Transgender activist Sarah McBride joined The Young Folks following the publication of her book, Tomorrow Will Be Different.
Sarah, thanks for joining The Young Folks today. How are things treating you?
Sarah McBride: Thanks so much for speaking with me! I’m doing well. I’m still in the middle of my book tour, exhausted, but empowered!
I think it’s fair to say that we both know how terrifying it can be to come out (Election Night 2015!)—and I had it really tough with coming out within the Orthodox Jewish community. Were there any surprises in the reaction you got?
Sarah McBride: Yes! It’s very scary. I think, for me, the biggest surprise was that the sky didn’t fall when I came out. I had built up coming out in my mind so much over the previous 21 years. As scared as I was to tell my parents that I’m transgende
r, I never feared they would reject me. I knew they would struggle with my news, but that, at the end of the day, they would be supportive. With their support, I knew I could deal with any other response from anyone else. And fortunately, I was lucky that practically ever response was affirming.
When you think back on your coming out to your family, how much did it help to have a gay brother?
Sarah McBride: Sean, my oldest brother, came out as gay about ten years before I came out as transgender. In many ways, he was my guardian angel through both my coming out and, as a radiation oncologist, through my late husband’s cancer. I knew that my coming out would be very different than my brother’s coming out. When he came out as gay, my parents had a reference point for what it means to be gay and that a person can be gay and still be fulfilled, loved and safe. My parents didn’t have that reference point for transgender people when I came out. So on one level, the comfort with having a gay son didn’t quite translate to having a transgender daughter.
But in having another LGBTQ person in the family, Sean became an ally and helpful support in the early days of endless conversations with my parents. Sean, as both a gay man and medical professional, could kind of help take some of the burden off of me in explaining everything to my parents.
In what ways did you manage dysphoria in the years before you came out?
Sarah McBride: For a while, I was pretty good at compartmentalizing. I told myself that if I could make it worthwhile for other people for me to stay in the closet – by making a different in the world and making my family proud – that those things would bring me the completeness I lacked. That rationalizing away the dysphoria was possible so long as I believed the hope that something else could compensate for a life not lived. But of course, you can’t compensate for that and, eventually, you realize that the only way to bring wholeness is to be whole.
What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the transgender community today?
Sarah McBride: There are so many issues, its impossible to narrow it down to just one. I think, to me, two of the biggest issues facing the trans community are the, one, lack of clear protections from discrimination for LGBTQ people in a majority of states and at the federal level. LGBTQ people, and particularly transgender people, remain at high risk of being fired from a job, kicked out of a home, or denied services simply because of who they are.
The second major challenge, and the most urgent, is the epidemic of violence facing the trans community. 2017 was deadliest year on record for the transgender community. At least 28 transgender people, mostly trans women of color, were murdered. We need the public and our policymakers to acknowledge this violence for the crisis that it is.
The Oscars took place on March 4th. There were two films, Strong Island and A Fantastic Woman, nominated this year that had transgender people playing a prominent role. Yance Ford directed Strong Island while Daniela Vega had a starring role in Chile’s nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. What does this say about progress for the transgender community?
Sarah McBride: Increasingly, we are seeing transgender people reach previously unimaginable heights in entertainment, business, and politics. This year’s Oscars and the win for Fantastic Woman reflected the growing reality that trans voices are being welcomed and celebrated throughout society. We still have a long way to go, but the fact that so many around this country were celebrating Daniela and her role or Danica Roem’s win in Virginia demonstrates how far we’ve come.
You mention in your book having a strong interest in film while helping out on Matt Denn’s campaign for Delaware Insurance Commissioner. Any chance of a Sarah McBride documentary in the years to come?
Sarah McBride: Haha, who knows! I’ll tell you what, if this advocacy and political work doesn’t work out, I’d jump back *behind* a camera in a heartbeat.
While the 2018 midterms are a big priority for the Democratic Party, who would you like to see run for president in 2020?
Sarah McBride: You’re trying to get me in trouble! There are so many great potential candidates, from Joe Biden to Kamala Harris to Kirsten Gillibrand to Sherrod Brown and so many others. Whomever runs, I want them to articulate a vision that rejects the false distinction between “economic” issues and “social” issues.” Too often that distinction allows us to deprioritize issues of the utmost importance. People need change on all fronts.
What’s the biggest message that you want people to take away from reading your book?
Sarah McBride: I hope that in reading this book people understand a simple fact: transgender people are, quite simply, people. We love and laugh, hope and dream, fear and cry just like everyone else. And I want people, through understanding that point, to feel the urgency behind these challenges. Because every time we ask a trans person – or anyone for that matter – to sit back and allow for a slow conversation to take place before we treat them with respect, we are asking that person to watch their one life pass by without the dignity and fairness that every person deserves. That is too much to ask of anyone.
Thanks again for your time, congrats again on the book, and enjoy the book tour!
Sarah McBride: Thank you!
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and The Fight for Trans Equality is available wherever books are sold.