“Become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.” — Lady Bird Johnson
This is one of my boss’s (Wendy Davis) favorite quotes — she even named her memoir after it. Wendy talks about how Lady Bird’s words helped her overcome her terrible shyness and gain the courage to speak at state dinners and other important functions. I can tell you that “shy” is probably the last adjective anyone would use to describe my attributes, and I could probably use some help reining in my speech in any sort of social setting… so the quote never really held much weight for me. Friday changed that, and my whole life really.
If you ask folks who know me, “fearless” would be a more likely descriptor for my personality. I didn’t notify my parents when I contracted dengue fever as a 20-year-old living in Brazil because I didn’t want to worry them. I moved to Angola once to live with a guy that, frankly, I didn’t even know that well. I mobilized protestors to a trial in South Africa to represent a sex worker against the vested interests of a powerful (read: rich) artist, who was eventually proven to be her murderer. So when Wendy asked me to move to Texas — arguably the most hostile state to the rights of marginalized people, to help get a start-up nonprofit off the ground that would help give voice to those voiceless — I brushed it off, even skipping the opportunity to fly down here first to evaluate the scene. No biggie; sign me up.
But, as in most situations (*cough* Trump.), fear often masquerades as false bravado. I’ve spent the last 10 months urging young advocates to be vulnerable, to share their stories and bring light to the issues plaguing society, when I had an unresolved piece of me pushed deep in the shadows. One that very, very few people knew about but many people experienced — in my reluctance to get too close with most men in my life, in my decision to drink (often too much)… those who know me probably have more to add.
I hate that all of our politicians are driven by fear, rather than compassion and understanding, but I was unwilling to be compassionate with or understand myself. That is until I read Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele’s story in Vogue, and realized it was time for me to practice what I preach.
Reading about not just any person, but a total badass, who was born with a similar “condition” and still managed to get married and attain major success, gave me the courage to face my own demons and sort out my own complicated feelings toward myself. Understanding how much her story meant to me, I talked to Wendy about how I could best bite the bullet and use my story to attempt to help pay it forward. The conservative legislators of Texas (bless them.) gave me the perfect opportunity, only a bit sooner than planned.
When the GOP re-filed their discriminatory “bathroom bill” to prevent transgender persons from using the bathroom that best matches their gender, based on the biological sex written on their birth certificate, I couldn’t take it sitting down. So I decided to stand up for my trans allies:
Unable to express the value of my own existence in a two minute time-limit (I mean, who can…), I also submitted the written testimony below.
Madam Chairperson and Members of the Committee,
My name is Alicia Weigel, I am a resident of Austin, the Director of a gender equality nonprofit, and I have XY chromosomes. I stand here today representing the I in LGBTQIA in the hopes that, because I look more gender-“normal” in the current societal conception of what that means, you might hear my words in a different light. Any discrimination stems from a lack of understanding, after all.
I stands for Intersex. Because of a condition called Complete Androgen Insensitivity, I was born phenotypically female, with a “woman’s” anatomy on the outside, but internal testes instead of ovaries — that were subsequently removed as to not become “pre-cancerous”. This practice is now heavily contested only 27 years later, in light of the exponential advancement of modern medicine, as it is a remnant of this still present gender “ideal”, and wanting to “normalize” children from birth to avoid a life of hardship and shame.
While I find it absurd that I have to disclose my anatomical history to a room of complete strangers, legislators no less, that makes me feel more compelled to do so. Because while I’ll unfortunately never bear children, I am extremely privileged to have been born in a way that my discrepancy from the gender “norm” is not immediately apparent — not worn on my sleeve — and that has saved me much persecution up to this point.
I can tell you that I am very much a woman. Not that every woman — or any race, or any group of people — has any particular tendency, I paint my toenails, I read US Weekly. My mom will tell you I refused to wear pants as a kid, insisting on only purple or pink skirts, and I had way too many Barbies. I help manage Wendy Davis’s nonprofit focused on women’s rights because my experience as a victim of discrimination in the workplace, a survivor of sexual assault, and so much more, bind me to the common plight of what it means to be a woman.
Does that mean that, because of my genotypic XY chromosomes, I’ve been using the wrong bathroom my whole life? No. It means who cares what bathroom I use. If my life experience is equal to that of a female, I should be able to identify as such. And I do… I AM a woman. And regardless of my gender, a bathroom is a bathroom. It’s a place that all humans, regardless of gender, engage in a common activity we unfortunately have not yet evolved out of.
I urge you to reconsider your feelings on what I feel is an extremely harmful piece of legislation. One that tying your name to will, I believe, tarnish your legacy as a legislator. As generations become more accepting of, and adamant about enforcing, civil rights — if not for the betterment of the lives of others you don’t know and may never understand, think of your own families and how you want them to appear in history books.
Please vote no on Senate Bill 3.
When I realized how much was at stake, should this piece of legislation pass — 60,000 jobs, 600,000 already extremely vulnerable people’s sense of safety in their everyday lives — I couldn’t not say something. Based on my own birth certificate (which reads “female” rather than “intersex”, as it does for many with related “conditions”), this bill would not affect me personally. But keeping my story to myself became privilege when my withholding it left others in harm’s way. And as Janet Mock recently asserted, being pretty is a privilege that I could use to help bring new perspective to the conversation.
For the first time, Lady Bird Johnson’s quote made sense. While it hasn’t been easy, telling my family and friends or even admitting to myself what I’d ignored for so long, the ‘thank you’s I’ve received already make it worth it. I can’t claim to speak on behalf of a community of over 150 million worldwide (yes, you read that right — 2% of the global population, the same percentage as has red hair), but I can tell my story as an intersex person to help raise awareness of people who’ve experienced similar struggles to my own. Hopefully I’ll break some of the stigma in the process.
So I’m throwing myself, and my story, into the ring. As so many intersex and trans people ask, please don’t demand any more information from me than you would feel comfortable asking any other person in your life; we are all humans, not biological specimens. I’m honored to share what I can, what I think will further our common cause, and that will surely grow every day. It’s about time that I put the ‘I’ in LGBTQIA+; yes ‘I’ for intersex, but also the first person pronoun: I, Alicia Roth Weigel.
Alicia Weigel is the Director of Strategy and Communications at Deeds Not Words, an advocacy training organization founded by Wendy Davis to equip aspiring activists with tools they need to bring about gender equality. Originally from the Northeast and a former West Coast resident, Alicia is still adjusting to the time-warp that is moving to Texas — but she’s determined to fight for a better future for the state she now calls home.