It was a great campaign: one that I was truly proud of. I got 560 votes — one more than the total number of all the votes cast in the entire district when this seat was up for election last time. So before I left the house to go to my election watch party, I cried. Ugly tears. Big, fat, angry, pissed off tears of frustration and rage. I knew I was going to lose.
I had been watching the early voting turnout from precincts all across my district, and it was looking bad. Despite my best efforts, despite having a small army of committed volunteers pounding the pavement every weekend, despite having super smart, data-driven friends crunching all the numbers and giving me all the strategy, I was about to lose, and I knew it.
But I didn’t enter that race only to win. Yes, I had hoped that I would. But that wasn’t the reason. The reason I signed up for the glamourous role of “unpaid and exhausted City Council candidate” was because I thought I had a handful of good ideas, I loved my community, and I wanted to make a difference. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy — but I don’t do things because they’re easy, anyway.
Still, that sting of defeat was harder to accept than I had prepared for. Despite my best efforts — and I gave it my very best from start to finish — I lost. It felt so unfair, to put in that much work, and not emerge victorious.
The night of the election watch party (after I dried my face, blew my nose, and reapplied my mascara) I put on my very best smile, squeezed my husband’s hand, and used the $300 still left in campaign donations to buy nachos for everyone. Then I went home and cried a little more before collapsing into bed, exhausted and embarrassed. The next day I slept. I did yoga. I played with my kids, whom I had hardly seen in months. I tried to breathe.
Time marched on, and eventually things started to feel mostly normal again. Until the surprising day that I found myself in a very public fight about the rights of transgender people. (It’s too long to get into, so just read this article for the backstory.) I didn’t mean to pick this fight. But when the future sheriff writes a Facebook post threatening violence against trans people in the “wrong” bathroom, and when my son (who was only 8 at the time) is also a transgender person trying to figure out which bathroom he feels safest in, I had to say something.
That particular experience launched me into a world of activism and advocacy that I wasn’t prepared for. All of my previous volunteer work focused on bike lanes, parks, poverty, and the environment. As someone who doesn’t identify as L, G, B, T, or Q, I admit that I hadn’t paid much attention before. But when someone attacks my child, they may as well attack me, because I’m going to fight back hard. And when horrible, awful, violent threats and insults were thrown at me — a white, cisgender, privileged married woman! — it awoke me to the even worse shit that the LGBTQ community has to endure every single day. I couldn’t just sit down and shut up. I had a moral obligation to stand up and fight back.
That day, I pledged to do everything I could to make sure Max would never experience the hate speech that I just experienced. Better yet: I wanted to make sure that NO person, regardless of their orientation or identity, would have those hateful words thrown at them ever again either. So I spoke at rallies. I sat as a silent witness in federal courtrooms. I invited politicians to dinner so they could meet my super-not-threatening family. I gave interviews. I delivered keynotes and sermons and TED talks. I wrote essays. I met with school board members and ministers. I went everywhere. Because this fight is everywhere.
And here’s the punchline, y’all: there’s no way I could have done any of this, if I would have actually won that city council race. The time commitment alone would have been too much for me to drive to Austin to lobby the Texas Legislature about the cruelty and ridiculousness of a bathroom bill, let alone write a letter to the editor in opposition to it. Besides that, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that any advocacy I was doing was because I had higher political aspirations. (First off, “higher aspirations” aren’t necessarily a bad thing. And secondly, fuck you. This is my son I’m fighting for, not some trophy.) I’ve seen plenty of politicians use my son’s gender identity as a way to score points among “the base”, and I refuse to ever do the same. Being a private citizen, not having to worry about political campaigns or voter turnout, has given me more focus and (hopefully more) legitimacy in this fight.
Additionally, as time consuming as all those debates and interviews were back then, those experiences gave me the tools I needed to be a better public speaker and advocate. When you only get 2 minutes to make your point and the people on the other side of the microphone are doing everything they can to psych you out, and you still stay on point: that’s a life skill, y’all. I’m far from perfect, but when so much of this work involves telling our story as a trans-inclusive family, and trying to be as relatable as possible, it sure helps to know how to at least pretend to be comfortable in front of crowds and cameras. I doubt I would know how to do any of that if I didn’t get a crash course on “how to look minimally stupid and make friends in a high pressure environment” when I ran for office.
Losing sucks. Especially when you lose so publicly, when everyone is watching. But losing isn’t the end. There are a lot of you who are running for office right now, and mathematically, that just means that a lot of you are going to lose, too — but that’s not why you did this in the first place, is it? You did it because you have ideas! You have energy! You have heart! And no matter the outcome of your particular race, you will still be a hero and a patriot, with even more ideas and energy and heart than you did when you first announced your candidacy.
I hope you win. But if you lose, don’t lose hope. Regardless of the outcome, I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll hear from you — and that right there shows just what you are made of. So what’s your next big idea? And how far are you willing to go to make it happen?