Trans and Republican: Not a Contradiction

 Jennifer Williams with Congressman Issa Mulls | Photo contributed by Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams with Congressman Issa Mulls | Photo contributed by Jennifer Williams

“Wait, are you a Republican? Because you are so nice!” It’s a common reaction when Jennifer Williams, Chairwoman of the Trenton Republican Committee, interacts with the urban Democrat voters who are the majority in her district. They’re even more shocked to find out she is a transgender woman.

More than ever, Americans are locked in stereotypes of one another. We interact with straw men instead of living and breathing human beings. The only way forward is to form relationships with the people we disagree with—not surface level connections, but intimate ones that span various spheres of life. Reagan’s proverb is even more important today:“My 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy.”

Jennifer loves Ronald Reagan, supports lower corporate tax rates, is an NRA member, and wants to see a strong military response to ISIS.  “Jimmy Carter turned me Republican,” Jennifer said as she recounted her memory of the Iranian hostage crisis.

There is much to agree on with her colleagues on the right side of the aisle, but she is working to improve the party’s inclusivity of LGBT people. The issue resonates with her, because she is the first openly transgender woman municipal chair in the country and made history last year attending the RNC as a delegate. She is a strong advocate for transwomen to be present in politics and, as she says, “reintroduce themselves to the community. There are so many myths out there, we have to stand up and become our own best advocates.”

Jennifer’s story spoke to me as I, too, am a transgender woman. Returning to The King’s College in New York City, a conservative Christian college, was not an easy decision to make after deciding to transition in 2016. But I knew I had to go back, because the trans community is defined by the Jerry Springer stereotype and the only way for me to change perceptions was to continue to invest in the community I cared so much about.

“The eyes just blow up,” Jennifer laughed, “when I disclose to conservative colleagues that I’m trans. They make judgement on our lives and liberty based off of stereotypes.”

Before I transitioned, I was active in the school community. I lead campus tours, participated in student leadership, and was an active member in my assigned academic House. When I returned to the school, I was unable to participate in many of the activities I loved. Houses were designated based on sex and the college could not recognize my transition. I successfully changed my passport, driver’s license, and underwent a medical evaluation—all declaring me female. Then I was required to provide a note from a surgeon, something I would never do out of principle. It shows you just how firm the boxes we define each other with are.

Categories are important for life. Not all of us fight for a world without distinctions, obscure pronouns, and fluid self-identification. Many of us have been quite stable in our identification from at least puberty, when we began to feel very uncomfortable. But there is still much misunderstanding of those who, like me, have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a medical condition that can be crippling.

“The eyes just blow up,” Jennifer laughed, “when I disclose to conservative colleagues that I’m trans. They make judgement on our lives and liberty based off of stereotypes.”

I have experienced this as well when my college hosted a debate on transgender bathrooms. The day of the debate I was off-campus working at my part time job when my phone exploded with messages. I thought a family member died. The students thought I would be offended by the motion, and eventually the debate was cancelled. It took me months and multiple one-on-one conversations to let my community know that I supported academic freedom and saw the university as a place where controversial ideas should be debated.

We need to see people for the complex and diverse beings that they are. Identifying as a conservative, Christian, transgender Republican is a lonely road. People in the trans community attack my beliefs and people in the church question my faith. It feels like a losing battle on both sides sometimes.

Listening is a great place to start. Before the election of President Trump, I used to talk with my Uber drivers about their feelings on the presidential campaigns. Most of my drivers were young immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Egypt, and South America. I wanted to see if their feelings matched the media portrayal. Frequently I was shocked. A man in his late 20s from the Dominican Republic was actually sympathetic to Trump. He had waited four years to get his green card and was working toward his citizenship. He didn’t think it was fair that others could cut the line and not pay the consequences. We make decisions on how people should think, feel, or believe based off of our snap judgments. We need to remember that people are complex, their views are not uniform, and nothing is black and white.

Washington politics has always been a partisan game, but our communities are much more fractured than in the past. To remedy our polarized communities, we need to keep Reagan's words in mind: “My 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy.” If you listen long enough there is a chance you will find some common ground to start from.

The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College