I remember a very persuasive man telling America, "Yes We Can." Up to that point I had lived in a completely different world, still deep in the closet, fearful that the world was not ready for my truth, extremely introverted, almost debilitated by social anxiety and clinical depression, living in a body that didn't reflect my soul. I cried when Obama was inaugurated because I finally felt real hope that America was making progress and was capable of change. Everything felt different, change actually felt possible, and for the first time in my life I felt halfway safe to start living my truth openly; marriage equality was now law of the land, transgender people could serve openly in the military, and the LGBTQ community were making tremendous progress towards gaining protections from violence and discrimination. It was during these years that my journey towards change made substantial strides. I came out to my family and publicly, changed my name to reflect my true identity, and started to create a network of relationships, all of which completely support me in my truth. My life had indeed changed drastically in a short time. I was happier than I had ever been, no longer living a lie behind a mask. The persistent, long suffering hard work of advocates paved the way for me to finally live free.
Then came trump, and suddenly everything felt in danger, all of the positive ground gained over the Obama years was now under direct threat of reversal. But far worse than that, so was American democracy. Not only was it priority to undo anything Obama did in a flagrant attempt to erase Obama's legacy, but about 40% of the country refused to hold 45 accountable to long-standing American cultural and political norms, the rule of law, or even to the constitution of The United States itself. My country was going through its own form of transition, a very dark turn in our country's history, the kind of dark turn that leaves a mark on a people for generations. The emergence of trumpism was a sobering enlightenment that shocked me to my core. I never would have imagined that so many people could be so mean collectively, so self-absorbed and callous to the suffering of others. I knew I could no longer sit on the sidelines and hope someone else would come along to fight for me; I had to fight for myself. I had only just claimed my freedom from living in the closet, my right to live in my truth, and now I must fight for my right to exist. This was a moment in our history where we will all be remembered for what we did or did not do.
I began to look for people who wanted to do something too. I knew I wouldn't get very far on my own; there's strength in numbers and this was a fight that was going to take large numbers of people. Fortunately, there was no shortage of pissed off people wanting to fight back against this lawless administration. Millions of women marched on Washington DC, across the country, and even around the world to protest his inauguration. Organizations and grassroots movements sprung up everywhere, even in my small home town in the deep red, republican-dominated state of Alabama. Several organizations began to hold local meetings - like Move On and Indivisible. I looked into them, but I joined the Positive Women's Network USA, a national healthcare and human rights advocacy organization comprised and led by women and trans people living with HIV. In PWN I found a tight knit bond of sisterhood, a family in the absence of my own family who disowned me, and I found healing in those bonds. I also received training and education that really launched me into a life of advocacy. I've since joined with other organizations as well, where I also found family and healing, like The Well Project, where I truly found my voice, and the Prevention Access Campaign, where I found passion in sharing the U=U message. I found my place where I felt I belonged.
In the three years since I became an advocate I've learned a great deal and had many rewarding experiences, I've spoken with state and federal legislators, I've founded and managed social media pages, I write blogs that reach a global audience, and I've become a leader in my community, working with other women to build a PWN regional chapter in our state. I've grown, I've evolved, and continue to. Now I'm part of an electoral organizing campaign ahead of the 2020 elections, seeking to harness the voting power of the HIV community to help make a difference in election outcomes. I've come a long way in a fairly short amount of time, from transitioning into the woman I was always meant to be, to becoming an advocate and community leader that I never saw coming. These were simply things that I knew had to be done; change had to be made, I only had to find the courage to do it, and I found courage and strength I didn't know I had. Change is rarely easy and usually frightening, it's the unknown that scares us, not knowing what awaits us, questioning our abilities to come through it OK, but believe in yourself, you have power and capacity you can't imagine, capabilities waiting to be unleashed. As the saying goes, "If you go out on a limb, you may discover you can FLY." You can do it, yes you can!!