These trans candidates are making history

An interesting thing happened during the primaries, and went by almost without comment: Two trans women won Democratic nominations, for the House and the Senate. The fact that their runs attracted almost no attention outside their communities, and their wins in the primaries got scant coverage, is a testimony both to a lack of interest in trans issues, and to distaste for leftists, because both women are decidedly progressive and they don’t care who knows it, even though their districts are actually rather conservative.

Misty Snow of Utah is running for the Senate. She’s not running because she wants to strike some bold blow for trans rights. She’s running because when she saw who the Democrats were offering up for Senate, she was disgusted — an anti-choice Republican in Democratic clothing didn’t seem like much of an option to her. So she decided to run. Snow works as a clerk, and has continued working throughout her campaign, which she runs without huge corporate backing and attention. She doesn’t have legislative experience, but she does have decided ideas about issues like minimum wage and maternity leave.

Snow was also a Sanders supporter, and many of the things on her platform aligned closely with his. And against all odds, she won her primary. Things aren’t looking so good for her in the general, but if she won, it would be precedent-setting, as she’d be the first (known) trans woman in the Senate.

Misty Plowright, of Colorado, is also highly liberal and a big Bernie fan. She has a wide range of progressive stances on issues like voting rights, criminal justice, and the environment. She’s also a veteran — and in a time when veterans in general are dwindling in Congress, and even fewer of them are women, that’s a big deal. She brings a unique and valuable set of skills and knowledge to the table, and like Snow, she would make history if elected by being the first trans woman in the House.

She also happens to be openly poly, which is absurdly unusual for US politics. Despite the fact that the poly community is growing, and working hard to fight stigma, and establishing a name for itself, there’s definitely still a lingering sense of disdain for poly people and their families. Plowright is quite open about her family, discussing them on her campaign website — in an era when people dig everything up anyway, being open would definitely forestall some muckraking, but it’s also clear that she loves her family, and just like monogamous people, she includes information about them on her campaign literature so they get to know her as a person and as a candidate.

This is huge, and it’s news that’s been even more buried than the fact that two transgender women are running for Congress this year. Are they not palatable enough? Are they not the right sort of trans women? Why is the media so reluctant to cover them, when it’s stumbling all over itself to pay lip service to ‘trans issues’? This is a country where entire states can sweepingly decide that they think they have the right to decide whether trans people can use the bathroom: The fact that two trans women are running for Congress is huge. The fact that one of them is also poly is also huge, and a sign of a radical shift in US politics. Even if Plowright doesn’t win, she’s breaking down a barrier that I thought might never be broken: Knowing that she was poly, voters still handed her the Democratic nomination. That’s a big deal.

I see some media playing both candidates off as women who ‘happen’ to be trans, and it’s kind of grating. Neither one is running on a trans rights platform, or a platform specific to the trans community, and I don’t think trans people should be eternally labeled as trans first and everything else later. At the same time, though, the fact that they are trans is really important here, and it shouldn’t be buried. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and though neither woman wants to make it the focus of her campaign, both are well aware that if they win, they are going to be shattering a wall that this country works very hard to keep intact.

The fact that two trans women are running for Congress at a time when the trans community is more visible than ever, and also under considerable fire from conservatives, is something we should be talking about. Both women are undoubtedly experiencing horrific amounts of transphobic and transmisogynistic abuse as a result of deciding to run, and staying in the race. Other people are certainly going to be happy to talk about the fact that they’re trans.

Just as with candidates from other marginalised backgrounds, whether they’re disabled, or people of colour, or women, or Muslim, or any number of other things, you shouldn’t vote for them because they are trans, but should do so rather because you like their politics and platform. At the same time, though, don’t pretend that their gender is completely irrelevant here, because it’s not. Both of these women have the potential to make history, and their battle is not going to be over when they take their seats on Capitol Hill, because if you think Congressional Republicans, and other conservatives, would take them lying down, you have another think coming.

Image: Misty Plowright for Congress