When I was three my parents divorced. After that, some of my fondest memories are when my mom and I lived alone in a poor community for a few years behind a pizza joint in College Station, Texas. We had fun there. My mom had this super loud CD stereo system at the time. She would put on Wynonna Judd or Bonnie Raitt, all of our problems would fade away, and together we’d sing our hearts out in that broken alley to the strong smells of marinara and cheese. Molto buono. No matter what our financial situation was, my mother always made me feel loved and happy.
Fast forward twelve years. My mom, my stepfather, Jim Carrington (a man I’ve grown to love who has always appreciated me for who I am), and I had moved to Corvallis, Oregon. At sixteen I decided to come out to my family as a gay man.
That experience in itself is so hard. The first step, and arguably the hardest part in coming out, is admitting it to yourself. I went through a lot of personal struggle and pain as a fifteen to sixteen year old boy. It kept me up at night, and I cried a lot in secret.
My mom and my stepdad and all of their family have always celebrated my coming out. So supportive. So loving. So inspiring.
But my father, who has remained in Texas, is different. He had a completely negative reaction to my coming out as a gay man. He didn’t like it, and he voiced it rather clearly and hurtfully. Regardless, I continued to learn how to love my new self, and appreciate me. I still hoped that he would come around, and I prayed that he would remember no matter who I choose to love as a partner, I will always be his son, Jason.
I wished for that, but that wish never came. After a lot of family politics, my father and I eventually broke apart. I hoped and pleaded for several years that he would change his perspective, and might finally understand that I was still a “man”, as he had regarded it and so strongly urged for. But unfortunately that acceptance never came.
My senior year in college was hard. I was studying and working my asshole off. I was getting two hours of sleep a night. I drank to keep up with good friends. My apartment was a wreck. But I believed in my major — Advertising. My greatest professor at the University of Oregon, Deborah Morrison, taught me how to love my craft and use it to better our world. That meant a lot to me, and I worked extremely hard to prove I was creative and strategic enough to land a job in New York after college.
I was inspired. I was happy. I was motivated. But I had a lot of baggage that I felt was holding me back in life: my father’s name — Laird. I didn’t like it. His name haunted me because I never felt like I could live up to it after all the negative anti-gay outbursts he had yelled at me. He was very vocal about hating who I’d become because I’m gay, and he couldn’t understand it.
I spent a lot of years crying. Wishing he would come around. I grew up for 15 years in the Pacific Northwest, and he didn’t come to visit me. But at some point I couldn’t continue letting his negativity rule my life. I realized my future would always be determined by my own choices, not his. So eventually I dropped him from my life, as well as his last name, in favor of my mother’s maiden name — Murray. The Murrays had always loved me for who I was, gay and all. I knew that in order to get to New York I had to deal with all of my baggage before I got there, and my mother really helped me fix all of it.
I filled out paperwork. I went to court. Filled out more paperwork. Went back to court. Filled out more paperwork. Went back to court. I was forced to explain to the judge why I no longer wanted my asshole father’s name. It was a brutal and frankly humiliating process. But in the end, it worked out. My name was finally changed from Jason Kyle Laird to Jason Kyle Murray, and it felt beautiful. I was a new person. Whole. Happy. Ready for anything.
I graduated and got a job in New York, like I had dreamed. Since then I’ve focused my life around growing, and giving back to the people who’ve helped me get where I am today, while also familiarizing myself to Brooklyn and Manhattan (which is no small feat, believe me).
So…now, why this relates to politics:
It’s primary season. Elections. Important. After living in New York for nine months I decided it was time to turn in my Oregon license and get a New York one. I went to the DMV, filled out all the crap paperwork, registered to vote in the state, and turned in my Oregon ID for a paper NY one. Two weeks later my new ID arrived in the mail. Jason Kyle Murray. Seeing my new-ish name on a different, and much better designed, state ID reassured me of the strong identity I had fought for in the courts of Oregon. I was liberated.
Fast forward to today. It’s six days before the NY primary. I’m a Democrat (like most gays), and I’m very involved in the election process. I’ve read a lot of articles previous to this week about “disenfranchised voters”, and how frustrating the voting process has been for a lot of people thus far in this election.
Yesterday I received my voter’s registration confirmation in the mail. It was addressed to Jason K Laird. Unfortunately, they clearly duplicated my old name from my voter registration card in Oregon, since that was my name last time I voted for Obama; even though I filled out a voter’s registration card when I applied for my new license at the New York DMV.
I can’t describe to you how that felt, having moved cross-country, almost a year after all the legal changes, to receive mail addressed to someone who personally I’ve worked so hard to forget. It hurt, and frankly I was confused when I ripped open the letter’s contents. I cried when I read it.
I’ve been through a lot of legal turmoil in the past year. I’m really thankful to finally be a Murray. My signature is even different now. I practiced “Jason K Murray” before it was even legal; I felt empowered every time I signed it before the judge legalized it.
I had to call the New York Board of Elections today and explain to them why I’m no longer Jason K Laird.
This is the BS people are talking about. Disenfranchised voters. This is why people can’t, or aren’t, allowed to vote. Because of BS things like “your ID doesn’t match our records”. Luckily my passport still says Jason K Laird, because I’ve been too lazy to pay (yet another fee) to replace it. I mentioned to the man on the phone today, a representative for the New York Board of Elections, that my current passport is still registered as “Jason K Laird” because of money reasons. He said, in a thick Brooklyn accent, “Oh, thank god! Make sure you bring that on Primary Day! The books have been printed already, so you’re still Jason K Laird to them. If they ask for your ID give them your old passport that you said you’ve still got. You’ll definitely be able to vote with that.”
So apparently I’m voting this 2016 New York Democratic Primary as Jason K Laird. A man who I’ve tried hard to forget. I’ve built a new life. He is my past, and he is even legally, in the eyes of the (non-inept) government, technically not my present. I thought New York was all about changing one’s future, but apparently as a voter I’m still bound to someone I used to be. Disenfranchised.
My name is Jason Kyle Murray. I’m a 24 year old Democrat, I’m an openly gay Art Director.