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Reconciling fear and sacrificing safety in the fight for freedom

By: Tobey Tozier*/Trans Headlines

Being queer in a rural community is isolating. I grew up in a small town from birth until college, and I’m familiar with the persistent, nagging fear that my identity will attract more than just the double-takes and stares and lead to something worse like bullying or violence. 

Now that I’m in a house of my own in a much less rural Maine town, it feels like I should have let go of some of that fear; but the truth is–I have never truly felt safe here. My spouse, Mal, and I have lived in this house for three years. We live within a stone’s throw of twelve neighboring houses and have only met families from three of them–all by happenstance and none by our own will.

Being a trans man in a queer relationship, I’m very aware of the dangers that come with being visible. As the founder of Transcapsule, an app that helps trans and non-binary people live healthier, more positive lives, I have chosen to be visible and share my story to provide hope to those who are struggling and raise awareness. However, when it comes to our home, we live in the safety of our own 720 square foot walk-in closet. 

Our home is fifteen miles from Portland, the state’s lifeline for LGBTQ+ community and allyship, but at times it feels like we might as well be living in Maine’s most rural Northern woods. Two miles away in a neighboring town, a local resident handcrafted a large wooden Pride flag and staked it in the ground in the middle of a busy intersection. It’s not surprising that the sign didn’t last long before it was vandalized by other local residents. “TRUMP 2020” spray-painted in black over the flag’s bright colors. A new, identical wooden Pride flag was erected in its place, this time covered by an American flag pinned at its corners to cover the symbol of equality.

An erasure of the LGBTQ+ community disguised as patriotism and freedom for all–unless you’re not White, cis, or heterosexual. The American flag was removed and revenge splintered as a chainsaw tore through the sign’s wooden slats.

I’ve had the courage to come out to my family and share my story with hundreds of people on social media. I’ve had the courage to start a company to help other trans folks, speak on podcasts and on the radio, and compete in a startup competition aired on local television, but I can’t bring myself to hang a Pride flag on the front of my house. I can’t pretend that I don’t live in fear of being a target. 

Down the road, more Pride and Black Lives Matter signs are popping up at the busy intersection. Handpainted signs hang in solidarity on front lawns and front windows in houses lining main streets across Maine and across the Nation. In the middle of a global pandemic and the largest civil rights movement in American history, I’m realizing the importance of sacrifice. In order for change to happen, we need to ask ourselves what we’re willing to lose in order to stand up for what’s right and wrong. 

As the quarantine continues, these flags and signs have become one of the only ways we can communicate with one another. Mal and I are packing our things and selling our house this month in preparation for our next rural Maine adventure. A fresh start in a new home where I’ll unpack the baggage of longing to feel safe in my own community and hang the new Pride flag for our neighbors to see–because if I’m not willing to sacrifice my freedom, I’m not doing my part to fight for freedom for all. 

*Tobey Tozier is a transgender designer and founder of Transcapsule, a transgender transition tracking app. He lives in Maine with his spouse, Mal, their two cats, and a senior beagle named Tuesday. Tobey has made it his life’s mission to help other people who are transgender live happier, more positive lives.