Recently my friend from South Florida visited my wife and me in rural Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and she told me, “Ya know, it’s really quite brave of you to live where you do.”
Our town is 1.4 square miles and according to the 2010 census, has a population of 4,232 people. While we live in a small town, we’re only an hour and a half from Philly and two and a half hours from New York City.
I grew up in nearby Lancaster. When people think of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they think of Amish and Mennonite people. And they’d be right. My wife was born in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She moved to West Palm Beach when she was 8 which is where we met since I was living in Fort Lauderdale and working at SunServe. Then she moved back to Central Falls in 2016 and then joined me in Pennsylvania the following year.
We recently bought our first house. When we were looking for a house, we knew that we would have to consider the laws in our area. Pennsylvania has no state-wide protections for LGBT people. The area where we used to live does have non-discrimination protections that extend to gender identity and expression and sexual orientation. The place where we bought our house does not have any of these protections and without a statewide ordinance, we knew that this could hurt us. We fell in love with the house but had to think carefully about the decision to live somewhere where two trans people could be harassed or bullied without any legal protections.
Many of our friends, especially our LGBT friends, thought we were crazy for buying our house where we did. “Why would you want to live there?”they asked. The truth is that I like small-town America. I don’t like big cities, I don’t like traffic, I don’t like row homes, and street noise. I like the woods, I like having a backyard, I like that I don’t have to look before I cross my street. I like that we own a three story home for a price we can afford. I like that the local diner is both good and cheap.
Yesterday, I was in line at the gas station waiting to buy propane for my new grill when the guy in line in front of me strikes up a conversation about my beard. He says he likes my beard and that his beard comes in patchy and he doesn’t like that. Then the guy in front of him joins in and starts talking about how he doesn’t like to shave. I had no idea who these people were. They appeared to be white, blue-collar guys. They didn’t know me either.
I live my life everyday as an out transgender person. So does my wife. I don’t want to drive the half hour home from work and wonder if my neighbors found out my wife and I are trans yet and how they’ll react. However, just like I don’t want to be judged based solely on the fact that I’m transgender, I don’t want to make the assumption that the people in my small town are automatically against LGBT people. Maybe they are, but maybe they also strike up conversations with strangers, and are kind and forgiving drivers.
Not all LGBT people want to live in urban areas or surrounded by other LGBT people. Some of us, like myself and my wife, want to live in a rural area. The town I live in isn’t so different than the one I grew up in. I spent years trying to get away from that area but now I came back home. Perhaps it is brave of us to live where we do. Or maybe we just want to live our lives exactly how we want to. Which is what every trans person wants.