The Ms. Q&A: Sarah McBride Knows Tomorrow Will Be Different

Sarah McBride first began to tell her story in 2012, when she came out on Facebook as transgender one day after her term as American University Student Government President had ended. Six years after her viral coming out note, McBride is picking up where she left off in her memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different, out Tuesday.

In the intimate retelling of her last six years, McBride recounts the political victories and milestones she helped shape and bore witness to as a leading advocate for LGBTQ justice—from the floor of the Delaware Senate, where she led an ultimately successful fight for non-discrimination protections, to the stage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where she made history as the first-ever trans speaker to address such an event—as well as the defining struggles of her own life. In heartbreaking detail, McBride walks us through what it was like to navigate her family’s confusion around her identity, face down the hateful comments of anti-trans campaigners and lose her husband, trans healthcare advocate Andrew Cray, to cancer.

Sarah McBride is certain, even now, of two things—that stories matter, and that change is possible. Tomorrow Will Be Different is at once a memoir, a roadmap to liberation and a love letter to anyone feeling the faint flicker of doubt as the fight for equality goes on. And it proves that the personal remains political.

Before I was the digital editor at Ms., I had the distinct pleasure of working with Sarah McBride as the Director of AU’s Women’s Initiative, a feminist organization which was under her purview while she was AUSG President. In advance of the release of Tomorrow, I called McBride to talk to her about how she stays hopeful, where she’s headed next and why she is committed to vulnerability in the name of trans equality.

So, I read your book—and I loved it. For me, it was super interesting to read because it was basically the equivalent of me sitting down and being like “so, what happened!” The book picks up at your coming-out note, which is basically the end of the year where you and I were running around all the time together at AU. 

Exactly. You are the second person to say that to me in 24 hours.

Yeah, so it’s like we’re catching up now. And it’s such an important book, but I was also acutely aware while reading it how hard it must have been to write it. What was your motivation? What made you want to do this?

I decided to write this book because I’ve always believed that stories have the power to change hearts minds and move equality forward. So often in these conversations about trans equality, or LGBTQ equality or equality in general, we lose track of the fact that in the center of these conversations are real people—who hurt when we’re mocked, who hurt when we’re discriminated against and who just want to be treated with dignity and fairness. I wanted to share this story because I wanted to provide both an entry point into this conversation that could allow people to understand the full humanity of transgender people—not just the process of transitioning, not just the process of coming out, but that transgender people love and hope and dream and fear just like everyone else—and, in allowing people to come into my own story, provide them with resources and tools to be better allies and advocates for other transgender people.

I loved that so much of the book was about recognizing the power of stories—and you illustrate in a lot of these moments that you take us to of the actual political power of marginalized folks telling their stories. But I also felt like the book was about you learning and writing your own story and recognizing the power of your own unique voice. Now you’ve written the book and you’ve recorded the audiobook. How does it feel now to have finally told your story—and so publicly?

I’m surprised at how difficult this process has been. I knew that writing a book is a process and a half—but even after six years of being sort of publicly vulnerable in my advocacy, I’ve been surprised just how difficult it has been sharing my story, and doing it in such detail, and with such vulnerability, for so many people to read. But it’s also been empowering in many ways—in writing my story and putting it all out there, I’ve been able to draw lessons and connections between experiences in my life that have allowed me to become a better advocate, and are lessons and experiences that I can now take with me in the work that I’m doing and the work that I plan on doing in the long run.

What are some of those lessons that stand out to you?

There are two.

The first is truly the power of our voices—that all of us, individually, have a gravity and a significance to our voice that no election and no presidency can silence or diminish, and that each of us have the power in our voices to transform things that once seemed impossible into reality. And that is politics and that is advocacy at its best. Throughout my life, I have seen the power of our voices—the power of my own voice, the power of other peoples voices, the power of Andy’s voice and, of course, the power of young voices—to effect change.

The second thing that has really come from the experiences of the last six years and the stories I tell in the book is that I learned as Andy was passing that even in some of the darkest moments, as my brother said to me in the last month of Andy’s life, we can still bear witness to acts of amazing grace. And it underscores for me that hope only makes sense in the face of hardship. As difficult as it can be advocating for one’s own dignity, as hard as this moment in our politics can be, that experience and reflecting on those experiences taught me to take a step back and look at those acts of amazing grace that happen all around me every single day, whether they’re coming from my friends, my family or whether they’re from the communities that I belong to.

I feel like I’m having this Oprah moment where I want to be like “Tweet tweet! That’s a tweetable one!”

Thank you!

And I mean—you were always a political person, and so it makes so much sense that you have become this force for trans rights and LGBT rights and women’s rights. In these dark days of an administration that seems honestly just maliciously hellbent on tearing down these communities and taking aim at them, how do you stay so hopeful?

Well, first off, “maliciously hellbent” is such a great phrase. It so aptly describes the Trump administration and their discriminatory agenda.

And you know, and I talk about this in the last chapter of the book, but one of the great things that I get to do in my job at the Human Rights Campaign is that I get to travel across the country and I get to meet transgender people of every background and every age. And in that community of transgender people that I get to meet are these young transgender people who are maybe seven, eight, nine years old and growing up, and—as I talk about, it seemed like my dreams and my identity were exclusive. The concept of living my truth and dreaming big dreams at the age of 10, 12, 13 would have seemed so unimaginable that it would almost have been incomprehensible. Yet today, just 15, 20 years later, I’m watching these young transgender people, who are both living their dreams and living their truths all at the same time, stand up and speak out and march and protest and do what once seemed so impossible to me.

I stay hopeful because every day I get to experience the personification of our progress. We have transformed impossibilities into possibility into reality. We have seen that change is possible. If we’ve done it before, that means we can do it again.

 

Who are some of the people who inspire you?

Well, there’s transgender people who are older than me, who have been doing advocacy for years—obviously you can’t do this work and not appreciate the contributions and the lives of people like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who are no longer with us; people like Mara Kiesling, who is a tireless advocate for trans equality and has really helped to build the modern infrastructure for the trans community politically; people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, peers and advocates and activists of a similar age as me who are blazing trails and sharing stories and doing the hard work of being vulnerable and being authentic in public.

And then, of course, there are transgender people who are younger than me who give me hope. Young transgender people like Stella—who, when I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up, declared without any hesitation in her voice that she will be the first transgender president.

YES!

And like I said, that’s—the mere fact that Stella exists today demonstrates how far we’ve come, and I find so much hope in these trans youth who hold in one hand a knowledge of all of the hate that exists in this world but who are able to hold in the other the knowledge that their identities are worth celebrating and that their voices matter. If those transgender young people can move forward with those seemingly contradictory notions in their hands, in their minds and in their souls, then I can do that, too.

And you are one of those people—who have blazed a trail for young trans people, trans people of all ages with the work you’ve done. Before you wrote and recorded the book, you were busy changing the world, and you’ve had so many victories. And I love that you share not only the victories in the book, but that you sort of walk us through this roadmap—how did we do it, how did the pieces come together, how did we make these arguments to lawmakers, how did we build an infrastructure in Delaware, in Congress. What is the next frontier for you?

In the short term, I think my goal is to join hand-in-hand with as many other people who are trying to resist the politics of hate—whether that’s hate emanating from the White House or from within state legislatures or from city halls—while sharing stories and helping to educate the public to open hearts and change minds. To lay the foundation for long-term progress.

We have a critical election coming up, and it is of the utmost importance to me that we see more pro-equality candidates elected up and down the ballot across the country. 2018 is truly a critical moment to try to halt the politics of hate—and to elect more people who will support comprehensive inclusive non-discrimination protections at the local state and federal level, who will stand up for workers, who will defend our healthcare, who will work to end the scourge of gun violence. This is a critical moment and a critical election, and making sure that we have a good showing is a priority for me.

And then, in the long term, you know—I have a great job right now. I love the work that I get to do and I love the people I get to work with. But in the long term, Delaware is home. And given some of the challenges we see at the national level, it is more and more important to me that states help lead the way, that states be the laboratories for progressive ideas. And I eventually want to turn my focus back to Delaware, to try to help bring progressive change to the state I love and to help set a model for what this country can do and can be.

What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned in your political life that you think have made you a better, stronger advocate?

One: Advocacy is its most effective when it’s coming from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. Authenticity because we should be asking for what we need, not what we think we can get. I think the public responds when you’re upfront with them. Vulnerability because I think that everyone—no matter their ideology or geography, no matter their race or economic background—can understand what it feels like to worry and to fear, and that they wouldn’t want anyone else to have to fact those types of concerns. Sometimes it can be difficult being authentic and vulnerable in public, but in the end it’s also the best path toward justice—and I’ve learned that there is power in authenticity and vulnerability.

The second lesson I’ve learned is that change cannot come fast enough. Yes, we have a number of challenges at the federal level. Yes, so much of our energy and attention is focused on the Trump/Pence Administration. But the hard work of politics, the hard work of advocacy, is to not be silo’ed in your work. While we must defeat the politics of hate, we cannot do that at the exclusion of continuing to push forward positive legislation and positive politics. We have to both defeat the politics of hate in this moment and move equality forward in this moment. Dr. King called it “the fierce urgency of now.” And in my life I have seen first-hand that every single day matters when it comes to building a world where every single person can live their life to the fullest.

Yes. I’m vigorously nodding, which is why there was a pause. Yes, that’s totally it. Yes! You’re doing such important work and I’m obviously so proud of you and so excited for you—and it’s been so great to be able to see the impact that your work has had, just know that you’re out there doing it. You’re changing hearts and minds. Ugh! You’re so fierce!

I learned that from the best…

Well that does actually—the one last question I had, no offense to Stella, was that when we were in college, you totally told me that one time that when you became president I could be your Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. And I’m just wondering, on the record, if the offer still stands.

In the highly, highly, highly unlikely event that that were to happen to me, you absolutely have that job. But please—I know you want that job, but do not wish the presidency on me!

Are you really not secretly planning to become the first—

No, I am all in for Stella. I want a life where I can curl up on my couch, watch Big Brother and The Bachelor, eat takeout and not have to worry about anything else.

That’s fair. Yes. Especially because I think the next few presidents have a lot of work ahead of them.

It’s gonna take us ’til Stella to overcome this.

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. and Contributing Editor and Co-Founder of Argot Magazine; her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle, where she was previously Community Director and Feminism Editor. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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