Twenty years ago I had just published my first book, Read My Lips, and for my last talk on a promotional tour, I was invited to do a reading in sunny Miami Beach. I was only dimly aware of it, but once there, I fell hard. I continued going there regularly for the next 15 years, bought a small condo, and three years ago moved my family and enrolled my daughter in school there.
But the early years weren’t all smooth sailing. In New York, I had been in the center of many of the signature early developments of trans activism. I was used to a degree of awareness of trans issues, of sensitivity, of inclusion.
Not here, though. Miami was a good 15 years behind the tide of trans activism. SAVE/Dade, the main gay rights group for Miami’s Dade County, was still strictly and pretty proudly LGB-but-not-T.
It wasn’t just that we weren’t named, over which I would have ground my teeth silently, but tolerated. Our issues weren’t addressed in any of the group's initiatives, it ignored trans in its policy positions, and public statements never mentioned vulnerable trans youth. You get the idea.
I was not happy. And I was tired. I felt like, Do I really have to go through this shit all over again? The answer was yes. I stewed and bitched. But this was intolerable. I was not going to vacation in a place where my own community was refusing to recognize my existence. I had already stopped vacationing in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. — where my family had been going for decades — because I refused to spend my money in a place that was quietly hostile to queers.
But all attempts at dialogue went nowhere. I asked for meetings and changes, and nothing happened. As is so often the case, structures don’t respond unless you make them.
Great. I knew how to picket and demonstrate, and I knew where the pressure points were.
But there was no visible trans community. Even meetings of the LGB-but-not-T community often took place indoors at night because so many of the gay men, including major donors, were still deeply closeted.
Back in NYC, I had my crew of 20 or 30 folks to back me up, all ready to pull on black Transexual Menace T-shirts with blood-dripping red letters and picket at a moment’s notice. We were big, bold, and ba-a-ad.
Here, I was on my own. What was I supposed to do — form my own little one-tranny picket line? Right.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the only course was to form my own little one-tranny picket line. I announced a new organization, OPEN/Dade. I had black T-shirts printed up with OPEN/Dade in blood-dripping red letters (notice a pattern here). I made a public announcement that at every SAVE/Dade event from now on, the members could expect me to be picketing, demonstrating. Until they added the damn T.
I was not looking forward to manning a picket line alone, and I was not looking forward to taking on the local community. But I also wasn’t walking away from this.
Fortunately for me, it never came to that. I was offered a meeting with the suave and charming head of SAVE/Dade, and after a heart-to-heart talk over a wonderful lunch on Lincoln Road, he agreed to at least start giving me a place in the group's events to see how it went.
It wasn’t exactly a policy breakthrough, but it was a start. I reminded myself of the ancient saying that every journey starts with a single step and one scared tranny, and I gratefully accepted. SAVE/Dade took the first step on its journey to finally becoming trans-inclusive, and I got my vacation time every month back and no longer had to worry about running off to picket every time it scheduled an event.
I was recalling all this as I was practicing on the South Beach tennis courts this morning. A woman I didn't know but who clearly knew me walked up and introduced herself. She was on the Miami Beach Mayor’s Commission for LGBTQ Affairs. It had no trans members, although it regularly took positions on trans issues, and she wondered if I would be interested in being appointed.
I told I told her I was honored to be considered and wanted to learn more. And I turned away with a smile that had 20 years of history behind it, wondering at how the universe turns.
RIKI WILCHINS is an author and advocate.