Time. The calculation of what happens. The space between doing one thing and the next. The length we anticipate. The passing of. The schedule abiding, indication of, where to arrive, or leave, or the instance of which we stand in. Time; of which we feel we have none. The impatience of moments. When we feel we don’t have long. Or there are moments when we don’t know when it’s up.
It is connected to the love and relationships that affect us. It can be our enemy or our friend. We are often told that good things take time. A statement that I often heard, of my wait for the response of the Utah Supreme Court; mostly by people who just didn’t understand that my biding time was also weighing on my mental health. Every passing day, month, year; time stacking against me.
Then it came, the answer; about damn time.
Now it seems a blip. I hold that it was worth the time fighting for my dignity; for others’, continued right to a precedence of process. Now on this side of the timeline, the count continues as anniversaries. It has been two years since the announcement came; May 6th, 2021.
I use social media to remind me of big things. I just can’t hold these core memories like I used to. The review of what happened on this day, like a time capsule. Sometimes it’s a way back machine, spiraling into triggers. More often than not, joy; true joy.
I watch how my kids have grown through recall. My youth slips further from me. I observe how my wife and I grow in our love. I take stock in my goals as they become reality, or am reminded I once set out to accomplish something. A timeline of collected moments shared over a global channel.
I search the archives to refresh the moment of hearing that the case outcome would be posted the next day. I take you back to that moment, May 5th, 2021, that time, on my timeline with these words:
Well, it’s finally here. Tomorrow at 10 am, we’ll know the opinion of our case. I can’t even tell you how I’m feeling right now. So much has been put into this. I’ll be honest, the weight of this case has been stressful on my mind. If I screwed something up, it’s heavy to think how many it affects. On the other hand, not many can shoulder that, and I’ve been humbled and blessed to have been able to take it on. I haven’t been alone at all. So many people to thank that helped get us here. The first: my dear sister Angie Rice. We met in person Dec 2016, when we decided to take this road together. My wife, Sara Childers-Gray who keeps me grounded and focused on not giving up or in. Our team at Wharton O’Brien, PLLC. Chris Wharton, Kyler O’Brien, and Melinda! And those who have worked on the case that I’ve never personally met. There have also been amazing people following and telling our story. The great as always Jennifer Dobner, for telling our story with such humility, preserving our dignity. Brónagh Tumulty for making it important to persevere and ask the questions that didn’t always provide the fruit. A long time friend, Michael Aaron for being the voice of news for our LGBTQ+ family, and reaching out in the best and right moments. My family and friends and the awesome organizations that have stepped in to assist. Specifically Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire and The Imperial Rainbow Court of Northern Utah for their continued support for the trans community. There’s a lot more to process, but I wanted to say thank you before tomorrow hits. It comes full circle in one way or another. So #tenfeettall because #translivesmatter.
It was a time of anxiety, reflection, relief, fear, worry, and hope. The culmination of a long wait was about to provide either disappointment, or victory. Numb, my mind raced. Panic set in, and the next 12 hours proved that sleep was not going to be had.
Let’s go back in time…
August 16, 2016
Today, I stood in front of the judge in my petition for name and gender change. Every nervous bone in my body was totally not prepared for the outcome. In the request for gender change, the judge ruled that he couldn’t rule on something that just doesn’t have a precedence for or against the request. The State of Utah has never denied nor set legislation and governance on the process of the change. He was firm in stating that it was not based on my character, or merit or genuine need for change, he just had no way to set an order without previous precedent to base it off of. He mentioned something about our political climate but really at that point I was in tears in front of him. He is a sound standing judge, and his personal beliefs do not hinder his judicial obligations. I could tell he would have been swift had he had something to base a ruling on. I could feel that he was directing me towards the issue that legislation must be changed so that he can do his job. There are several others in the transgender community who have faced other judges in other districts who were granted the change solely on the fact that they didn’t quite know what to do but it all looked sound enough to move forward. I got the guy that spent the last few weeks researching my petition because he just wasn’t sure what could legally be done. So I missed out on the person who just didn’t want to take the time to be educated on their standing. However, I look at it as this, I don’t want to be identified as my authentic self based solely on the fact that someone just wanted it off their desk. I want to be identified by my state because the judge was looking at my interests and genuine needs. Here’s my pledge: I WILL FIGHT THIS! I have to. Not just for me, but for the entire transgender community in the State of Utah. I’m tired of being swept under the rug as just a problem they deal with. I’m tired of worrying that I might be denied the equal rights that all Utahns are provided. I remember where I was during marriage equality, right by the side of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Now we need that same support. I NEED HELP! How do I do this? This will be a rough climb to the top of the hill.
That day in court, the time I took waiting for my first date in court, all of it crashed in a matter of moments. It hit me so hard, I really had no idea what to say or do. I cried; the snotty tears kind. The, I don’t understand you kind. The, what the fuck just happened kind. I sat there as my self-representation in which I was legally allowed, was questioned. The time he took to backhandedly allege I was trying to practice law. The time he insulted me and my character in a way that felt obscure.
The time it took for me to be denied my request through to the attempt at appeal was only a few short months, comparative to the final answer. I sat in that room, this time with a plan and representation, ready to face the judge again. No crying, no fear, no loss for words, as my lawyer spoke on my behalf. Unfortunately, this time, that judge knew his answer. We left it all on the table, waiting.
The span of a month passed and his words were hurtful, inequitable, and personal. It wasn’t just about me, it was about the political climate. It was never really about precedence.
I met Angie in our lawyers’ office. The day after the judge posted his ruling in my appeal, he denied her request for gender marker change. There we were, the perfect storm to take this case further. We would be able to show the inequity of being denied. Our lawyer felt we had what it took; the drive for change and the endurance to see it through.
I’ll be quite honest, it took everything I had to make it to the opinion; the growth I went through, the challenges of waiting, and the increasingly diminishing hope. Time marched forward as others were granted their requests. We watched life move, people leave, goals set, prayers raised, and the hours add up in the work of our legal team. It was money stacking toward either success or loss.
I’d track the invoices, and become burdened by the what if’s. Jealousy and sadness became the reasons I couldn’t go support others on their court days. I couldn’t truthfully say “Congrats on your request”, so I lied a little to push hope for others forward. Each yes to them was pushing my no deeper and deeper; rooted agony.
I knew it was important to tell my story, to keep the fight public and yet still private. I learned to spot the bots and trolls from the real hate.
In the middle of my year as Emperor of an International Court System chapter, I prepared myself for the continued burden of the fight. We were asked to tell our story, so that people would see us, know us, and better understand the importance of the why. I opened my life to the most vulnerable moments and let the world read and comment about me as a human.
Most comments came as neutral. The opposition, real scares. Never read the comments section, unless you want to know how a complete stranger holds true hatred for you, as if they are entitled to justification of their behavior.
The front page story. The Salt Lake Tribune. The words given in permission. Life would never be the same, and the world had access to you in moments. Be brave. Be visible. Someone will see, and they will stay; make the choice to live, because they aren’t alone.
The legal team finally heard, we are getting a date soon. So they prepare, put more hours in. No stone unturned. They add up: time, hours, dollars, debt. While you wait for gender freedom, you become a prisoner to the system, to the shame of what if, to the thoughts of regret for putting your family through all of this. What’s another few thousand dollars for a single little marker on your Driver License?
Guilt. A tool against the time.
January 8, 2018
Today Angie and I watched on as our lawyer presented our appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, in this “new frontier” for the Justices to make an opinion on.
We now wait to hear the results of that opinion. Until then, we do still have the need to raise the funds to cover the work we have accomplished thus far. Will you assist us in sharing this cause?
Read this amazing story from Jennifer Dobner for more information on today’s proceedings. https://www.sltrib.com/…/utah-supreme-court-considers…/
The wait game. The hard to hold onto sanity game. The life is passing by game. It strolled along, and I tried to remain busy for the good.
I had a tumor removed the week after our court date that January. The results? Benign! I helped my community with fundraising duties. Officially joined the board of Ogden Pride the same month. Watched my wife in her turn at being a Princess. Assisted Ogden Pride with the 4th annual pride festival plans. Hosted events for others. Created STARS in Action, a trans and non-binary program of Ogden Pride.
Life moved, time marched on, and 2018 saw changes in me. I started my attempt in a doctoral program. The stress and burden of the case remained at the forefront of personal progress. The case received attention in that the Utah Supreme Court required the state to actually respond.
You see, the judge was against us, but not even the state felt compelled to address the ruling in front of the USC. Answers were needed, and the Justices had to intervene to receive them. Again, more time preparing for response. Research, something that doesn’t come cheap, hours focused on the case.
The year turned over, I failed my first semester of grad school. I knew I couldn’t give up on that dream. I regrouped and let 2019 tell me more of what I needed. Retry school. Wait out some more time. Oh, eye surgery. Time to heal; impacts to your school completion.
The weeks rolled into months, and a curveball hit. I had to have a hysterectomy due to complications. Except now time against me rattled. The gatekeeping of insurance. I had to prove I was mentally competent to make a decision about what my doctor already confirmed was needed. Time, I paid for, with someone who knew me and my transition with fine detail. His time, approval letter.
Then time ran out in meeting a specific window. I scrambled to seek a second letter from a completely knew person in psychology who didn’t know me, hadn’t been a part of my journey, but was confident I was sane. An ally stepped in, one who’d watched my case and wanted to help, stepped in at the last minute.
Scheduling a surgery date, with a looming end of year; impossible or improbable? I was last, again, on the final moments with a part of me staying behind in 2019 while the remainder of the new man walked into 2020. My complete hysto happened December 31, 2019. What I didn’t anticipate was the world closing just a few short months later.
More time, healing. I tore, I hurt, I pushed too hard. My recovery was longer than anticipated. It was nothing like my top surgery, or tumor removal, or even PRK. I was in full-forced menopause, facing the end of my rope in patience, watching a wreck approaching.
I lost it.
Then finally the answer came…we won! May 6th, 2021.
Except would you believe, it took more time for that judge to issue my paperwork.
June 25, 2021
Well, this has been on my mind since August 16th, 2016! So happy it’s here. I mean, there’s some stuff to it, but I’ve processed the BS and I’m going to celebrate it’s FINALLY in writing.
These past 4+ years have been filled with love and support from so many people. People who told our story. People who have continued to fight for trans rights. People who have been around during my entire life transition from youth to now who continue to embrace me for my authentic self. I owe a debt of gratitude to many.
My wife has stuck by my side through so many hard moments. She continues to be my rock. Thanks babe for everything you’ve pushed me to do and be.
To our legal team of awesome and albeit law nerds and superheroes of justice! Chris, Kyler, Mini Jo and the rest of the power team of which we’ve never met, thanks for walking us hand-in-hand on this. Thanks for educating us along the way. And Kyler thanks for the super geek talks!
There’s a lot more fight ahead for trans rights, but today we continue the celebration of life, equity and justice! Happy Pride Month Ya’ll!
From the first moment I stood in front of that judge, to the moment he was forced to acknowledge he’d lost, GRANTING me my gender marker change, TIME calculated a life blip; 4 years, 10 months, 9 days and over $50K between us to make a difference.
I’m looking for ways to speed up the payoff. I’ll be paying for my portion for quite some time.
Sean Childers-Gray is a designer, writer, trans advocate, and educator. This essay was originally published on his Substack, The Shape of Our Dignity.