I certainly never thought I’d walk the runway at a professional fashion show. I’ve always been a policy wonk, but when Opening Ceremony approached me about participating in their creative idea for this year’s New York Fashion Week, I decided to jump out of my comfort zone and onto the catwalk.
The concept was simple, but still a unique departure from the traditional fashion show set up. Opening Ceremony, and its lead designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lin, decided that amidst the toxic conversation that permeates our current political discourse, they would use their platform to host a “Pageant of the People,” celebrating the diversity of America and discussing some of the issues at the forefront of the presidential race.
In addition to the 30 or so models who walked the runway, I joined with several prominent women, including Rashida Jones, Natasha Lyonne, Aubrey Plaza, Rowan Blanchard and Whoopi Goldberg, to answer questions pageant-style from the evening’s hosts Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. Over the course of the evening, these women discussed refugees, immigration, and feminism, among other issues.
Me with the other non-model participants in Opening Ceremony’s Pageant of the People
Admittedly I was nervous. I was a bit of a fish out of water and, all through rehearsals, imagined that I would be the person – that person – who trips on my dress while on the runway.
Fortunately, I made it through the walk and met Carrie and Fred mid-stage for my question. Fred asked me, “What does it mean to be an American?” I answered:
“To me, being an American is an action, it’s an ideal to strive. It’s being part of this constantly perfection union that with each generation expands our still-too-limited understanding of ‘We the People.’ Four years ago, I came out as transgender and, at the time, I worried that my dreams and my identity were mutually exclusive. But things are changing. And we must never be a country that says there’s only one way to love, only way to look, and only way to live. We must be a country where everyone has the freedom to live openly and equally. A country that says that you can be gay, you can be trans, you can be a woman, you can be black, you can be Muslim, you can be anything that this society says is mutually exclusive with dreaming big dreams, that you can be any and all of those things and still be seen, still be valued, and still be respected as the equal humans we all are.”
And that is what the work of HRC and the movement for LGBTQ equality is about. It’s about making sure that we pursue this ideal and build a country where every person can live their lives to the fullest.
This isn’t my typical speaking opportunity, but I believe in transgender visibility and hoped to utilize the moment to underscore that trans people are part of the beauty of America, worthy of support and celebration.
For HRC’s transgender visibility resource guide, visit http://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-visibility-guide.