By KJ Philp, June 2016 Issue.
The recent controversy surrounding Target was set in motion following the retail giant’s April 19 statement saying, that they “welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
In response to the conversation sparked by the statement, local trans activist and Target employee Maxwell Jamison posted a bathroom selfie (pictured) with the attached caption to his Facebook account April 27. Within two weeks his post had 10,212 shares, 4.1K comments and 34K likes.
Echo Magazine caught up with Jamison to talk about his experiences leading up to, and since, his viral post.
Echo: How would you describe yourself to our readers?
Jamison: I am a 24-year-old queer trans man with an activist heart. I am proud of my trans and queer identity and like to use my platform to educate others and advocate for equal rights for my fellow trans brothers, sisters and gender-nonconforming siblings.
Echo: How long have you worked at Target?
Jamison: I began working at Target in May of 2015, purposefully searching out a career with the company due to their trans and queer inclusive policies. I began the job after leaving a career that had done everything in its power to break me down, a very exclusionary, bigoted place of work that did not allow me to be my authentic self and had put me into a deep depression by the time that I submitted my resignation, fed up with not being accepted. Target was the opportunity to start fresh, as no one other than myself. Up until the announcement of Target’s inclusionary policies, I was actually closeted to all of my coworkers but one, a close friend of mine. Everyone knew me as Maxwell, a “straight male,” with a beautiful girlfriend and too many cats, and no one had any idea the wiser. While I am proud to be trans and I am proud of my history and identity, I was looking forward to the opportunity to live as my authentic self without my coworkers knowing about my past.
Echo: What reactions to Target’s statement did you observe?
Jamison: When Target announced their policy regarding trans and gender variant restroom and fitting room use on April 19, never would I have dreamt of the calamity that would follow. The store that I work in, on the outskirts of Phoenix, received dozens of calls from guests who were swearing at our team members and managers that they would never shop at our store again [and] that we should change the policy. Many people came in to demand to speak to our store manager in person, a scene I watched play out more than a dozen times while I was on shift. What many of these people did not understand was that Target’s transgender friendly restroom policy has been in effect for years, and was only announced publicly in response to the North Carolina bill as a form of solidarity to the company’s trans employees and shoppers …
Echo: What were the weeks that followed like for you at work?
Jamison: For me personally, the entire situation was surreal. Many fellow trans Target employees that I have had the opportunity to speak to [and I] unintentionally internalized the bigotry that we were watching happen on a day-to-day basis. It only takes so many people infuriated and disgusted over the idea of transgender people for us to take notice and turn those words of hatred towards ourselves and, let me tell you, it hurts. I began dreading going to work knowing that I would have to overhear the comments that people had about the situation, about me, many of them coming from people that I worked with. With no one knowing of my trans identity, I was subjected to multiple conversations about what rights transgender people “deserved,” and many people that I had thought were supportive friends of mine allowed their discriminatory bigotry to rear its ugly head while they were around me, none of them knowing that they were openly discriminating against a transgender person in their very presence.
Echo: What was your intention with this post?
Jamison: Honestly, much of the reason I wrote the post so that I could work through a lot of internalized frustration that I needed to get out of my system. After having to listen to hundreds of uneducated conversations about the bathroom policy and what rights my transgender siblings [and I] deserve to have, I had enough, and took it upon myself to share my thoughts and beliefs on the matter. I had figured, if anything, though the majority of my friends are LGBTQ+ or allies, that they could at least hear about the bathroom debacle from a first person account of a Target employee. My original intended audience was just for my Facebook friends, but after posting, a few of them asked if it was OK that they shared it. I said of course, and the rest was history.
Echo: At what point did you realize that your post went viral? What was going through your head?
Jamison: The morning after I had posted it, my girlfriend texted me while I was at work and told me that my post had been shared over 100 times, which was shocking as I had less than 100 friends on Facebook. Within 24 hours of my original post, it had been shared almost 1,000 times and I had people reaching out to me from all over the nation to congratulate me on my bravery for sharing my piece. The larger my audience became, the more I was hearing from other Target employees and trans and gender-variant folks, sharing their stories and voicing their support. Of course, the farther my post reached, the more discrimination I received. Many people dropped by the comments just to voice their hateful opinions, which though bothered me at first, the volume at which the support and understanding was coming through was MUCH louder than those that had nothing nice to say. The entire experience was surreal and incredible; I never thought my post or my image would have such an effect on people.
Echo: Since then, how has your life changed?
Jamison: Life has been a whirlwind since my original post. Within a few days, friends were tagging me in articles that had been written about me on attn.com, Logo’s NewNowNext, and Queerty. My image made it into local news on a report about the number of signatures that had been raised on a petition to ban Target and those that were continuing to support the store. I got messages from people across the United States and around the world, voicing their encouragement and cheering me on. The entire response has been phenomenal.
Echo: Do you think social media is impacting the trans* movement? In what ways?
Jamison: I believe that social media has been an incredible proponent of normalizing what it means to be transgender, bringing stories to the forefront that would not be heard otherwise …
Echo: Throughout your transition/youth did you have role models that you looked to and/or followed via social media? If so, can you share some examples and describe what you found them important/influential?
Jamison: Sadly, during the time of my adolescence that I was exploring my gender and sexual identity, I was very, voluntarily, cut off from the world. I thought that I was the only one like me, and because of that, there was so much fear that attempting to define who I was by researching online, I would have alerted others that I was some sort of outcast, or something to “correct.” I largely avoided social media while I was struggling through my identity crisis, though I am sure, looking back, it would have made my life far easier to witness others like me succeeding in a world that does everything it can to tell us we cannot.
Echo: What is the most surprising result of your Facebook post? (Just to be accurate, did you post it to other social media outlets?)
Jamison: The most surprising result of my Facebook post was the amount of attention that it received, and the messages of love and support that I got from people of every walk of life. I had a multitude of parents reach out to me and thank me for sharing my story, that I was an influential person to their children who were transitioning and afraid they would never be able to find jobs. I was sent photos of kids in elementary school that were breaking barriers of the gender binary and expressing their desire to transition, and that my story helped their parents better understand what they were going through. Folks well into their golden years took the opportunity to reach out to me and apologize for having lived lives that were not always accepting of others, and that they have seen the error of their ways, and they support me and others like me as we work towards becoming our authentic selves. Each message and each person who typed it out had a story, and every single one of them was incredible. The inspiration I received from my inbox is what I have come away with as being the most important. To think that I was an inspiration to any one person, let alone the people who resonated with my post is astounding and heartening.
Echo: Our readers will see this nearly a month after your post – what’s one thing you’d like to reiterate or have them take away from this interview?
Jamison: If I could reiterate anything, it is that from everything I, and others like me, have experienced as the nation continues to debate the rights of transgender people, there are so many people out there who we interact with daily, and know nothing about. Each person has a story, a history and past that defines them, a present that they survive just as the rest of us, and a future that they dream of and are creating for themselves. Be cautious of what you speak negatively about, be courteous to those around you, and remember that each of us has our own stories and struggles. In the end, we are all human, and we are all just trying to find our place.
Echo: What advice do you have for and trans, genderqueer, non-binary, non-conforming -identified individuals who might be reading this?
Jamison: If I could offer one tip of advice for anyone who may be trans identified, exploring their gender (or lack thereof), or questioning, it is that you must continue. Liberate yourselves from the problematic concept of the gender binary and do everything you can to create what it means to truly be you. Do not live for others. Do not allow someone else’s idea of what your life should look like designate who you are or who you become. Create an existence in which you can be your authentic self. Be proud of who you are. Stand up for yourself, advocate, and more than anything, continue. Do not give up. You are not alone in your struggles. Even when it may feel like you are completely alone and unsupported, generations of binary-dismantling individuals are standing behind you in love and support.
Echo: What advice do you have for any employers or family members reading this who might not fully understand why this issue is so critical to individuals who identify as trans, genderqueer, non-binary or gender non-conforming?
For those out there who may know someone who identifies as trans or gender-nonconforming, whether or not you fully understand what someone is going through, please recognize that the exploration of gender and identity are incredibly long and arduous roads. Any single person can pinpoint an event in their life that others may not have agreed with … What makes humankind incredible is our differences, and what we can learn from one another. Whether or not you agree with something does not mean it is wrong. Just because you cannot identify or relate to a persons journey does not mean that you can designate what it should look like. Just as we are all born with different colored skin and eyes and hair, we bring differences to the table that create an environment that is for all of us, not just a select few. With each individual comes experiences, ideas and differences, and all of those are to be respected, whether or not they are always understood or agreed with.
Echo: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jamison: Wear sunscreen. Drink plenty of water. Be kind to your knees. Floss.