Monday, March 3, 2008

Gwen Araujo lives on

Sitting on the runway out of Seattle last night, I wasn't looking to talk to the passenger next to me. I had my headphones on. I was tuning everything out. I felt impatient. We were running late. I was ready to get home. The woman next to me was trying to make small talk and I was responding in short clips, wondering if she noticed my headphones. Cue for don't talk to me. But there was something about her, something open and authentic and compelling---and persistent. As it turns out, she was Gwen Araujo's mom.

Sylvia and I talked the whole way home, two-plus hours, about Gwen's life that was cut too short, about Sylvia's own work as an activist, about the many lives she's been able to touch in the five years since Gwen's brutal murder. Sylvia travels the country talking to teens and young adults and parents about compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance.

I've felt incredibly lucky to work with my authors who have given me insight into the complexity of living as a trans person, and hearing Sylvia's stories about Gwen nearly made me tear up at times. I asked if Gwen made a conscious choice to "pass" as female, and Sylvia's passionate response was that disclosing her gender identity shouldn't have fallen on her as a given in every social situation. She was only 17 years old, trying to figure out how to navigate this totally huge and complex thing on her own. Sylvia spoke to how little support there is for teens who know they're trans (despite the relative progress we've made in supporting gay and lesbian teens). The trans community is monumentally more maligned. Can you imagine trying to negotiate that as a teenager? Gwen started transitioning when she was just 14.

Gwen's death prompted recognition for how horribly off the "Gay Panic" defense is, and in 2006, Schwarzenegger signed into law A.B. 1160, also known as the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, which disallows this as a defense. Thank god.

Check out the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education and donate. They need the money, and it's such an important cause.

Sylvia touched my heart last night, in a time and a space when I was specifically not looking to be touched. She said that Gwen is with her, and that the energy force she puts out is the force of two people---her and Gwen. I believe that, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to listen and share and learn. And for Sylvia's continued efforts. And for growing awareness. And for everyone who's working to effect change in our communities and promote understanding.


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