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My Life Before The Transgender Protection Law

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When we go to vote on Question 3 this week, we will be voting on the safety of each other. We will vote to either uphold a law protecting transgender people in public spaces, like bathrooms and locker rooms, or to repeal it.

This is why I am voting yes on Question 3. This is my story.

When I moved to Somerville in 2010, the first thing I did was find a gym. Since college, working out has been the most constant thing in my life. Right from work, I’d go work out for an hour and a half. Afterward, I would go into the women’s locker room, change, walk home, make dinner, read or watch TV and go to bed.

Working out isn’t just about maintaining my ability to do the things I enjoy; it became a very necessary means of survival. Working out, specifically running, has served as a coping mechanism for my depression and anxiety.

In my early 20s I realized that what was troubling me was no longer just teenage angst, but actually something more ingrained. At the time, stigmatization around mental health steered me away from therapy or medication — like somehow getting help was admitting defeat to my own mind. This is where working out came in — my body produced the serotonin my brain needed. There were days that the only time I felt happy was when I was running or working out. It allowed me to be at home in my body, and, more importantly, in my head.

All of this is to say — the gym is a pretty important staple in my life for many reasons.

In 2013, I began to transition physically from female to male by taking testosterone. Six months in I hit what should have been an expected obstacle: I became very uncertain which locker room I could use. I’m 5-foot-4, and even with the hormone therapy, short hair and men’s clothes you could still look at me and be uncertain which locker room I should be in. I used the women’s room for as long as I could — but eventually my chin started to sprout hair.

I stopped using the women’s locker room when this happened. I was afraid someone would complain to management and they would ban me from the gym — something that would not only throw a wrench in my sanity, but also a scenario that felt embarrassing and exposing. I was afraid someone would yell at me — worse, try to confront me either verbally or physically.

I didn’t use the men’s room either. As much as I knew I didn’t belong in the women’s room anymore, I also didn’t feel I fit in the men’s room, and for many of the same reasons, I steered clear. I was afraid if I used either locker room, someone would know I was transgender, and I didn’t feel safe.

You weren’t allowed to carry a bag around with you at the gym, so I started going home after work, changing, and then running to and from the gym. By the time January rolled around, I was making this trek in the snow, in subzero temperatures. After my hat froze from the sweat a couple of times, it became too much. I stopped going to the gym entirely.

I had to give up going to a place I loved because I didn’t feel safe. That was hard. And I think it would be a hard thing for any of us to do.

Eventually, after about a year, I did start going to the gym again. My transition being further along, my face was now covered with a beard, making it hard for me to be seen as anything other than male. Despite my outward appearance shifting, though, my anxiety still remained — the men's locker room still felt bare and exposing. When the transgender protections bill passed, knowing that there was a law protecting me every time I walked through the locker room doors made it a little easier — almost as essential as the running shoes on my feet, to quiet my anxiety.

We all want to feel safe. We want to know the places that we go to are places where we will be welcomed. We have laws in place that are meant to assure us of that — that they will protect us from predators, or from people trying to do harm — physical or otherwise. And these nondiscrimination protections also do that.

Voting yes on Question 3 ensures that both of us have laws in place that protect us in public places and makes us feel safe. Voting no only protects only one of us.

I want you to feel safe. I want to feel safe too. Can we do that together?

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Robson Govine Cognoscenti contributor
Robson Govine is the director of operations with the Boston Alliance of GLBTQ Youth (BAGLY).

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