Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming when I was fifteen.
The following spring, I was sitting outside a McDonalds in my home town after dark with my best friend when a car full of men in their early twenties drove by, real slow.
They did a U-turn so they could drive by again.
They rolled their windows down.
“Is that a girl or a boy?” one of them yelled, referencing my best friend; she was looking butch as always, with her baggy 90s grunge look, her figure lean and rangy. Laughter pealed from the inside of the car.
I can’t remember what else they yelled at us, and I’m sure my best friend yelled back some choice insults.
But I remember that, until they finally drove away, I couldn’t stop thinking:
“This is how it starts, this is the night my parents find my body beaten beyond recognition, left tied to a fence post to die. Just like they did to Matthew.”
The men finally left. We went home. And I added the experience to the extremely long “Reasons I want to move to Seattle” column in my mind.
By the time Matthew Shepard was killed, my friends and I already knew how dangerous it was to be different in a small town.
I ran with the theater and band nerd crowd. I had friends who were openly gay, and friends who were closeted. We experimented with goth and punk looks that made us stand out.
We were ridiculous, we were fun, we were weirdos.
We were kids.
And every single one of us had a plan to leave our home town and find a place that felt safer to be ourselves.
A lot of things have gotten better since I was in high school.
My friends in the US can legally get married now. There’s a lot more representation for LGBTQ role models in media, and a lot more resources and acceptance for kids to learn to love themselves. (Even so, LGBTQ youth are still more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Source: The Trevor Project.)
I figured we were — overall — on a positive path toward being a society that cared for and protected everyone in it, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
I bet you can see where I’m going with this, especially if you’ve been following US politics lately.
Tennessee just became the first state to ban drag shows and, effectively, trans people from performing at all. Trans authors are wondering if that means doing book readings is now against the law there — I’ve heard several folks talk about pulling book tour dates in Tennessee to be safe.
Iowa lawmakers just introduced a law that would ban same-sex marriage, effectively dissolving families who don’t have the resources to move out of state.
Dozens of states are looking at bans on gender-affirming care for youth, and a handful of these laws have started to pass. Oklahoma proposed a bill banning gender-affirming care for adults under the age of 26.
It’s always been scary to be a kid that doesn’t fit in — and even scarier if you’re openly gay or trans. But the attack on LGBTQ kids at a legislative level is absolutely horrifying.
My heart breaks for kids in states where the adults who are supposed to protect them are actively pushing legislation through that will deny them healthcare and basic rights.
(And you know the rhetoric those adults are spewing just increases the amount of harassment their own children are facing on a daily basis.)
Families are trying to protect their kids. A friend of mine in the south told me recently he’s planning on moving because he has two daughters and he’s worried about raising them somewhere that now restricts healthcare access for women.
But not everyone has the means to move to a place where their kid will be safe — and not every kid has a family that’s willing to protect them, even if they did have the means.
I don’t know what to do about any of this, except to make my voice heard in favor of trans rights and gay rights.
This blog post isn’t even a “First they came for” attempt to speak out, because, hey. I’m a cis woman and they’ve already come for my healthcare and autonomy in the United States. It’s a “I see my trans cousin and trans friends and trans fellow authors under attack and I’m heartsick for us all” sort of post.
I don’t know what to do.
One thing I do know is that you’re a sci-fi reader, which means I’m probably speaking to the choir.
Since I left my hometown at the age of 18, I’ve found my community primarily in the world of science fiction readers and writers, and I know what a welcoming bunch you are.
Science fiction is all about exploring how we can be better as a society, from Ursula Le Guin to Star Trek. It’s about learning to build empathy with others, from alien races to our fellow passengers on the Starship Earth.
We may not all see eye-to-eye politically — who does! — but most people I know in the sci-fi community identify more with the book-reading weirdo in the corner than the aggressive bully.
And dammit, we weirdos need to stick together.
Now more than ever.
If you’re looking for a way to help, I recommend seeking out and donating to organizations in your area that support LGBTQ (and especially trans) youth. Whether or not you’re in the US, I’m sure the kids in your area need to know people care about them. The Trevor Project is a good place to start.
If you’re looking to boost your empathy superpower in this area (yay for reading!), Book Riot has a fantastic list of recent sci-fi/fantasy books with trans characters. I can also heartily recommend Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures (weird western shapeshifter series) and my friend Neil Cochrane’s The Story of the Hundred Promises, a lovely fairy-tale retelling.
Let’s not let this next generation of ridiculous, fun, incredible weirdo kids down.