When We Are Silenced: Rural LGBTQ Montananson April 14th, 2016 at 6:40 am
April 15 is National Day of Silence—an annual day of action to spread awareness of bullying and harassment against the LGBTQ community. I spoke with one of my Leadership Action Team members, Acton Seibel, to learn more about his experience holding multiple identities in a rural state, and the times when he has been silenced or made to feel invisible for who he is.
Please describe an experience in which you were forced to “silence” a part of you.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to settle on just one experience. I’m a transgender person of color, who is perceived as male, in a predominantly white town in rural Montana. I catch myself wondering which carries more weight—being trans or being a person of color.
Not long ago, I was walking my dog through the back alley of our block around six in the morning, and it was still dark out. I wore a black hoodie with the hood on. Walking along, I noticed that my neighbor left his garage door open, probably all night, with bikes worth a few thousand dollars in plain sight. I stood in front of that damn garage for a full minute debating whether or not I should go into his garage and close the door.
And you know what I thought?
I thought: if someone caught me in there I could be arrested, or worse, shot. And then I contemplated what would be worse: getting arrested and being a trans man in the local jail, or being shot because I’m a black man in a white man’s garage? I ended up sending my neighbor a text alerting him that his garage door was open, hoping his bikes would still be there by the time he read it.
What has your personal experience been like as a transgender man in rural Montana?
It may seem silly, but my experience as a trans person in a rural Montana can be summed up by a story about how a group of transgender and gender non-conforming friends and I went “doctor shopping.”
Surprisingly, there were not a lot of doctors willing to provide care for us in the town that we lived in back in the early 2000s. So, we “doctor shopped.”
There was no list of trans, let alone LGB, inclusive healthcare providers. We called dozens of clinics and doctors, even outing ourselves in-person to ask them if they would be willing to treat us. When I tell this story to people from urban areas, they are dumbfounded in two ways. They are amazed that we had the tenacity to go through such a process and angered that we were, most of the time, turned away.
Who have been surprising allies in the work toward full lived and/or legal equality?
One of the most surprising allies I’ve had in the work toward full lived and legal equality is my boss. A while back, I outed myself to him during my probationary period, meaning my company could have fired me for any reason with no recourse.
I outed myself because I couldn’t bear to work for a company that couldn’t deal with me being trans. I wanted to be with a company that would call me by my preferred pronouns, change my name on my paperwork, and not discriminate against me because of these requests.
When I outed myself, my boss only had two questions. He asked if I was quitting to which I said no, and whether I was happy, to which I said yes. We don’t always agree on everything, but on this topic, he has shown me the respect and consideration that everyone deserves and should expect.
What is an example of microaggressions* you have experienced from the LGBTQ community?
One of the most profound microaggressions I have experienced was during a local LGBT fundraising event. This guy approached me and asked me if I “used to be a girl.” I told him that was “pretty rude,” to which he replied that he thought that I was handsome and that if I was a “real” man, he would totally have sex with me.
I froze and looked into his eyes, unable to say anything. I was extremely offended and hurt.
There are more stories of microaggressions that I could share, but this one sticks around like a bad taste in my mouth. Moments later, he walked up to me again and said it was “all a joke,” but it was not a joke to me. I have heard this line of thinking far too often. I was prepared for non-LGBT people to judge me, but I wasn’t prepared to have my intimate, queer body and my sex life judged by someone from my own community.
*Microaggressions are commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial or gender slights and insults.
Describe the importance of chosen family/community as a trans person in rural Montana?
I don’t know how to express in words on a page how important and life-affirming my chosen family/community has been for me. When I describe it, it turns into a eulogy of the people who came before me—those I was lucky enough to know, love, and learn from.
My chosen family/community are the gay men who survived the AIDS crisis and those who didn’t, my grandmother who left her abusive husband and worked for Planned Parenthood, the dykes who busted cattle and operated heavy machinery, the sex workers and queers making money on the Hi-Line, the black cowboys who came into town every Saturday night to go dancing. They had names like, Jack, John, Peaches, and Victor; Donna, Beryl, and Traci, Larry, Mary, and Mitch.
Don’t get me wrong: my current and present family/community are alive and well, but I don’t know where I’d be without lighting a candle for those who came before me, for those who loved me during a time when I couldn’t love myself.
Do you have any funny stories related to your identity as a transgender person?
Years ago when I first started transitioning, my mother asked me how I was doing with all of the “changes” I was going through. I jokingly bragged to her that I was getting huge because of all the testosterone I was taking and all of the heavy lifting I was doing at work.
In actuality, I was probably only 150 pounds at the time.
That Christmas, my mother sent me a massive package. Inside, there was a note that read, “Stuff to keep you warm,” and inside were two flannel jackets and five sweaters—all sized extra-large.
Thankfully, she included the receipt. I was able to exchange everything for the correct size, but I never had the heart to tell her that testosterone and lifting things does not, in fact, cause you to double in size.
Kim Leighton is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana. Email Kim.