I became Facebook friends with a lawyer and activist named Zoe Dolan after watching a heartfelt video on YouTube of her discussing her journey as a transgender woman. A recent post reads: “That moment when you haven’t talked about being transgender for a long time and out-of-the-blue someone seeks advice and you say, ‘I would not recommend it unless there is truly no other option and you are prepared to be considered by most people as a second-class human being for the rest of your life’—and suddenly you are right back on the bathroom floor in Cairo, Egypt, weeping because you cannot touch your own body in the shower anymore and you scream, ‘I don’t care if it means I’m alone forever.’” I appreciated her bravery; it cannot be easy.
Local transgender woman and activist Jenny Seibert says: “They’ve made lab mice transgender simply by altering their brains. It’s a brain thing. I was born a male with a female brain.”
People have argued that it’s a choice, but there is scientific evidence that proves it’s something you’re born with. Still, people hold strongly to their beliefs, brushing away the evidence and calling it an agenda. And some, who publicly and adamantly fight against rights for the LGBT community, are caught participating in sexually alternative behavior, behavior they themselves deemed deviant, suggesting that repression and fear are the driving factors of the anger directed toward the LGBT community. Regardless, being transgender can be dangerous and often leads to violence (perpetrated by the intolerant) and suicide.
Many transgenders are afraid and in need of support, and that is why Seibert fights. In her blog, she writes, “In every way that actually matters, transgender people are exactly like everyone else. But we are different enough in things that matter very little, that we are excluded and stigmatized, abused and brutalized. There may not be a group of people more marginalized in our society.”
Despite the difficulties of daily life, Seibert is quick to laugh. She says, “I see the absurdity in things including the transgender experience. And laughter relieves stress. Not too long ago I was in excruciating pain (she was eventually diagnosed with polycythemia vera) and I damn near died. But, I’m now pain free and alive and that makes me happy.” She is also who she always has been—a female.
Seibert grew up near Cut Bank, Montana, where she was more drawn to little girl toys and she professed early on that she wanted to be Marilyn Monroe, not yet understanding that was not “normal.” At the age of 8 or 9, Seibert’s father sat her down. “I will not have a queer for a son,” he said. While Seibert wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, shame became a constant and her mother was tasked with teaching her how boys behaved. Her life became that of learned behavior and acquired tastes. Seibert rarely fit in with her peers and had few friends. Other than the patience of her mother, her childhood hobby of reading encyclopedias cover-to-cover was perhaps one of her saving graces. Still, she harbors no ill will toward her father. In her blog, she explains, “He saved my life by demanding male behavior from me. It was northern Montana in the ’70s, after all. Had I openly acted as I knew myself to be, I probably would not have lived past junior high school.”
Seibert went on to marry and father six children. She was an officer of the U.S. Treasury in Idaho for 13 years, a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley and Waddell and Reed, and an enrolled agent representing taxpayers to the IRS. And then she got sick. Alone, broke, tired, and in pain, she hit rock bottom, living in a barn behind a church in Idaho for 18 months where the barn’s smell brought her back to her youth.
“I would pull my mother’s clothes from the clothesline and wear them in the barn on our property. I was always terrified of getting caught but I simply could not resist. How absurd is that? When I was living in the barn in Idaho, the smell reminded me every day of my childhood shame.” And, just like that, she was born (again) in a barn, deciding, after finding through research that she was not “crazy,” to become who she was meant to be and she began the process of transitioning. “I figured I didn’t have a whole lot of time to live so I made the decision to find peace and meaning in my life—for myself and others.”
She moved to Spokane and became active in the LGBT community (locally and in Idaho). She volunteers and sits on boards of an array of organizations including Add the Words Idaho, PFLAG in both CDA and Spokane, Idaho Pride Alliance, Out Spokane, Our Revolution Washington, Spokane County Democrats, and the Bernie Sanders campaign, through which she became the first transgender person to introduce a presidential candidate. Recently, weaving through the streets of downtown Spokane, she waved at crowds from the back of a pink convertible in the Pride Parade as one of the grand marshals. “After the parade, more than one teen approached me to thank me for being an inspiration, which makes it all worth it.”
Now, every day in the life of Seibert is all about being true to herself and helping others do the same—freely and without fear or shame. “For most of my life I thought that I was crazy. I seriously did, and that is a great burden to bear,” she says. “If I do have a bias, it is because I can relate to people who were excluded, brutalized, and hunted to the point of extinction. America, you are never going to be great until you are a great place for everyone.”
She laughs at the absurdity of how quick people are to stifle, even destroy, that which they do not understand. Though she is happy, she knows there is a lot of work to be done. “I hope the time will come when people don’t have to be afraid to be authentic.”
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