TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Sarah McBride, was the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention of a major party. It was the night Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president. Sarah was 25 years old. She had already made history during the Obama presidency as the first transgender woman White House intern. Through her work advocating for LGBTQ rights, she met the transgender man who became her husband. But he died of cancer, leaving Sarah a widow at the age of 24.
So you can see why, although she's only 27, she has a lot to write about in her new memoir, "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, And The Fight For Trans Equality." Ever since she was a child, Sarah felt that politics was her calling. It was on her last day serving as student body president at American University that she came out as trans. She's now the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
Sarah McBride, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you came out as trans while you were still a student at American University. This was on the last day of your tenure as student president. Your coming out story with your fellow students is not a story of getting rejected. It's a story of getting supported. Your fraternity brothers - 'cause you'd been in a fraternity when you were still identifying as a male - your fraternity brothers came to your room to offer their support. Describe that scene to us.
SARAH MCBRIDE: A year before, I had joined a fraternity in sort of one last-ditch effort to prove to myself and to other people that I was someone I knew I wasn't. And so when I came out, I knew I would be disaffiliating from that fraternity. I knew that my relationships with those brothers might be a little bit different. But when I came out, I heard from so many fraternity brothers, and then eventually I opened the door to my student government office at American University and found about 10 fraternity brothers standing in a line with their Greek letters on, with their arms outstretched to give me a hug. And I think it was such a clear statement from them that while I may not be their fraternity brother anymore, I'd always be their sister. And that was really just emblematic of the response that I received from so many of my friends.
And that experience was empowering for me, and it demonstrated that with stories and with education, most people will respond in the right way when a loved one or a friend or a neighbor comes out as trans. But it also highlighted my own privilege. Coming out, up until that point, had been the hardest thing that I had ever done. But it was still relatively easy compared to the experiences of so many transgender people across the country and around the world when they come out.
GROSS: So when you were a member of the fraternity, did you have to do a lot of bro things?
MCBRIDE: Fortunately, the fraternity that I joined was one that was a little less filled with as much masculinity as sort of your stereotypical fraternity. But I did participate, I think, throughout my life in an identity that I knew wasn't my own, that felt like a costume.
You know, I talk about in the book how Halloween was one of the few days that I could come out and be myself with a little less sort of social stigma, and every other day for me was like Halloween. Every other day was like dressing up in a costume, performing an act that I certainly wasn't prepared for and, frankly, caused me a lot of pain. And that existed in some of the interactions with the fraternity. It existed in so many other aspects of life because I think people don't fully realize just how often we are interacting with our gender on a day-to-day basis.
GROSS: Give me an example from the fraternity of something that you felt you should be doing as a member of the fraternity and as, you know, at that time, identifying publicly as male but that you weren't really comfortable doing, that didn't really feel like you.
MCBRIDE: Well, I think, you know, I think for me the points that always caused sort of the most pain was when I was in just an all male-setting, right? When I was surrounded by other men, and it was clear that my presence in that room was based on my perceived identity as a man. And that sort of feeling of loneliness despite being surrounded by so many other people really in many ways encapsulates the experience of being in the closet. And it was those experiences, where my presence in a specific room or place was entirely determined by the perception of my gender, where what I describe in the book my homesickness really began to flare up. And I think one of the challenges we have...
GROSS: When you say homesickness, you mean homesickness for the body you felt you belonged in?
MCBRIDE: Not so much a body that I felt I belonged in, but rather, just a life that I felt I belonged in, a reality of being sort of seen by the world as who I knew I was on the inside. And I think one of the challenges that trans rights has in a way that's slightly different than the joint effort for gay rights is that most people who are straight can sort of understand that feeling of loving or lusting, but they don't quite have an analogous experience for what it feels like to have a gender identity that differs from your sex assigned at birth. And as I talk about, you know, for me it was that constant feeling of homesickness, that ache in the pit of my stomach that would only go away when I could be seen and affirmed as myself.
GROSS: Your mother, when you came out to her, said initially, I can't handle this. I feel like you're dying. How did you respond to that?
MCBRIDE: Well, I told my mother that she was keeping her child and gaining a daughter, that I would still be the same person with the same interests and passions and sense of humor - most of all the same smile, which I had sort of been known for since I was a baby. And so over time, she realized that while the packaging may look a little bit different, that the gift wrapping may look a little bit different, that I'm still the same person that she's always loved. And, frankly, we're even closer and stronger for it.
It also was a reaction that I anticipated. I had read before coming out about the different ways family members respond, and I knew that that was a likely response. Particularly since they would be supportive, I knew that at the same time they'd still mourn what felt like my passing. And it took my brother, who's a radiation oncologist, telling my mom, I deal with young kids who have terminal cancer, and I see every day their families mourn those losses.
You're not losing your child. Your child is not dying. They aren't going anywhere. And I think it took my brother sort of putting things into perspective a little bit more for her to sort of get out of that fog and begin to move forward.
GROSS: So, you know, you write that one of the things that prevented you from coming out sooner was that you had a girlfriend and you didn't want to hurt your girlfriend's feelings. But when you and she broke up, that kind of opened the door for you to come out as transgender. But I'm wondering, when you were publicly male and you had a girlfriend, was there anything gendered within the relationship?
MCBRIDE: Yeah. Well, I think there was absolutely an element of sort of performative masculinity in that relationship. I think we certainly had a potentially more egalitarian relationship than maybe some others. But, it was a performance to some degree. And, you know, I would find myself doing, you know, what others would call chivalrous actions. And now I sort of laugh at that sort of behavior because I want, as a woman, I just want to be treated equally. I want to be treated the same. I don't want to be treated like a delicate infant or a baby. And I think that sort of reflects this awakening in many ways, that I had after I came out, to the misogyny and sexism in the world.
GROSS: I'm kind of really glad you said that. You know, that you don't want these chivalrous acts and (laughter) you want to be just treated equally. Yeah.
MCBRIDE: Right. I mean, it's something I always talk with my mother about, of this sort of notion of benevolent sexism of, you know, if people think I can't open a door for myself, or if people think that I need to be sort of carried in everything I do then they might not be as willing to perceive me as willing to lead, or capable of leading or doing any of the jobs that I hope to do.
GROSS: So when you did come out as trans, what did you want your image to be as a woman? Once you were free to wear whatever you wanted and wear makeup if you choose to, and you know, just present yourself in any way you please?
MCBRIDE: Well, I think, like most women, I didn't really know at the exact start exactly who I was and what my expression would be and sort of what I wanted to be as a woman in that sense. I think there was this burst of femininity in many ways, of pent-up femininity that had - I kept inside for so long. I think most women who are sort of exploring their gender expression go through that in middle school or high school, but I went through that in college and right after.
But I think I sort of eventually landed in this place of what I call sort of casual femininity, of being able to express myself as I authentically feel, be able to sort of have the freedom. But I think as a trans person, I'm caught in between this rock and a hard place - I think many trans people are - in that if we aren't feminine enough as trans women, we're told that we aren't real women. But if we're too feminine, we're told that we're caricatures, as if masculinity is some sort of natural state of being or a default. And I think it's emblematic of this larger policing of gender that all women face and the navigation that we all have to go through in finding ourselves.
GROSS: Do you ever wear pants?
MCBRIDE: Absolutely, absolutely. Most days I actually wear pants. And frankly, I was saying to my mother the other week that I feel like my gender expression has gone from a place of sort of casual masculinity to this place of casual femininity, that I've sort of gone from the minus-3.5 margin of error in the 50 percent poll to the plus-3.5 margin of error side in the poll, that I'm sort of just the mirror opposite of where I was before. And, again, that wasn't hypermasculine before, and it's not hypermasculine now. But I wear dresses. I wear pants. I wear pretty much everything. I just sort of dress like a traditional 27-year-old woman.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Sarah McBride. She's the author of the new memoir "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, And The Fight For Trans Equality." She's the national press secretary for the LGBTQ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign. So we'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF PAQUITO D'RIVERA'S "CONTRADANZA")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Sarah McBride. She's the author of the new memoir "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, And The Fight For Trans Equality." She's the national spokesperson for Human Rights Campaign, the LGBTQ advocacy group, and she was the first trans intern at the White House during the Obama administration. She was the first trans person to speak at a convention, and that was at Hillary Clinton's convention in 2016.
So, you know, you write that when you came out as trans, you were so focused on transphobia and worrying about transphobia that you weren't prepared for just, like, your basic sexism and misogyny. (Laughter) So...
MCBRIDE: (Laughter) Yeah.
GROSS: So what experiences taught you about sexism and misogyny that you weren't prepared for?
MCBRIDE: Well, you know, I had always tried to think about the phobias and the isms in the world that people of every marginalized background face. But as you mentioned, I was so scared of the transphobia that I didn't I think fully wrap my mind around just how ever-present misogyny and sexism would be.
And you know, I - the experience that really sticks out in my mind and one I'll never forget is sort of the feeling the first time I faced street harassment or catcalling on the street. And the notion of someone else feeling entitled to comment - a complete stranger - on my body - I didn't fully realize just how dehumanizing that would feel in addition to also threatening my safety and making me worried about sexual assault. That of course as a trans person is also wrapped up in a fear that if they realize that they're attracted to or even sexually assaulting a trans person, that it can escalate into even fatal violence.
But it was sort of that experience of not just the feeling of a lack of safety which I sort of understood but also that that less-tangible indignity, that less-tangible dehumanization that one experiences when a stranger feels entitled to comment on their body and then just navigating the world in and the thousands of little decisions one has to make in order to navigate this world that really is built for men, to avoid the judgments that could result in anything from being dismissed in a workplace to potentially facing violence. And I think the scope of those decisions and the scope of that ever-present prejudice really shocked me and shocked my system.
GROSS: So give me an example of a decision you had to make.
MCBRIDE: Well, I think, I mean - I think the most obvious example is, what is the route I take when I go home, right? Always looking over my shoulder, I remember walking home from the White House one day and a man following me for about four or five blocks and taking out my phone, being prepared to call 911, having my keys in my other hand and then trying to take a really roundabout way to lose this person who was who was so clearly following me.
It's in the clothes you wear, right? It's in the clothes you wear when you go to work or in the clothes you wear when you go out that you don't want to sort of, sadly, distract from the message that you have. These are little decisions that really men don't have to make in the same way that women do. And while a woman should be able to wear whatever she wants without judgment, the reality is that sadly that's not the case.
And so it's sort of those types of little decisions from what you wear in the morning to how you walk home to how you speak and when you speak. Those decisions are a constant source of stress that actually lead to something that researchers have observed called minority stress, which is this notion of just having to navigate the world causes a degree of stress that impacts your physical and mental health.
GROSS: And so when somebody's being obnoxious to you, catcalling or something like that on the street, do you ever feel like saying, so are you saying that because I'm a woman, or is it more specifically because I'm a transgender woman? (Laughter) Like...
MCBRIDE: Well, I...
GROSS: Let's be clear. Why are you being obnoxious (laughter)?
MCBRIDE: Yeah, well, my guess is that they don't realize that I'm trans as I'm walking by because there are few - you know, there are not many things more stigmatized than a straight man being attracted to a trans woman. But it's that actual reason that there's so much stigma associated with attraction towards transgender women that I also fear beyond just the sort of traditional amount of fear around my safety as a woman that if they realize - one step too sort of masculine, one stride too manly, if you will - that their eyes - they'll realize that I'm transgender. Their eyes will open, and there is - there are a few things dangerous to a transgender woman than a straight man who's realized that he's attracted to her. And so it's the fear of sexual assault, but then it's that fear violence because they realize that I'm a transgender person.
GROSS: So before you came out, you applied for an internship at the White House. And then after you came out, you found out you'd gotten the internship. Did you have to tell them, well, actually, I'm trans?
MCBRIDE: So I applied in the period between coming out to my parents and coming out publicly to the campus community. So when I applied, I actually submitted my application under my name, Sarah. I had my legal name, which I, of course, had to include because it's the White House, but I also included that my name was Sarah. And I talked about why I wanted to be a part of that historic administration. I talked about wanting to be part of their transformative work on LGBTQ equality, and I explained that it was in part because of my identity as a transgender woman.
And that application was really profound for me because it was the first time on any sort of official document that I was able to write my name Sarah on it. And it felt so freeing. And then to be able to then be accepted and then enter the White House as the first trans woman to really work there in any capacity - first out trans woman to work there in any capacity - it affirmed for me the importance of having a seat at the table - the fact that you can even just be an intern, but your voice matters, and issues are no longer abstract when you're walking the halls or sitting across the conference table from someone of a particular identity.
GROSS: So how do you think your presence mattered in the Obama White House? And how do you think just your presence among people who may never have met someone trans before might have helped?
MCBRIDE: Well, I think there was no question that during the first term of the administration, there was support for trans equality and transgender people. But it's easy to deprioritize an issue when it feels abstract, when you weren't face-to-face with someone who's interacting with the challenges that a particular community faces. And so I think my presence - and that also includes the presence of trans activists that were coming into the White House for meetings of future White House transgender staffers - I think our presence helped to demonstrate the humanity behind this issue, that when we're talking about transgender people's access to medically necessary health care, when we're talking about nondiscrimination protecting - nondiscrimination protections protecting transgender workers, we're talking about real people. And I think that that for folks at the White House, just like for folks across the country, that real example, that face, that name to put with an issue changes the way you think about it.
GROSS: My guest is Sarah McBride. Her new memoir is called "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, And The Fight For Trans Equality." We'll talk about falling in love with and marrying a transgender man, who was also an activist, after a break. And John Powers will review the opening episodes of Season 2 of the FX series "Atlanta," which begins tomorrow night. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DARRELL GRANT'S "FILS DU SOLEIL (FOR TONY WILLIAMS)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Sarah McBride. Her new memoir, "Love, Loss, And The Fight For Trans Equality" is about her life as a transgender woman. She came out as trans in 2012 at the age of 21 at the end of her tenure as student body president of American University. She became an activist. And on the night Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president, McBride spoke at the convention, becoming the first openly transgender person to speak at a major party convention. During the Obama presidency, McBride became the first transgender woman to work as a White House intern. She's now spokesperson for the LGBTQ rights group the Human Rights Campaign.
Through your work as an activist, you met Andy, a transgender man, who also worked on LGBTQ issues. He worked at the Center for American Progress. You eventually married. You write that it was hard for you to start dating once you came out as trans. Were you insecure about having an intimate relationship as a woman and as a trans woman, worried that, you know, a man might not understand?
MCBRIDE: I was. I was very hesitant. I mean, I'm 27. I've been out for six years. And I think that insecurity continues to exist just generally. But even with a transgender man, Andy, who I began dating three months after I came out publicly, there was this fear that he would eventually find out that I'm not the person that he hoped I was or the woman that I knew I was, that there was this degree of insecurity of sort of worrying that the entire world was seeing me just as this newly out transgender person and not in my whole humanity.
And even dating a transgender man, I was incredibly insecure about that and incredibly worried that I wouldn't be able to find love, that no one would be able to love me as me because growing up the only examples I had for transgender people really in pop culture were dead bodies in a drama or punchlines in a comedy.
GROSS: So I had asked you when you were in college and you were dating a woman before you were publicly identifying as a transgender woman - I asked you if there are gender roles within the relationship. So I'm going to ask you that about your relationship with Andy. Where their gender roles?
MCBRIDE: You know, I think...
GROSS: It's such an interesting...
GROSS: ...Makes sense - you're a trans woman, and he was a trans man. You're just like, the possibilities there for gender non-conformity and...
GROSS: ...For confusing gender roles is so interesting. So I'd love to hear about your experience with that.
MCBRIDE: Yeah. That's a great question. And I think that in our relationship, there was a blurring of gender lines, right? There was a lack of gender conformity in the way we presented. And, you know, both of us being trans, you know, I think people might have preconceived notions of how we'll act one way or the other. But, you know, I was - I will say, at the same time, it's difficult to sort of talk about our gender relationships because so much of our relationship ended up being consumed by his disease and the fact that he was diagnosed with cancer. And so so much of the relationship and the roles we had were based on this sort of patient-caregiver relationship. And so it's difficult to navigate.
But I will say Andy was the type A in our relationship. Andy was the one who wanted the clean apartment and didn't want to order in and wanted to cook. Andy was the one who sort of always wanted to do all of that. And I think we both tried to be as egalitarian as you can be, acknowledging that people have sort of different preferences and skills.
But, you know, I think for us, our relationship was - what was great about it was there was no expectations when it came to gender, that we sort of let each other just be and do and act and dress the way we - the ways we felt comfortable. And sometimes that conformed to traditional notions of gender, and sometimes it deviated from traditional notions of gender.
And I think that's where everyone falls, right? Some people who are women, whether they're trans or are not trans, have authentic desires, authentic skills, authentic preferences that align with what is perceived to be the stereotypical preferences or desires or skills and then have others that don't. And the sort of - the diversity of that exists everywhere. And I think with Andy and I, we could just exist. We could just be.
GROSS: So you mentioned Andy's sickness. He got a sore on his tongue that wouldn't heal. It turned out to be a malignant tumor. The cancer had spread to the other side of his tongue as well. He needed surgery to remove a major part of his tongue. He worried that he wouldn't be able to speak. After surgery, he needed a tracheotomy. And then he was sent home. And you had to clean his tracheostomy tube.
This drives me crazy. I mean, anybody who has had to be a home health caregiver to a loved one after a hospitalization - there are things that you have to do nowadays at home that - yourself - that in the past, like, a skilled nurse with a lot of training would be doing. And it's terrifying.
MCBRIDE: It is. It is. It is horrifying. And, you know, we had exceptional care in every hospital and every - with pretty much every doctor we had. Although of course there are always a few exceptions. But when Andy was discharged after a seven-day stay at the hospital after major surgery, he came home, as you mentioned, with a tracheostomy tube, a feeding tube through his nose and several bags collecting blood. I mean, it was a startling sight to see him when he was being discharged.
And we were left with very little help. And for someone who at the time was 22 or 23 just out of college, I didn't quite know what I was doing. I didn't really know what I was stepping into. And my sort of fear of what if Andy dies on me right here and now was heightened because I really didn't even have that many life experiences that prepared me for those moments.
GROSS: My guest is Sarah McBride. Her new memoir is called "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, And The Fight For Trans Equality." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Sarah McBride, a transgender woman who is the spokesperson for the LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign. When we left off, we were talking about her relationship with her boyfriend Andy, a transgender man who was also an activist. After they fell in love, he was diagnosed with cancer.
After his treatments, he was told he was cancer-free. But not long after that, tumors were found in his lungs. And he was coughing a lot. And he asked you, if it turns out that this is terminal, would you marry me? And you did marry. In fact, you moved it up to a sooner date when things weren't looking good for Andy.
You asked Bishop Eugene (ph) Robinson to preside over the ceremony. He had been the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, which created a huge rift in the larger Anglican Church, with churches around the world taking sides about whether it should be acceptable for a bishop to be gay and remain in the church. What was your ceremony like?
MCBRIDE: Well, when Andy found out that his cancer was back, he asked me, as you said, if it turns out to be terminal, would you marry me? And at first, I didn't want to give him an answer because I didn't want him to think that if I said yes immediately that I was giving up. And so I said, well, let's hold off. Let's see what the doctors say, and, you know, then we can have that conversation. And then when we got the news that it was terminal, I told him that I wasn't going anywhere, that I'd be right by his side and that of course the answer was yes to his question.
Initially, we thought he had about a year left to live, and we planned to have a wedding in the fall. When he got the rediagnosis, it was late July. But then as his health began to deteriorate more rapidly than we anticipated and the doctors anticipated, his mother and I talked and decided that it would be best to talk to Andy about moving up the wedding. And so we did. And, of course, it was met with Andy wondering whether I was giving up. I told him, we're just talking about moving it up so that you can be ready for your chemo and your radiation, and it's clearly going to take more out of you than we anticipate, so why don't we just do it while you're as, you know - as strong as possible? We didn't anticipate that we were really going to have any kind of ceremony to speak of.
We brought in Bishop Gene about a week later. And we said to him that we were planning on marrying, and we asked him to preside. He had worked with us. He was a close friend of ours. And, of course, as an out, gay bishop, we knew that he would come to that wedding without any judgment to the love between two transgender people. And in five days, Bishop Gene and so many of our friends put together a beautiful wedding. Andy probably shouldn't have even made it to that wedding based on his health, but he rallied, and he lasted just long enough to get married.
GROSS: Were you able to talk with Andy about death?
MCBRIDE: We had actually talked about death well before his first initial cancer diagnosis when he expressed to me that he had a unique fear of death, that some people are resigned to fate - no one wants to die - but some people are resigned to fate, but that he wasn't, that he thought about death quite a bit and that he was really uniquely scared of it. And so when he found out it was terminal, he didn't have to remind me of that fear.
And sitting on our couch, which was always where we had these conversations, I remember Andy crying to me about how scared he was, about how the world would go on, and he wouldn't be able to be there to support his friends, to love his friends, to love his family. He wasn't going to be there, he said, to tell me that he was proud of me or that I was beautiful.
Again, and that was Andy - right? - in these moments of extreme fear, still talking about what he wouldn't be able to do for other people. I remember his niece Addison (ph) came to our house, and she was 3 years old at the time - 2 or 3 years old. And after she left, he turned to me and, with tears welling in his eyes, said, she's not going to remember me; she's not going to have any memories of me.
And I think that realization of the reality that the world will go on without you, that there are going to be so many things that you won't witness, so much life that you won't experience - it was sort of the ultimate cruelty because you're told to cherish every moment that you have, particularly when you know you don't have many left. And yet, every moment came with that revelation that it could be the last, that people will have that joy again, but you might not.
GROSS: After Andy died, did the fact that you were married help you legally in doing things that you needed to do after he was gone?
MCBRIDE: Absolutely. The fact that that Andy and I legally married without question made it easier in all of the different maze of forms and processes that one has to go through after someone passes. We wanted to make sure, I think, though, that wasn't really on our mind when we married. I think we were sort of so focused in the present, we were so clear-eyed about the moment we were in, that it didn't really occur to us that being married would have an impact after he passed away when it came to things like forms, and sort of estate planning and things like that. But it did help. I mean, it did make that process a little bit smoother.
And throughout it, we were also cognizant of what it was the funeral home that we were seeking out or any of the different clerks at banks or government offices that I was going to - you know the potential for mistreatment or discrimination, even of Andy's body after he passed away - another indignity thrust upon transgender people even after they pass. But it definitely made it a smoother experience. It was still incredibly challenging experience to go through and to navigate.
GROSS: What were the issues? Were there issues that you had to face for the funeral, for dealing with Andy's body after he died because he was trans?
MCBRIDE: Too often, when transgender people die, family members or funeral homes will end up dressing a body of a transgender person in the garments of the gender that they were assigned at birth instead of their gender identity. They're often dead-named and misgendered. And...
GROSS: Don't you usually - aren't - don't funeral homes usually ask you to bring clothes for your loved one?
MCBRIDE: So sometimes family members will bring clothes. So what I was going to say is, we actually decided to have Andy cremated, but we wanted to make sure that it wasn't a funeral home that would misgender Andy, that even when we weren't there, that they would respect his gender identity in the words they used, in the name they used. Sometimes transgender people, after they pass, their family members, if they aren't supportive, will ask the funeral home to dress them in clothes associated with their gender assigned at birth as opposed to their gender identity.
So there are a number of different ways in which transgender people, after they pass, can be disrespected. And fortunately, Bishop Gene went out and helped us find a funeral home that, even though Andy was being cremated, assured us that they would affirm his gender identity in everything they did.
GROSS: So are you in a relationship now? Is it OK to ask you that?
MCBRIDE: It is OK to ask me that. I'm not in a relationship. You know, after - a couple of months after he passed, I did try a little bit. But there was so much love in that relationship that even several years later, I still feel like my cup runneth over with love. I still feel the love from that relationship, and I still feel it every day. And so I'm really not in a hurry. That's one thing I'm not in the hurry for. I'm in the hurry for change. I'm in the hurry for progress. But I'm not in the hurry to find a new relationship because I still feel that love.
GROSS: So by the time you were 24, you had navigated coming out as a transgender woman. And you were a widow. Did you feel much older than your actual age?
MCBRIDE: I feel like I had a lot of life in those few years. Frankly, I feel like I've had a lot of life in the last five or six years in general. That experience aged me without question. And in many ways, even though Andy and I were together for only about a year and a half to two years, both of us felt like we had decades of a relationship in the experiences we had with one another.
And I think it also - those experiences prepared me to go out into the world, to continue to advocate in really unique ways and in ways that I feel like I've been calling on more and more as our politics have gotten darker and as the politics of hate have found a stronghold in the White House and in far too many state legislatures. And that's the lessons that I learned through my relationship with Andy, which is that hope only makes sense in the face of hardship and that, again, even in those difficult times, we can bear witness to acts of amazing grace.
GROSS: Since you were an intern at the White House and worked on LGBTQ issues at the White House during the Obama administration, what is it like for you now to watch the Trump administration in the White House, and how would you describe the Trump administration's positions on LGBTQ issues?
MCBRIDE: In many ways, we went from a presidency of progress to a presidency of prejudice. And the Obama administration over their eight years solved such incredible, transformational change on LGBTQ equality not just on the issue of marriage equality but in protections for LGBTQ people, for - in support for transgender equality. In so many different ways, we saw the ball moved forward for LGBTQ equality.
Since taking office, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have governed the exact same way they campaigned, which is with bigotry and with bluster, and that includes toward the LGBTQ community. Just a few months after taking office, this administration rescinded life-saving guidance promoting the protection of transgender students that the Obama administration had issued a year before. They've appointed anti-equality extremists to the federal bench and administration positions. They've sought to reinstate a ban on transgender people serving in the military, a ban that had been previously been lifted by the Obama administration. Recently the Department of Education announced that they would reject complaints by transgender students around discrimination in restrooms.
This has truly become in the last year the most explicitly anti-LGBTQ administration we've seen in history. And that's despite the fact that Donald Trump said that he would be a friend to the LGBTQ community. Well, that was clearly just words, and every single action since then has proven otherwise.
GROSS: Sarah McBride, thank you so much for talking with us.
MCBRIDE: Thanks so much for having me.
GROSS: Sarah McBride's new memoir is called "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, And The Fight For Trans Equality." The second season of the FX series "Atlanta" starts tomorrow night. Our critic at large John Powers will have a review after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF JESSICA WILLIAMS' "THE CHILD WITHIN")
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The second season of the FX series "Atlanta" begins tomorrow night. The series follows the stories of four African-American characters in "Atlanta." The first season in 2016 won rave reviews, big ratings and Emmys for its creator and star, Donald Glover. Our critic at large John Powers says "Atlanta" is one of the high spots in today's pop culture.
JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: Although we tend to label eras with the name of presidents, politics and culture rarely go hand in hand. Even as Donald Trump dominates the political landscape, it's African-American culture that's been seizing center stage, be it Beyonce performing "Formation" at the Super Bowl, Colson Whitehead and Jesmyn Ward winning literary prizes or "Get Out" becoming the most galvanizing movie of 2017. As I speak, "Black Panther" isn't merely ruling the box office but demonstrating how a superhero movie can actually be about things that matter.
In this big, bold, confident explosion of creativity, one of the loudest bangs has come from the FX series "Atlanta," whose creator, Donald Glover, won both directing and acting Emmys for its first season. Starting with roughly the same freeform comic genre as "Louie," "Girls" and "Better Things," the show is built around vignettes that range from the hilarious to the dead serious. Glover endows the format with a stinging social dimension. He captures the deadpan surrealism of lives that feel powerless in the face of a world gamed against them.
As you may know, Glover stars as Earnest Marks, known as Earn, who dropped out of Princeton and now lives part time in a storage unit. Earn's got a daughter with his sometime-girlfriend Vanessa. That's charming Zazie Beetz. To make money, Earn manages the career of his volatile cousin Alfred, played by the brilliant Brian Tyree Henry, who's a gifted rapper known as Paper Boi. Paper Boi's pal and court jester is Darius, played by one of my favorite actors, Lakeith Stanfield, who walks and talks on a frequency different to everyone else's.
As the new season begins, things are in flux. Paper Boi has become successful enough that adoring white girls sing folky covers of his songs. But he still needs to sell weed to survive. Meanwhile, Earn must deal with an arrest for possessing a tiny amount of marijuana. Here, in one of the sly, short scenes that are an "Atlanta" trademark, Earn meets with a probation officer.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ATLANTA")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Earnest Marks - first-time offender, narcotics possession with intent to sell.
DONALD GLOVER: (As Earnest Marks) Half a joint - plus they say the charge don't even count as long as I don't get charged again.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Unless you get arrested again, not charged. One's easier than the other. You've already paid your entrance fee.
GLOVER: (As Earnest Marks) Yeah, my jail entrance (laughter) fee.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I'll need $50 for the mandatory anti-drug class materials. And each class is $25. So that's $325 plus the $50 - $375 in total. Are you able to pay this amount of this time?
GLOVER: (As Earnest Marks) No.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) A payment plan will be set up for the remainder of your classes. Please pay promptly, or a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
GLOVER: (As Earnest Marks) Would I even have to show up for these classes if I paid for the whole thing in full?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) You can't. So let's not. Take one of those cups by the door. Fill it up, and leave it in the cupboard.
GLOVER: (As Earnest Marks) Yes, thank you.
POWERS: When Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked about his work's so-called magical realism, he said that he was actually being realistic, that magic was part of his reality. Glover might well say the same about the hallucinatory quality of "Atlanta," which seeks to capture black life in its often delirious aspects, like the alligator that turns up in Episode 1 or Darius' great riff on the tabloid monster he dubs Florida Man.
Because Glover's not the sort to pound away at a message, he likes unsettling our feelings, not wrapping issues up in a bow. He gives us his character's kaleidoscopic reality in all its laughter, bafflement, violence, resignation, loyalty and of course racism, not least the racism of white folks who think they're woke. Where "Black Panther" presents a utopian myth of blackness, "Atlanta" is all about capturing the textures of life as it's now lived, even ones that don't always put African-Americans in a good light.
If Vanessa is clearly the most sensible of the main characters - women tend to serve as a reality principle - the most fun to watch is Darius, who in Stanfield's boundlessly droll performance is a perma-stoned (ph) holy fool who seemingly floats above the action. That's not true of Paper Boi, an artist whose cauldron eyes burn with poetry and rage, amusement and self-destruction. His soul's too vast for the narrow world he inhabits.
In contrast, Earnest - caught in a classic bind of book-smart African-Americans. He doesn't want to have to give himself over to the white world to get ahead, yet he also doesn't want to wind up trapped in what "Get Out" called the sunken place - being just another black guy in a world where that means nobody can hear you scream.
I've only seen the first three episodes of season two, ominously titled Robbin' Season. So I'm not really sure where "Atlanta" is heading. But I know its comedy is drenched with foreboding. I also know there's nothing else quite like it on TV, no series at once so strange and angry and hysterically funny. It's a show that smiles at us through clenched teeth.
GROSS: John Powers writes about TV and film for Vogue and vogue.com. The second season of "Atlanta" begins tomorrow night on FX. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guests will be comics Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. They'll host the Independent Spirit Awards on IFC Saturday night, honoring the year's best independent films. They also do the lead voices in the new Netflix animated comedy series "Big Mouth" about a group of kids going through puberty, dealing with new sexual urges, body changes and considerable embarrassment. Kroll co-created the series. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer today is Adam Stanishevsky (ph). Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO FAST")
SONDER: (Singing) People say I drive too fast, move too fast, live too fast. Ain't no such thing as too fast for me. People say I drive too fast, move too fast, live too fast. Ain't no such thing as too fast for me.
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