Little steps. Little steps …

UPDATE 11/16: Well, it took two weeks, but now, after all the absentee and provisional ballots have been counted, the results are official: Kolakowski has, indeed, won her trailblazing Alameda County court seat.


One Response to “On their own merits”

  1. It's Drew! Says:

    I can’t help but think of that ’70s commercial with Grandpa and Timmy in the boat discussing prejudice. Rest assured that I will never refer to you as “my transgendered friend”.


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