Trans explosion

By LISA BUNKER  |  October 26, 2011

Maine's trans population is too thinly scattered and in some cases too wary of publicity to comprise an effective lobby, so EQME's organizing chops were crucial in defeating the legislation. To use myself as an example: I first learned about LD 1046 because I am on the organization's e-mail list from back when I canvassed for "No On 1," then there was a phone bank I could help at, and then a series of strategy meetings, and then the opportunity to go to Augusta to testify . . . all orchestrated by EQME. And I wasn't the only one. Dozens of trans folk from all over Maine testified at the hearing.

Ultimately, in a twist of novelistic neatness, the defeat of LD 1046 came back down to the power of personal narrative — in fact, one of the same trans-stories that had sparked it. Nicole, the trans girl at the heart of the Orono case (she is now 13), and her father worked the halls of the State House for days, lobbying individual lawmakers, bringing them face to face with the vulnerable and moving reality of trans experience. "Her courage was unmatched," says Vander Zanden.


Supportive connections

Another illustration of the evolution of trans in Maine is the birth and swift growth of Maine Trans Net, the state's first and so far only statewide trans-support organization. Maine Trans Net was founded by Alex Roan, a trans man, in 2007, after his online searches for local support and information during his own gender transition proved mostly fruitless. There were a few trans groups, he says, but they were small and informal — "pockets of friends." Other than that, nothing. So he created a website, mainetransnet.org. It featured some basic trans information (see sidebar, "Trans 101") and a list of local resources and links. He also started a support group that met once a month.

Roan had discovered an unmet need. Trans people all around Maine started e-mailing him. He began traveling the state doing "Trans 101" trainings for students in the social-service fields, health-care providers, and members of faith communities. More and more people came to the support group. The organization acquired office space, a board of directors, and an intern. In 2009, Maine Trans Net hosted a trans conference at the University of Southern Maine; 140 people came. In 2010, the count jumped to 170. This year the number of monthly meetings has increased to four: three in Portland (including one just for allies), and one in Bangor. Meetings now routinely have 20 or more participants, with new faces showing up all the time.

Roan has seen dozens of times how information and community help trans folk through the same struggle he faced. "What helps," he says, "is meeting other trans people and talking to them about their experiences, and discovering that we are like any group of people, and discovering, there's no reason why I can't do this." I can corroborate this insight from personal experience. Maine Trans Net was one of the first resources I found online after my gender revelation in late 2008, and when I finally worked up the courage to attend the support group, I found exactly what I needed: acceptance without judgment and answers to my thousand questions. Without the support of this organization and the many friends I have made through it, my trans experience would definitely have been harder and darker.

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