After making history as the first out trans person seated in a state legislature in the U.S., Virginia Del. Danica Roem has now done the unthinkable for a politician: She’s written a revealing memoir. And it isn’t boring. If you’re the former front woman of a thrash metal band famous for partying and songs like “Drunk on Arrival,” either you don’t run for office or you turn it into a positive, an opportunity for your constituents to get to know the real you.
Authenticity can be one of the hardest things to find in politics. It’s something Roem has an overabundance of, and that authenticity is on full display in her new memoir, Burn the Page, an engrossing collection of the intimate, hilarious, sometimes beer-soaked moments that led to her history-making political career.
“Some people try to make it hurt by being like, ‘Danica wants to be a celebrity,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, Danica also passed 32 bills into law, including 10 to feed hungry kids,’” Roem tells The Advocate’s LGBTQ&A podcast.
As Roem moves further into the public eye, one thing has remained consistent: the obsession with her looks. In Burn the Page, Roem writes, “Trans women who put themselves in the public sphere are immediately judged on this criteria, regardless of age: Are. You. Fuckable? It’s wrong, it shouldn’t be like that, and yet I cannot even begin to underscore the reality of this.”
It’s relentless. She’s forced to confront it every day. Now that she has won three consecutive elections since 2017 (and has just announced her candidacy for the Virginia Senate), the media outlets in Virginia appear to be slightly less focused on Roem’s gender.
“Transgender candidate” was attached to the headline of almost every article written about her (including in this magazine). Seared into her memory is a headline from the website of WUSA, a CBS television station that covers Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. “And it wasn’t like it was a negative story or anything. [The headline] was just like, ‘Transgender candidate just wants to get rid of traffic.’ And I was just like, ‘What the hell does my gender have to do with me wanting to get rid of traffic? What the epic hell?!’”
A record number of anti-trans bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S. this year. A small number were proposed in Virginia but died in committee, far from the governor’s desk.
“One of the Republican delegates who had a bathroom bill, he ended up talking to me because it was part of a much larger bill, and after we had a very long chat together…he just ended up pulling his bill altogether,” Roem shares. “I’ve got good relationships with people across the aisle where I try to be respectful even if they don’t know the issues or anything. But you have to delineate between someone who’s willing to work in good faith and someone who’s in it for the show and who just genuinely doesn’t care what the consequences are…and those people, we just need to either unseat them or we need to make sure they’re in the minority so their bills die.”
Even after five years in the Virginia House of Delegates, Roem deals with being misgendered by those she works with in the state legislature. “I had a colleague on the last day of the general assembly this year misgender me on the House floor in a private conversation. The colleague who said, ‘Sir, I mean, ma’am,’ and I was just like, ‘Come on, we’ve known each other for how many years now?’ An hour later, I’m engaged in a debate on the House floor with the court’s justice committee chairman and he says, ‘Well, I would tell the gentleman.’ And I stopped the proceeding.”
Such events aren’t common — Roem says the former speaker of the House, a Republican, never got her pronouns wrong — but they do happen. It’s an unfortunate part of the job when you’re the first, but with the publication of Burn the Page, Roem is helping to inspire others, to ensure that she is not the last.
Click here to listen to the full LGBTQ&A podcast with Danica Roem.
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 Advocacy and Politics issue, which is out on newsstands July 18, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.