A Letter to Pauli Murray, the Queer Icon

I’ve had to search for pockets of this world that lovingly include people like us

Jasper "Jaz" Joyner
Queerly Trans
Published in
4 min readApr 7, 2022


Black and white photo of Pauli Murray in a cluttered office. Pauli sits at a desk with a pen writing on paper in front of several shelves and cabinets behind them. They wear a jacket over a sweater and have short hair and glasses.
Carolina Digital Library and Archives (Photographer Unknown): “Pauli Murray (1910–1985)”

Dear Mx. Pauli Murray,

I often wonder what you were like in your childhood. What were your dreams like, and did you ever remember them? How often did you wonder if maybe God made a mistake, or did you even believe in God?

I wonder if your parents understood you and if they were supportive. Was it their support that gave you the strength to be so open about your truth in a time where no one spoke of gender freedom? Was it in spite of them, or unrelated altogether?

I think of you often, Mx. Murray. I wonder how you’d feel about me using “Mx” to address you. All anyone knew when you were here was Mister and Misses. Did either title feel true?

Would you smile at the thought that we can address each other like this now? Roll your eyes? Laugh?

I understand you believed you had a hormonal imbalance. That perhaps you had submerged male organs. I thought that, too. I can only imagine how you might have felt when, and if, the results came back.

As a teen, I almost almost gathered the courage to ask my mother to have me tested. To see if I might be intersex. I was too afraid. Instead, I lived in a sort of painful ignorance for years thereafter, until I found my way without the need for any scientific conclusion.

Not an ignorance about my organs, though that’s a whole other can of worms, an inner knowing — almost spiritual defiance. One that I wonder if you felt, too. That you must create yourself in your own image, outside of what societal myths make space for.

I’ve had to search for pockets of this world that lovingly include people like us because as you showed, we were always here.

When you were here, no one knew that your body doesn’t have to indicate anything specific for you to know you’re the gender you are. I had the privilege to know this because people like you paved the way.

You, Mx. Murray, lived out loud, as loudly as you could without having so-called societal truths affirm yours.

We’ll never have a chance to meet in this life. But you’ve changed my life more than you know. I look at your story and I feel freedom. I feel liberated. I feel this overwhelming sense of pride in the legacy you helped create, simply by existing. And I know it wasn’t simple.

I can only imagine what it was like to be someone like me during a time not even white gay men were accepted in the United States. Still, you stood firmly. You searched for answers where there were none and you persisted anyway. It seems in so many ways that your life was a perpetual fight.

I hope you have peace now. I hope you rest now, knowing you were right.

Everything you believed about yourself was true. Everything you questioned about where you fit in this world was warranted because society got you wrong. They didn’t have the language for your identity then, but you knew.

You are proof that we can be, with or without external affirmation.

I hope that you felt at least some moments of freedom. I hope you experienced love in its purest form. I hope you knew people who understood you. Who saw you, truly saw you, in all your color and resistance.

My sister is an elementary school teacher. She told me several of her students go by genders different from the ones they were assigned at birth, and their classmates have no issue addressing them as such. This is what 2021 looks like. I know, very different from 1940 and before.

Surprisingly, even very different from the year 2000. It made me smile to know this. I hope you’d smile knowing this, too.

Here’s to you Mx. Murray, for being yourself out loud even when there were no words to describe you. You lived outside the lines, without example, therefore creating a lifesaving example for all who came after you, that we could exist as ourselves and thrive.

Thank you.



Award-winning documentary My Name Is Pauli Murray (2021) is streaming on Amazon Studios now.



Jasper "Jaz" Joyner
Queerly Trans

Jasper (they/them) is a humorist and author from tha south. | https://linktr.ee/jasperjoyner