The Transgender Tipping Point Within: Reaching Impact as a Trial Lawyer

From Gay Voices
June 6, 2014 - 2:19pm

An uncle of mine wrote to me saying that the Time Magazine cover story "The Transgender Tipping Point" has "much to offer in understanding for the general population." My uncle's message had meaning for me, not least because he was among family members who staged an "intervention" against my gender transition almost twelve years ago. The subject has a life of its own. Just two weeks ago, a reporter working on a story about my law practice asked how being transgender has affected my legal career. Instead of answering, I tried to deflect her with something else I'd said in the media. But as reporters do, she asked the same question again and again, in search of a quote. It would be hypocrisy to criticize her -- I have used the same method in cross-examining witnesses at trial. My discomfort with the question prompted me to wonder whether it could matter more than I wanted it to. An overwhelming majority of people do not inject their bodies with hormones or go under the knife to match their genitalia to their gender. Perhaps most would find the prospect beyond comprehension. Because the way I was born had to be fixed, it feels easier to assume that questions about my gender transition stem from pity rather than interest. So I received the reporter's question with all that baggage, packed to the hilt with my own assumptions. Unraveling my feelings revealed the question they had obscured, which was the same one any lawyer may be asked: How have your experiences made you into who you are, and how has your identity impacted your practice of law? I gender transitioned during my first year of law school, and it took every iota of strength and courage that I could muster. I am fortunate to have graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco, where I received support from faculty, administrative staff and my fellow students. Gender transitioning is emotionally wrenching and physically demanding, and it consumes time and money. What often goes unsaid is how long the process takes. In my case, it has gone on after the name change and the surgery, after learning how to talk to others about my past, and after falling in love from within the right body for the first time, and the second... and so on. Just like law school itself, my transition is constantly stretching my capacity. Whoever I may be, I could not be who I would without that challenge. As for the law, my gender transition has impacted my practice in two principle ways. First, it has taught me how to be myself, even if doing so means standing up against the tide of society. For me, there has been no more worthwhile an endeavor in life than overcoming prejudice based on nothing more than how I was born. Second, the struggle has helped me to appreciate how much it means to have the support of other people during a personal challenge. My clients in criminal cases may not have been as lucky. As their lawyer, it is my job to go into court and stand in between them and the most powerful adversary in the world -- the government of the United States of America. It is an awesome task, and one that humbles me every time. Do my own experiences give me insight on spinning the spool of my clients' stories and weaving them into the tapestry of the law? The question has nothing to do with what society can do for me as a transgender person. Rather, it is about what I, as an individual, can contribute to society. The answer is beyond me. As I have argued to jurors at trial: "Nothing I say matters. You are the judge of the facts."


Share this article »  

Continue reading this article »