After working a ten-hour day underground installing a basement tub, Dylan Forbis is finally ordering a drink.
It's trivia night at Ripcord, one of the oldest gay bars in Houston, decorated with '80s-era Pacman machines and colorful pride flags. The cash register where Forbis pays is decorated, too, with a sign that reads “Vote YES on Proposition 1”—the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which supporters simply call HERO. If passed in November, it would protect people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ages, disabilities, religions, and more from discrimination in housing, employment and at public businesses.
As a transgender man, the ordinance is important to Forbis. A few days ago he just told his story to all of Texas in a video put out by Equality Texas, a longstanding LGBT advocacy group, which has just kicked off a new initiative to educate Texans on what it means to be transgender. It's especially important in Houston, where opponents of HERO have tried to deter voters from supporting the ordinance by claiming it will allow predators dressed as women to go into women's bathrooms and assault young girls. One radio ad involved a young woman saying she didn't think she could have a baby girl here for fear of her future daughter's safety.
“Those ads hurt so many people every time they're heard,” Forbis said, settling onto the back patio with his beer and a pack of Camels. “That's why I jumped at this opportunity to do the video, because there needs to be education. When there is no awareness of transgender people, there's an opportunity for the opponents to come in and create the wrong narrative.”
But the narrative the video shows of Forbis's life is perhaps different from the idea that people who have never met a transgender man may have of them; Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said a common misconception that a transgender man is a “man in a woman's dress." Forbis, 27, works construction, mostly in plumbing, and has a goatee and thick arms, wearing work boots and gauged earrings. The video features him and a co-worker discussing what it was like when Forbis first told him he was transgender. His co-worker admits it made him a little uncomfortable at first, but says that, eventually, he looked past it. “We both work hard to earn a living,” the co-worker says, closing the video, “and the law should treat everyone who works hard fairly and equally.”
Forbis started making his physical transition four years ago, but says he knew he would grow up to become a man his entire life. In high school, Forbis played softball and liked art, joined the chess club and computer club. At home, Forbis tried fix-it-yourself projects and enjoyed working with tools. He said he kept busy in order to avoid the internal conflict that came with a constant identity crisis. "My mind was different from my physical body," Forbis said, "and in starting my physical transition, it was something that finally addressed that dysphoria.”
While at first he was concerned about how his identity would be received in such a male-centric field, he chose the construction route because he likes to work with his hands. He likes problem-solving, and in a lot of ways, having to search for solutions on the job each day reminds Forbis of why he decided to make the physical transition. “My transition was the same way,” he said. “It was very much about finding which path I wanted to take to become the best Dylan possible. I feel like because I am so comfortable with who I am, I can be a better co-worker, I can be a better friend, I can be a better partner, I can be all of these things because I am able to be who I am.”
But then Forbis cut himself off, recognizing that many others aren't able to feel like this at their jobs or with their families because of the discrimination they face.
Regardless of whether HERO passes, it will be illegal for straight men dressing as women to harass or assault anyone in a women's restroom. However, without HERO it's not illegal for someone to discriminate against Forbis at a public business, to deny him a job or refuse him housing simply because of who he is.