I decided to run for District Leader in 2019 because I believed our local Democratic Party was broken and failed to represent a bold leftist vision for Brooklyn. I chose to run for the Female District Leader seat given my sex assigned at birth, but I did not run to be a female — I ran because I wanted to step up, challenge entrenched power, and create space for new leadership in Brooklyn’s Assembly District 52.
I quickly realized how much campaigning put all aspects of my identity outside my individual control. My career, my background, and my very personality became subjects of ongoing scrutiny. And, of course, my gender identity was assumed female, as someone running for a seat historically and legally limited to women.
Through campaigning, I came to realize that my required public identity did not match my own understanding of myself. The “female issue” was often front and center in my efforts to win the election. Through my gender presentation and my name, I am not always assumed female, and I was regularly misgendered by voters. My campaign team was on a constant mission to correct folks who took me for a man and remind them I was running for Female District Leader. On calls during the final hours of campaigning, voters reported they did not vote for me because they thought I was a man. As I engaged with thousands of people across my district, I was forced to publicly state my gender identity over and over again — even though I knew the term “female” didn’t feel quite right.
My campaign experience pushed me to think critically about my gender. The nearly century-long exclusion of trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNB) people from the Brooklyn Democratic Party, the Party’s continued disregard for gender identities outside the binary and regular transphobic behavior, and my growing feeling that Female District Leader is a misgendering term for me have forced the issue: I am coming out as gender non-binary.
What does that mean for me? It means that I do not identify as fully female or a woman. And I also don’t feel like terms such as male or a man are a fit for me. My name is Jesse and I fall somewhere in between. I am proud to introduce myself with the pronouns she/they.
I am a fairly private person and this disclosure would normally be a personal one, for me to make on my own terms to family, friends, colleagues, and anyone I interact with in my regular life. However, as an elected official, I see coming out as both a privilege and a duty. My situation is different than it was six months ago. As a current District Leader, I see two imperatives: to represent Democrats in my district and to lead publicly as my full and true self.
I hope sharing my story demonstrates a few truths. First, we need to open up our local Party positions to all genders. As a non-binary person, there are no District Leader seats in Brooklyn that include me. Second, gender identity is fluid. I am an example of someone whose experience of gender identity has shifted dramatically in two years. Third, labels and boxes don’t work for everyone, and they shouldn’t be a requirement to run for office.
What I have discovered through campaigning is that true gender representation will not come about through rigid quotas. And while I have decided to publicly share my gender identity — and to shed light on my experience of deep discomfort within a gendered party leadership system — non-binary and trans people should not have to out themselves to have a seat in the Party. I am immensely proud to represent oppressed gender identities in the Brooklyn Democratic Party and to continue serving the 52nd Assembly District as my true self. Our politics should not only represent us but should also enable us to represent ourselves, authentically, as who we really are.
This post is a labor of love written in collaboration with Melissa Morgan, Angela LaScala-Gruenewald and Sara Shoener.