That fall, over 200,000 people gathered for the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. I couldn’t bring myself to go, but if I’d had the courage to attend, I’d have seen the first public viewing of the AIDS quilt. It was larger than a football field and included 1,920 panels. People with AIDS were pushed past the White House in wheelchairs. (It had taken Ronald Reagan four years in office to mention AIDS publicly two years prior.) By the end of 1987, over 40,000 were dead.
On the Hopkins campus I was a boy. But when the sun went down, I’d pull down the shades of my apartment and change.
I’d look at myself in the mirror. A run-down Joni Mitchell looked back. “This?” I thought. “This is the source of all the trouble?”
Outside, on the other side of the shuttered windows, the cicadas sang.
Seventeen years later, in 2004, George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term. His call during the campaign for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage fired up conservative voters. Eleven states that year passed legislation banning marriage equality. Mr. Bush instead endorsed civil unions, a second-class union of the sort that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 11 years later, would liken to “skim milk.”
Transgender issues were barely on the radar. When I came out as trans, just four years before this, most people didn’t know what I was talking about. In hopes of shedding light, I’d say: “Being gay is about who you go to bed with. Being trans is about who you go to bed as.”
I was living in Maine, teaching at Colby, too far north for Brood X, so I missed the cicadas that year. The only time I heard them was during a summer trip to Philadelphia to see my mother, a conservative Republican woman who, when I’d come out to her as trans, had simply put her arms around me and said, “Love will prevail.”
I told Mom I wanted to write a book about being trans. With a shy, dignified smile, my little mother suggested, “Thanks for the Mammaries.”