By Barrett White
Danielle Skidmore is a runner. She’s the parent to a special needs child. She’s a civil engineer. She’s an out transgender advocate. And she’ll fight for your right to live your life authentically.
“My experience, having lived in Texas for 23 years, is that it is—at least on some levels—a more open and progressive place than the mythology might imply,” Skidmore says. “I think there is something fundamental about the ‘Texas spirit of individually’ that does allow people to accept ‘different’ in ways that one might not initially presume. My more recent experience as an out transgender woman has actually reaffirmed that observation.”
“My personal story is somewhat boring,” Skidmore continues—a humble statement for someone who serves as a member of the City of Austin’s LGBTQ Quality of Life Commission, a newly-formed advisory group to City Council. “I am just one of more than 125,000 transgender Texans,” she says, referring to the 2016 Williams Institute study that found Texas to have the second largest trans population in the United States. “The unfortunate reality is that, even in 2017, the simple act of being trans is still regarded by many as a revolutionary act.”
Skidmore does, however, come from humble beginnings. The middle of five children from Philadelphia, she says she knew early on that she experienced gender dysphoria—even before there was a word for it. “The truth is that it is an oversimplification to say that I ‘always felt like a girl,’” Skidmore says. “However, I never felt like a normal boy.”
She carried these feelings about her identity with her through the 1970s and ‘80s—struggling with internalized shame through her childhood, college, and into adulthood. For four decades, she hid her truth until she was able to “come out to herself” in 2009. “Living two lives simultaneously is exhausting,” Skidmore says.
When she first allowed herself to privately experience her true identity, it brought her peace. As time went on, however, she grew frustrated—feeling unable to be visible or to speak up for her fellow community members. She did find comfort in her growing circle of trans friends and supporters who advised her, “Danielle, don’t worry. When you do come out, there will be plenty of things you can do for the community.” Skidmore took this advice to heart.
“Transition is a complicated process, and each person navigates it differently,” she explains. “For my own transition, I always knew that it would be somewhat public. I knew that I needed and wanted to move forward in place, keeping the closest connections possible to family, friends, and work. Visibility is very complicated. Visibility is important to advance the conversations about transgender issues and rights. Unfortunately, visibility comes with great cost for most of our community. I am very fortunate that I can be visibly transgender with very few negative consequences. I have a supportive family and friends. I live in a wonderfully inclusive community. I have a stable career.”
Skidmore’s approach to advocacy is as authentic as the life she leads today—just live; be visible; use social media as a tool; reach out; and provide support. From her experience as a member of the LGBTQ community, a Texan, and a southerner, she offers the following advice to both her trans siblings and cisgender folks navigating the gender spectrum: “The first thing I would say is that you are not alone. We are all a part of an amazing, powerful, loving community. It is a community as diverse and as beautiful as we all are as human beings. There is no right way to be transgender. There is no test. Regardless of what we look like, how we dress, how we sound, whether we are ‘out’ or not, stealthy or visible, ‘full-time’ or not, early or late transitions, binary, non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, on and on. We are all transgender. We are all human.”
“To the cis community, I’d say that I recognize that trying to understand the transgender experience—for somebody who is not—is somewhat of an act of faith,” Skidmore continues. “It’s okay if you don’t understand it. All you need to do is accept it as real and valid.”
She concludes: “Transgender women are women, transgender men are men, and transgender children are children. A transgender person is simply trying to navigate their life the best way they know how—the best way they can. We still live in a world that too often treats us as broken or mentally ill. We live in a political climate that still too often tries to equate us as sexual deviants, pedophiles, a ‘burden’ on society, and a danger to others. We are just people.”