Queer Spirit Rising in Asheville, NC. WE SAY NO! to HB2

by Elizabeth Kirwin

It’s been over 13 years since I migrated to Asheville from the East Coast. Like many who came here I was tired of being the only freak on the street in my small home town or some other conservative place. Here in Asheville, I was one among many.

One of the key issues in my life was my gender identity. At the time I came in 2002, I was also curious about the fairies, who had a homestead in Short Mountain, TN. I would find answers to all of my questions about self and identity in Asheville. I came to the realization I am a two spirit. I learned to be happy with myself, instead of constantly beset with anxiety and bouts of depression. I learned to find joy in my gender expression, and to let go of fear and shame.

It makes a difference having a safe community of artists, trans people, queers and gays to rely upon. I have lived elsewhere in these past 5 years, and though I was among friends and family, I felt alone.

Here in Asheville I always felt safe to fully express who I am, whatever mode I may be in. The trans community is very generous and welcomes everybody. We have to remember that not everyone welcomes the trans being in NC. Since I have walked these streets in full (everyday) drag and been called sir as well as faggot, I know the risks of expressing myself. However, like many of my kind, I take the risks because I simply cannot help myself. It’s who I am.

I have been to the Buncombe County Courthouse in full drag in 2009 and used the women’s restroom. The women who used the restroom were quiet, and cast uncomfortable glances at me. I was sweating profusely and wanted to get out of there. One of the faucets on the sink wouldn’t work, and a kind woman next to me spoke to me, she helped me. She smiled and left. I immediately felt better.

It’s good to have allies.

Yet women are far more forgiving then men, it seems. To hear men talk about HB2 and the dangers of men in the (women’s) restroom, you would think they were conspiring to commit a violent act against all of humanity – beginning with women and children. It makes you wonder what the hell happens in the men’s room right?

Well, like many women who simply cannot wait to relieve themselves at a bar or some crowded event, waiting in the long line for the women’s room is not an option. So – I too have been in the men’s room. So have many women. I can attest to this. It didn’t seem that dangerous to me. It was overly disgustingly dirtier then the women’s room in many cases. When I exited, I didn’t feel like a threat of some kind. It even seemed funny to some of the women and men who waited outside.

But it’s not funny in NC now. The trans community and the gay community are activated. We are offended and outraged. I feel that something is changing here in the state. Alliances between the queers and the black community of churches may have seemed unlikely for many decades for a variety of reasons. But not now! Many in the black churches across the state have joined with the outraged public. We recognize the ominous comparison to old Jim Crow laws in the south – separating black bathrooms from white. We joined together to object to this atrocity – dragging us into a past we’d rather forget.

The HB2 law cannot govern private businesses. In Asheville, private businesses have put up signs for M/F restrooms. All of the interesting spaces in this town are privately owned and none want to lose the GLBTQ business.

I ask myself who is going to enforce this issue of ‘the gender on your birth certificate’ when people are using the public bathroom? The police? Are you kidding me? That’s hilarious. I would love to participate in a bathroom sit-in in Asheville’s City Hall building. But I don’t want to push our new police Chief, Tammy, that far. She’s got better things to do – I’m sure. Like solving murders, armed robberies and other crimes that truly endanger the public.

HB2 will be repealed. It’s already underway. The public outcry and loss of revenue to the state through boycotts is enough for some politicians to take action. But I have to ask myself, what’s next?