Anyone who’s spent time with someone from Texas knows how we can be.
We have too-big opinions which we communicate in too-loud voices. We feel deep and abiding passion about everything from football to baptism to beer. We know it’s unreasonably hot here. We care enough to complain but not enough to move. And we love pointing out that Davy Crockett, a Tennessean by birth, famously said, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”
But, perhaps above all, we’re proud, so very proud, of our state.
For years, I was like that, too. Every descriptor didn’t fit me—I’ve never been a sports person, for example. But I’ve spent most of my life so proud of Texas that I was evangelical about it. My pride was aggressive. I was certain Texas is—must be—the best state.
I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s not like there aren’t great things about Texas.
There are. Texas is home to some kickass barbeque. The hill country is breathtaking any time of year. Lone Star sunsets are stunning. And whether you’re looking for desert, mountains, beaches or rolling hills, we’ve got you covered.
But none of that is enough to make me want to stay. Born and raised in a city nicknamed Cowtown, I’ve finally hit my limit. In what felt like a shockingly short amount of time, I went from proud to pissed.
I want out.
All the Hate
At this point, you might think the title of this little anti-love letter is a not-so-subtle reference to my feelings about my home state. That assumption isn’t entirely wrong. I certainly don’t love Texas. I’d even say what I feel toward Texas lines up closer to hate than love.
But that’s not the hate I’m writing about. Nope.
Instead, I’m writing about the hate that led me to want out. The hate Texas seems to be breeding as if the stability of our power grid depended on it. The hate that proves everything, good and bad, is bigger in Texas.
But Ashley, Why?
I’m a transgender woman. I transitioned a mere three years ago. Even then, friends would ask me two questions.
First, “You could pick any name and you went with ‘Ashley?!’ Why, in the name of all things holy, did you pick that name?”
It’s a fair question. There are a lot of Ashleys. A shit ton of ‘em. In fact, there’s actually a rule that every Starbucks must have a minimum of three Ashleys in line at all times during peak hours.
And yet, that’s the name I picked.
The second question was a bit more serious. Expressed with a grave sense of concern for my ability to make moderately decent decisions and often delivered in a conspiratorial whisper, they asked, “Why do you live … in Texas?”
I had answers.
I’d tell them it was home, as it has been for most of my life. I’d tell them I live in Dallas, one of the most progressive cities in the state—and it’s really not that bad. I’d tell them I get odd looks on the reg, but verbal harassment is rare. And if I was feeling particularly aspirational, I’d tell them I hoped to be a force for good in a less-than-accepting atmosphere. A light in a dark place.
But things are changing.
Even in McKinney, the positively cheery suburb I’ve called home for more than a year, hate is creeping in with all the grace of coastal humidity. Two weeks ago, I was verbally accosted in a Walmart.
A nice Walmart in a “nice” part of town.
I was in the self-checkout line, ringing up my stuff. I wasn’t bothering anyone. I wasn’t even interacting with anyone. And a woman with a child in tow went out of her way to make sure I knew she did not approve of me.
The encounter left me shuffling across the parking lot in a desperate attempt to get to my car before I started bawling.
Bad to Worse
It’s not just cranky Walmart shoppers with conservative views and a desire to vocalize judgment. There’s a minister about 45 minutes away who’s telling his congregation that people like me—gay people—are all pedophiles who haven’t yet raped a child because we just haven’t had the chance.
He’s saying we’re irredeemable. He’s telling his pew-dwellers we should be shot. And they’re cheering.
Things have gotten dark, my friends. And I fear they’re only getting darker.
I no longer walk anywhere alone in public without pepper spray in my hand. I avoid going anywhere after dark if I have to do so by myself. And I fully expect to see trans rights, along with many other LGBTQIA2+ rights, stripped away in Texas.
This is Lone Star hate. It’s big and bold and weirdly proud of its acrid nature.
Home, Effete Home
Ef·fete /e-ˈfēt/ adj. – no longer capable of effective action.
There was a time when it would have seemed unthinkable to me to leave. Now, it’s an easy call. I don’t feel safe here. Neither do I feel like my continued presence will do any good.
Texans who just want to get along, even if we disagree, are dramatically outnumbered by those who want to tell everyone else how to live.
I’m not waiting for the fundamentalists and the nationalists to find new and creative ways to legislate my life. As far as I’m concerned, Texas is the Titanic and it’s tilting TOWARD the iceberg.
It’s time to find a lifeboat.
But it hasn’t always felt that way. When I first transitioned, I knew trans women who were fleeing the state. They said it was hopeless here. That hate would win the day. That it was better for all trans people to leave than to try to fight. I thought they were negative and short-sighted. I thought they were driven by fear. And frankly, I thought they should stay and fight.
Now, I think leaving is simply pragmatic.
So I’m fast-tracking a move out of state. I’m happily paying the penalty to terminate my lease early. Within two months, I’ll be much closer to Canada than Mexico. I just can’t do this anymore.
And even if I could, I don’t wanna.
Riddle Me This
The thing that mystifies me so much about Texas isn’t the fact that there are tons of conservatives. It isn’t even that their social and political views are so different than mine. What genuinely confuses me is the hate.
It’s visceral and intense. It has fangs. It’s a hungry, feral hate, and it wants to feed.
As many others have pointed out, there’s intense irony here. So much of the hate comes from the very same people who claim to be all about love and redemption. The awkward partnership between Christians and far-right Republicans baffles me as much as the next person, but that’s old news.
Tons of others have written about that. Ditto to all the insightful observations they’ve made.
Regardless of what drives people to this kind of hate, I think there’s a more important question for the rest of us to address. What do we do in the face of such visceral hate?
What’s an appropriate response?
Our first option is the high road. We can respond to hate with love, close-mindedness with acceptance, and verbal abuse with affirmation.
That’s been my response since transitioning. When someone gives me a hateful look, I smile and wish them a good day. It feels good to me and, more often than you’d think, it works. Well, it worked.
It doesn’t seem to be working anymore.
Not only does it do little to quell the rage of people like the
bitch woman in Walmart who came at me for no reason at all, but it doesn’t effectively stem the ideological tide. The other side doesn’t give a flying fuck if we’re polite.
They wanna win, period.
While I understand the impulse to respond to hate with kindness, and while that’s generally my go-to, I don’t think it’s enough given the current state of things.
Whether or not you take the high road, you can simply leave. You can leave the state, like I am, or you can leave the country, as I’m seriously considering doing.
Leaving gets you out of harm’s way and gives you a chance to carve out a different kind of life. But it doesn’t do anything to stop the hate from swelling … and it doesn’t help the people stuck in the hate.
Which brings us to option 3.
You can get angry and you can fucking fight. This, my friends, is where I am.
I’m ready to get loud, obnoxious, bold, proud, and really, really insistent about JUSTICE, EQUALITY and HUMAN RIGHTS. And if you tell me to hush, I’ll only get louder.
As I recently posted on social media,
“To those who take issue with me, what I believe, how I live my life, how I identify, and what I value, I say this. You wanna feel differently than me? You wanna judge me? You wanna tell me how you think I should live? Well, you can want what you want. That’s your right. And you can have any world view your heart desires, even if I think it’s nonsense. But you will NOT continue to bully me.
“I’m done trying to play nice with blood-hungry sharks and lying snakes. I’m not out to offend you, but if being my authentic self upsets you in the slightest, I don’t give a shit.
“What’s more, my exhaustion is turning into rage.
“I won’t get quieter. I’ll get louder. Bolder. More vocal about the fucked up state of things. You wanna get in my face with your judgment? You wanna attempt a hostile takeover of my life? You think you can strip me of my rights, my voice, my authenticity, my self-knowledge, or my dignity?
“Heh. You can try. But know this: I’ve got some fight left in me.”
The One-Two Punch
My personal choice is to lean into options 2 & 3.
I’m getting the fuck outta Texas, but I’m also getting really vocal about how wrong some of the shit going down is. I’m tired of being “civil.” I’m ready to be RUDE in the name of equality.
I’m ready to push back … from somewhere other than Texas. Because, fuck me, I can’t stand this place anymore.
There Ain’t No Bow
I don’t know how to wrap this up.
It’s a rant. It’s supposed to be. I’m pissed.
I want to take action. What’s more, I want YOU to take action, too. I want those of us who are pained by the selfish, judgmental agenda of the far right to band together and start raising some hell. I want us to take off the gloves, to stop asking them to please be reasonable and accept that reason left the building a long time ago.
I want us to fight.
And I want the fuck out of this hateful place.
Adios, Texas. I won’t miss you. Try not to take too many neighboring states down with you as you claw your way through clay and rock right down to hell.