It took me 3 hours to get there, and 4 hours to get home, but it was so worth it. After all, it’s not everyday a girl like me gets her wings.
On Monday, I traveled from Hartford to Tribeca Park in New York City’s Lower Manhattan, for the unveiling of a public sculpture by international artist Rubem Robierb. But this wasn’t just any art display.
The 10-foot-high, 13-foot-wide, pearl white pair of fiberglass wings stand atop a steel and concrete base. The broad, sturdy structure is intricate and eye-catching. Robierb said he dedicated this latest sculpture to the transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary community “in tribute to its strength and bravery.” This is the latest in his series of “Dream Machine” interactive sculptures installed at a hotel and aboard a cruise ship. The public is not expected to stand back and simply admire his work, he said, but to take part in it.
“Place yourself between the wings, close your eyes and make a wish,” said Robierb. “Imagine yourself traveling to the place where your dreams will come true. This is a monument to the dreamers, for we are the ones who live and die making the impossible happen.”
Robierb was joined by friends, supporters, artists, gallery owners, social media influencers and everyday folks, many of them members of the LGBTQ community. A local TV reporter and photojournalists hovered about, as we all took turns posing in front of those beautiful white wings.
The sculpture is titled “Dandara” and is named for a trans woman in Brazil, Dandara dos Santos, who was tortured and murdered in 2017, for being different. For being transgender.
This was why I traveled so far, for so long; not just for a story, fulfilling my job as a journalist, but also to acknowledge my own evolution as a transgender woman.
My transition wasn’t anything like I had dreamed. In fact, it turned into a nightmare.
When I came out six years ago, I stumbled in the harsh glow of the media spotlight. I lost my way, then just as I thought I was back on track, I lost my job, my career, my home, and worst of all, I literally lost my wife — the mother of my children, and my best friend — to cancer.
And like so many trans people, the loss and rejection I encountered led me down a dark road, and I attempted suicide. Fortunately, friends helped me find a way back to the light. Renewed by the challenge of being a single parent, having inherited the job of “mom,” I rose to the challenge and found a way forward, blazing a new trail for myself to support my children.
My invitation to attend the unveiling came Friday, from a longtime friend, Robierb’s husband, weather anchor Sam Champion. Sam left ABC News shortly after I came out as trans. Knowing as he did my struggles and my recovery, Sam asked me to join him and his husband, to stand with them, and to say a few words.
I told him I could point out that the sculpture is a perfect way for us to kick off November, a month in which we celebrate transgender awareness, and a day — Nov. 20th — in which we mourn the trans people murdered across America and around the world. By some accounts, at least 22 trans and gender non-conforming people, mostly trans women of color, have been killed in 2019. It’s been called an epidemic by the American Medical Association.
At the park, I met a genuine goddess in the community, Miss Peppermint — a runner-up on RuPaul’s Drag Race, a social media star and a powerhouse activist.
She spoke with heartfelt emotion at the dedication ceremony in the park, which I streamed live on Facebook.
“Hopefully,” Peppermint told WABC-TV’s Lauren Glassberg, another former colleague of mine, “This will be the beginning of other queer people, trans people, trans young girls, and gender non-conforming people, to have a space where they can come, and know that their dreams can be realized.”
Later, when it was my turn to speak, Miss Peppermint recorded a video, as I noted the significance that a butterfly’s wings be the symbol of Robierb’s sculpture.
Following the dedication, Sam Champion and I chatted about his husband’s work.
“It was mind-blowing to dedicate those pieces to individuals who have lived or died, making dreams happen or allowing other people to have their dreams,” he said, speaking eloquently and candidly about the privilege he’s enjoyed, and how his husband’s series of sculptures have given him greater awareness.
“That took it to a whole different level for me, and I get choked up just thinking about it. I feel lucky I’ve had all of my dreams have come true. Every one of them. And now I feel like people can actually come here and visualize themselves and their dreams.
“Then the further story of taking it to a trans community, who is being shown negative images about themselves all the time, to find a beautiful spot where you can come and see your life the way you want to see it, the way you want your life to be, and to visualize that, so it comes true. I can’t think of anything else I’d be more proud of.”
A celebration followed at a fancy hotel bar, where representatives from MasterCard announced a donation of $5,000 to GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program. The corporate reps told me about the company’s new TrueName card to assist trans consumers by providing them with a credit card that actually matches the name they use everyday, as opposed to their birth-name.
That news intrigued me, but unfortunately, I had to leave. Sadly, I didn’t have nearly enough time to talk with my former coworkers and the assorted movers, shakers and celebrities. My children needed me, and the approaching evening rush hour imperiled my long drive home. Such is the life of a single working mom.
On my way back to my car, I took a moment to step back in front of Robierb’s wings once more. The crowd and cameras were gone, but Sam’s words echoed in my ears as I closed my eyes and I visualized my dream. I imagined the life I wanted: to be accepted, to be loved, to be happy and to live free of rejection.
Even though they were detached from my body, these wings lovingly crafted by Robierb’s hands felt as much a part of me in that moment as my own arms and legs. They were mine, as much as the changes I’ve made to conform my body to match my authentic gender identity. To my mind, they fit me better than anything I’ve ever worn. As I stood there, I reaffirmed: no government, no religious organization, no right wing publication and no political party will ever stop me from being me.
I realized in that instant: I am already living my dream.
Rubem Robierb’s sculpture, “Dandara,” is on display in Tribeca Park at West Broadway at 6th Ave. in Lower Manhattan, N.Y., until May 4, 2020. Find out more about the artist’s work at his website by clicking here.