March 31 is Transgender Day of Visibility. This year, it comes after an onslaught of anti-trans legislation around the country — including in Alaska, where a bill that would ban transgender girls from female sports is making its way through the Legislature.
But Jane Hale is not afraid to be in the spotlight.
“I’m a ham,” she said. “I like having an audience.”
Hale came out as trans in February, at the age of 69. And she did it in a rather bold way: through a column in the Juneau Empire.
“I mean, it sounds cliched, but I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I’ve been hiding this for so many years.”
The column starts with a Sufi story that was told to her by a professor. It’s about a river trying to reach the other side of a desert.
“It’s a parable about our individual insufficiency, a story about allowing others to help us. Whatever you have to do, you don’t have to do it alone. You can rely on others for aid and comfort,” she wrote. “For me, the story has become a transgender parable, a story about dying as one ‘self’ to become another: giving up the identity the culture has saddled you with and discovering a self that feels more authentic and true.”
She writes: “The courage to live authentically is meaningless without the courage to do it with and for others.”
Since her initial column, she’s taken on a public-facing role as a trans person in Juneau.
Transgender Day of Visibility is a day of awareness, to celebrate trans identity and the resilience of trans people. While representation of trans identity has increased, so has hateful rhetoric.
This means that for many, coming out isn’t just about themselves. It’s to build and strengthen the trans community as a whole.
“I wanted to be public about it,” Hale said. “I wanted to be an activist, take an activist position. I’m going to do this. Let me help other people who are doing this, too. Let me be a part of this thing out there. We have a nice trans community here in town, and some of us are open, some of us aren’t, and I just wanted to do that.”
For Hale, it’s been worth it to see the community’s reaction.
“A friend and acquaintance came up to me at the pool the other morning just, you know, thanked me for the columns, and it was so heartfelt and warm, and I was almost in tears,” Hale said. “Yeah, it was really wonderful. And that’s happening again and again. And that’s the reward. That’s the payoff. Right?”
Hale says trans visibility in Juneau is a work in progress, but, so far, she’s found support.