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A Transman Meets Dennis Kucinich
by Bet Power
Email: betpower (nospam) yahoo.com
01 Mar 2004
Here is an article about what happened when I met Congressman Dennis Kucinich in Northampton, MA last week. Please vote for Kucinich for President in tommorrow's (3/2) Super Tuesday primary!
A Transman Meets Dennis Kucinich
By Bet Power
I’m still and I’m glowing. I’m still glowing. Here is what happened when I met Dennis Kucinich.
It is February 24, 2004, and Congressman Kucinich (D-OH) comes to my town – Northampton, Massachusetts – to speak at Smith College. He is on the stump for the Democratic Party nomination for the Presidency. It is exactly one week before Super Tuesday. It is also the day Bush launches his bid for re-election by bashing queers over the airwaves. That morning via CNN, Bush pops into my living room and spews hatred with his call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gender-neutral civil marriage. George Wallace Bush is standing in the doorway, inside my own home, blocking my way to freedom this time.
I am a female-to-male transsexual who has chosen a path of no hormones, no surgeries. I live in a female form but I am a man. That evening, I walk quickly towards Smith’s John M. Greene Hall with a body full of feelings. Outrage and hurt because Bush tries to suppress equality and the expansion of civil rights to people like me. I cannot marry a partner I love. This is yet more trouble for me, as I am a white-collar professional beaten down by three years of unemployment under Bush. And then there’s the usual daily weariness, heaviness, discouragement, and fear from watching bad news on big media.
But there’s hope and excitement, too, because I am rushing to experience Dennis Kucinich up close. My plan is to get to the auditorium early to get a good seat. As I enter the front door between the hall’s tall columns, I think about how tired Dennis must be – just in Hawaii that morning, victorious as second-place primary finisher there. Jeez, how the guy gets around! Tonight, he races thousands of miles back east to speak to us here in Massachusetts. Since reading his A Prayer for America speech (http://www.house.gov/kucinich/press/sp-020217-prayer.htm), given two years ago in the House by Dennis after 9-11, I’ve been following this visionary, progressive leader very closely. Comparisons to Seabiscuit run through my mind – I wonder if a hold-back-and-let-loose-at-the-end-of-the-race strategy will work for Kucinich, too. I cannot stand how big media ridicules and ignores him. One thing I know for sure is that faith is really important. Not so long ago, I console myself, Kucinich came out of the gate as one among nine. Now he hopes to close in on the frontrunner candidate in a group of just four.
Inside the packed hall, I find a seat up center front, maybe seven rows from the stage. Already there are hundreds of people assembled. By the time the opening political- musical interlude is done and Dennis takes the stage, more than 2,000 supporters and curious onlookers rise up in standing ovation – raise the rafters with thunderous stomps, cheers, and applause. The old, soft wooden floor is a blessing. It lets me use my feet to ease the repetitive sting of my clapping hands, to sound my approval. As it punctuates Dennis’s speech, the wild resonance of the collective floor stomping reminds me of American town hall meetings of old – and of the raucous British House of Commons. Now, this is democracy. This is freedom. I can hear it, see it, feel it – even touch it.
My neighbors, friends, and fellow community members – both straight and queer – are all gathered here tonight. The house is full – standing room only – vibrant and colorful with leftists, progressives, movers-and-shakers of many stripes and social movements. Among the dignitaries are legendary peace activist Frances Crowe and AFSC’s Jo Comerford. It is thrilling to be present and counted among this legion, and I feel grateful. I pray a little thought that I may open to this experience. I decide to observe Kucinich as closely as I can.
Kucinich is a man with whom I identify, it seems, on all levels. First of all, his values – peace, speaking truth to power, freedom, bravery, and really, all of them – are just like mine. He grew up in abject poverty on the streets of a mid-western inner city, just like me. He struggled to gain his education and rise in a career, ditto. He is in his 50s and twice divorced – my age, too, and how well I know the loss of love. He is a lifelong Democrat of the people who is for the people, gotcha. He is short of stature and slight of build. He is even vegan, as am I. What I come here tonight to learn more about is what-on-earth kind of spiritual power and political know-how propel this man so far forward.
Kucinich is a brilliant, inspirational speaker. His ideas are rich and his vision is high, so it’s sometimes hard to take it all in. He says when he is President, he will put all the important things Bush pushed to the periphery into the center of our lives again – peace, freedom, courage, love, nuclear disarmament, hope, universal healthcare coverage and education, full employment, renewable energy, civil rights and civil liberties for all. He paces the stage, microphone in hand, conversationally quoting FDR, Emerson, Tennyson, and Jung. His remarks are at once political and spiritual; there is almost no separation between the two. Occasionally, his voice rises loudly with passionate emphasis to drive his point home. Here is a guy who has done some serious self-work on a new and improved sort of manhood.
There will be questions from the audience and answers from Dennis when he finishes his speech, we were told. I notice the microphone stand in the aisle near where I am seated. I know I’m going to use it. I have equal civil marriage rights on my mind.
I pull a scrap of paper from the pocket of my leather jacket and scribble out the wording of my question, so I’ll be clear, not nervous, when I do my asking. The fifth of 40 or more people standing in line for the mike, I refuse to yield my place to a young Smith College student who wants to preempt my turn. A campus organizer tells me that there is time for only two more questions and, even though she addresses me correctly, “Sir,” I say to her, “No. I have an LGBT issue to ask Dennis about, and it’s very important since it hasn’t yet been addressed.” I’m feeling my age, my poor/working-class background, and my gender identity and expression during this little scramble, but I stand my ground and detach from the Ivy League privilege that has just demanded I allow it to go in front and replace me.
I scarcely hear questions and answers that come before me and it’s difficult to focus on anything but the sight of the microphone. I’m aware that people are asking Kucinich about war-makers, cuts to art education in schools, and depleted uranium. I keep pulling out my pen from my chest pocket to fine-tune my own question. When the microphone clears and it’s my turn to step forward, I feel myself start to go inside some sort of bright white light. “Congressman Moonbeam,” some call him. No kidding.
I look at the microphone stand before me, near but somehow distant too, while time slips liquid-like and illuminated into deep slow motion. What I am doing up here in full view requires courage. I know it. Can I get a witness? I struggle with closing the gap – making the “quantum leap forward” that Dennis frequently mentions. To help myself, I flash back to my dear cat Carlos – dead now – who, when I first encountered him homeless, raced out of a broken-down barn directly at me, seeking help from a stranger for his starvation. And then how Carlos kept running towards me throughout his life as, again and again, I met him with love. In my auditory memory, as I watch Kucinich point to me that it’s my turn to ask, I hear the voice of a friend urging me to be just like Carlos. “Run towards what can nourish and protect you,” she advised. “Even when you have no idea what or who that could be.”
There are 2,000 people waiting to hear me. I somehow summon my voice to break the silence and say,
My name is Bet Power. I live here in Northampton. It will be an honor to vote for you in the Massachusetts primary on March 2nd.
I hear Dennis, who is standing up there on the stage say to me, “Thank you.” I continue,
Massachusetts in on the verge of actualizing equal marriage civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples. Today, President Bush stated he wants an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban gender-neutral marriages and write bigotry into the American Constitution for the very first time. Kerry and Edwards made a point of repeating today that they do NOT support same-sex marriage and prefer second-class civil unions.
I have a question for you. Why do you think Bush is gay-bashing my LGBT community in this election year, and how can we prevent increased violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders in the aftermath of Bush’s statement? How can we prevent the tyranny of the majority against a minority?
The white light I have entered now becomes an intense aura infusing the whole hall. All sound seems muffled and watery to me, as in 33 rpm. At times when my hearing returns, I can tell the rally’s dear gatherers are applauding and cheering louder in response to my question than ever before. What happens next stuns and profoundly transforms me.
Stunning, like a beautiful sunrise sky. Transformative, like lightning shaking out energy and changing everything.
I expect Dennis to answer my question with words. Instead, he chooses first to respond with action. He is still up on the stage and he isn’t saying anything. It starts with his right hand, which he moves up and extends out to me – a kind of invitation for entry into my world with the makings of half a handshake. I can’t believe he is doing this and that he isn’t saying a word. In retrospect, while watching the candidate debates on TV, I’ve noticed how important the use of his hand is to Kucinich. More often than not, unfairly shut out of any debate by its moderator, Dennis first makes a motion with his hand as a way of getting in to have his say. This small movement seems to propel him forward and then he pounces, communicating something so powerfully true as to cut through socio-political lies and denial. His right hand now clearly extends directly to me, casting ahead of him a spiritual warrior’s juggernaut.
Ok then, get this. I move a few steps forward while feeling totally amazed, and the crowd becomes completely silent. Kucinich takes a few steps away from the podium, lays the mike down, and jumps down off the stage. He hasn’t done this for anyone else here, tonight – just me. I can’t believe this is happening – and fast. I don’t yet understand its meaning.
I see Dennis walking towards me, so I extend my right arm to meet him with a handshake. Instead, he surprises by encircling me with a hug. One can hear only the sound of all eyes watching intensely. All else disappears for me. I notice his cheek brush my jaw. He holds me for what feels like minutes. Time really does stop and the world seems to draw a breath.
This hug feels like air. Yet I know it’s there, as it has its own vital definition. It is so soft that I need to roughen up the dynamic instantly and be manly. So I shake Dennis a little and say to him,
Work for us, man. We really need you. Work for us. Work for us, man.
As he continues to hold onto me, behind my right ear I hear Dennis answer,
Yes, I will.
Later, I know the way this whole thing will work is if we both work hard for each other.
The hug ends and Dennis goes back up on stage. I step back, hear roaring applause, and notice too, that many people are crying. A profound moment now graces our lives. I stand in the aisle and wait for the second part of his answer, in words this time.
He says he is disappointed by Bush’s insistence on separating a whole group of people from the protections offered by the Bill of Rights. Nevertheless, Bush should be shown compassion, too. He would engage Bush in a debate to persuade him to become truly “compassionate.” Dennis sees me laugh a little at that prospect, so he says,
No, really. We need to touch that compassion that he believes he has in his heart and get him to see that he can achieve a transformation too.
The last thing Kucinich says before leaving the stage?
Come along with me, my friends! Come with me, America! There will be a point at which we can learn how to fly again.
In the bustle of the crowd leaving Greene Hall, I am treated like a quarterback after deciding the game with a touchdown. I am patted on my back and shoulders, thanked, and hugged some more. People stop to show me the tears still welling in their eyes. Some tell me they thought they just witnessed a kind of Quaker revival, a spiritual awakening and empowerment.
Dennis Kucinich is an aspect of a Higher Power at work on earth at this time.
Hold me in your loving arms and take good care of me.
Days after, I’m restless and buzzing with energy; and I miss Dennis. Kucinich who – before that evening – was just a candidate to me, a face in big media. Now I miss him like you do a friend who visits your home, stays for a while and then leaves. I’m startled by the fact that I almost start to mourn. Where? Where has it gone, that light, that spark, that love and power that met mine? (a variation on Anzia Yezierska)
It’s here. Here in my heart and all around me. There’s a fire in my soul now and a strong belief in my own unfailing agency – like the new warmth of spring. Like a full moon rising, its shiny path lighting up a dark sea.
There will be a broadband broadcast of the entire 2-24-04 Smith College speech and the Q&A experience described in this article, on the national Kucinich for President website at: http://www.kucinich.us. See it for yourself, when it’s posted there the first week in March.
Hear Dennis on the relationship between personal spirituality and public life at:
Watch a life-changing speech, “What Inspires Dennis?” on video at:
For an astute article about tough-guy, macho Republican rhetoric, see “Dancing with Dean, Coming Home to Kucinich” at:
Bet Power is the director and curator of the Sexual Minorities Archives, a 30-year-old national collection of LGBTI literature, history, and art located in Northampton, Massachusetts; and the founder of the East Coast Female-to-Male Group (ECFTMG), a grassroots transgender-community support organization, also based in Northampton. He can be reached at: betpower (at) yahoo.com.
Copyright by the author. All rights reserved.