This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
My name is Sarah McBride, I’m 25 years old, a native of Wilmington, Delaware, a proud graduate of American University, a movie buff, a policy nerd, a sister and a daughter.
It took me 21 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, 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 I thought about every 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. Not a homesickness in my own body, but a homesickness in my own life. It was an unwavering, unyielding ache in the pit of my stomach that only went away when I began to embrace my true self. When I could be seen as me.
But I kept that inside. Buried deep. I told myself that if I could make staying in the closet worthwhile by succeeding and making a difference in the world — that those things would fill the void in my life. It seemed, as I grew up, like 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 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 and I came out to my friends during the following weeks. And then, eventually, on the last day of my term as student body president, I told the world that I was really Sarah McBride in an op-ed in the AU 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 sometimes tried to express their support by saying, “I hope you are happy now.”
“I hope you are happy now.” It seems like such a small motivation for transitioning, for taking the steps that I felt I needed to take for me to have my inner gender identity to 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 remove a negative; to alleviate a nearly constant pain and incompleteness. Transitioning didn’t bring me happiness; it allowed me to be free to pursue *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 faced 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 I would face.
And it was everywhere: from the subtle to the blatant, a world of contradictions and double standards.
I never realized just how disempowering and unsafe it feels to have a stranger feel entitled to comment on my looks or 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, its a special invitation for even more comments.
You’re treated like both a delicate infant and a sexualized idol in the same instant. Your thoughts are dismissed and your emotions minimized. Your insecurities emphasized and your body objectified. The simple and mundane decisions that I never had to think about in the morning before, soon became central to avoiding a thousand judgments.
And in finding my own womanhood, I was told that if I was “too feminine,” I was 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, I told 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 come out of the closet, only to find myself stuck in the kitchen.
And it became clear very quickly that the same forces that say, “no, you are not a woman” are the same ones that say there is only one way to love, only one way to act, only one way to live, 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 dogmas.
It’s why the fight for LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ equality is gender equality and gender equality is LGBTQ equality. And when we fully, and I mean fully, realize that as feminists, as LGBTQ people and 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 successful, they can be independent, they can be gay, they can be trans, or anything else that this society says is mutually exclusive with being feminine or being a woman; that we can be any or all of those things and still be seen, still be valued, and still be respected as the equal humans that we all are.
Our dreams and identities do not have to be mutually exclusive. Working together to fight sexism, transphobia, homophobia — and yes, racism and ablism — they won’t be.
The above post was from a Mid-Atlantic TEDxTalk.