A Conversation with Michael Hughes
by Jude Samson
I was out at the time the bathroom selfies started. I did live as stealth for about 12 years but decided to be out and start speaking at schools and universities in around 2012 after a cluster of trans teen suicides in Minnesota.
What was the initial moment where the concept of taking pictures in the women’s restrooms entered your mind?
I was running my mouth on twitter (like I do) to Rep. Frank Artilles in Florida when he was trying to push a bathroom ban through, and kept talking about trans women repeatedly and “men in the women’s bathrooms” and I wondered if people like him ever, for one second, imagined trans men in the women’s bathrooms and what that would look like – and how people would react if I were to just start going into women’s facilities because of his law.
Did you or your family have any “crisis of faith” (as it were) moments right before or immediately after the first posting?
I didn’t – I never looked back. My wife, however, went through some fear the first few days just because of some of the nasty comments and hate directed at me and others in the trans community. But neither of us ever regretted it.
The women in the pictures are your friends and family – did it take much convincing for them to get on board or was everyone gung-ho immediately?
Oh gosh no. I had women in our family calling and texting me asking if and when they could be in a bathroom selfie. I even had women in the city we lived in at the time messaging me, offering to take a pic with me.
As with all things in life (especially on the internet) there’s bound to be backlash – were you or the family impacted by the backlash (such as harassment, credible threats, etc) or was it mainly just cyber-trash talking?
I did get some real threats, and some pretty nasty messages. The majority yes, was the typical trash talking you see in any social justice issue. The part that stung the worst at first were the trans people that were giving me backlash. Some took issue with my verbiage, i.e. “do I look like I belong in the women’s restroom?” I wasn’t trying to make the issue about looks, or say that a person should look a certain way to use the bathroom. I was simply trying to get them to look at it another way since all they seemed to have in their heads when they thought about transgender people is “men in the women’s bathroom” – I wanted them to see a picture of a trans man in the women’s bathroom and imagine the reactions of women. At the end of the day, I know that my selfies have helped and inspired more than they’ve hurt, and maybe my approach differed than what others would have done – but I feel good about what I did and I’d do it the same way again.
You recently moved from Minnesota to Texas, do you feel that being in the “deep south” has been more welcoming or more difficult as a trans man who is now widely known?
I’ve experienced nothing but acceptance. I do get noticed every so often, and so far, everyone who has recognized me has been very welcoming and positive. I think most people are generally good people and there’s a lot of good conversation going on right now. The haters are definitely active online – you know – where it’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and talk smack. But when people get a chance to meet a trans person face to face – the interaction at least has a chance to be transformational.
Any interesting stories that someone has shared with you where they’ve triumphed over a bathroom situation in their area thanks to your publicity and starting things?
I had a young man – a cisgender man – tell me that after showing the campaign to his sociology class at school, and polling students (they had a trans student at the high school) – they were able to secure a couple of bathrooms to mark as gender neutral. I also had several people reach out from the university level, saying that it helped gain gender neutral bathrooms on campus.
Has being an internet figure resulted in any confrontations in the bathrooms for yourself from anyone who has recognized you?
Not at all – I’ve continued to use men’s facilities like I have for over 20 years, and have had no issues.
Is there a lot of pressure on you and your family to take on “activist” roles now to a greater extent now that you started the #JustNeedToPee?
Not really – but then again, I stay pretty involved in what’s going on and try to have a voice in the conversation.
Have you, or have you thought about, joining up with some of the larger activist groups like HRC, Trans Law, and similar groups as a spokesperson?
I have – and am looking into bigger opportunities in Houston at the moment. Unfortunately, I am pretty far removed geographically from some of the bigger organizations.
Speaking of spokespeople – who are some of the ones you look up to the most?
I am a big fan of Mara Kiesling – she works tirelessly at advancing trans rights and she’s done so much for our community.
You’ve mentioned some interesting folks have wanted to chat with you including, more recently, Montel Williams. Is there anyone who has really stood out as amazing (if so, who)?
Definitely Montel- he tends to be a bit on the conservative side politically but he’s really gotten involved in this bathroom issue and is a huge supporter of the trans community. He’s very outspoken about the fact that he’s completely against any type of bathroom policy.
Any up-coming publications or appearances that we should watch for?
Nothing big at the moment – although I will be back blogging on Huffington Post very soon!
Needless to say the NC HB2 was devastating especially since it was followed by others like Mississippi despite ones from Georgia being vetoed. Do you feel that the general public is mostly in-line with these political witch-hunts or do you feel that the majority of the people are more progressive and tolerant to the LGBT community?
That’s hard to say – there’s definitely a lot of bandwagon behavior because of the fear mongering tactics used by politicians. There are a lot of people who reach out to support us. I’m not sure what the ratio is, but we have a lot of work to do because the way the right is presenting these issues to people ignorant of the trans community is playing on their fears and stereotypes.
Do you feel that these anti-gay laws are going to buckle under the pressure of high-profile companies and celebrities along with the legal ramifications (infringement on our liberties) and it’s just a matter of time?
I do think that the high profile opponents of these bathroom laws have – and will – make all the difference. I appreciate every major corporation, artist, musician and business leader who takes a stand and yes, I do think it’s just a matter of time before the tide turns in our favor.
I know I feel elated and excited every time I see a new business or high-profile person step forward to speak up for equality. What are your thoughts on mega-businesses like Disney, Wal-Mart, and a large chunk of Hollywood filming industry standing up for trans-equality?
I think they’re lining up on the right side of history and I think that they’re also using intelligent business practices. Society is changing and people are more accepting of others’ differences. That’s only going to increase and the companies that stay diverse and welcoming are the ones that will prosper.
Do you think that the general public support we have right now will turn against us as more businesses pull jobs and the President (and states) put up sanctions, pull funding, and activate travel-bans? This is taking vital money and jobs away from people who are getting caught in the cross-fire.
No – I think a lot of people see this for what it is and the blame is starting to fall where it should. Civil rights issues aren’t solved by asking nicely for our rights. The sanctions and bans are a necessary part of the process and the blame for the losses associated with them goes to the side infringing on human rights. HB2 has already backfired to the tune of about a half billion dollars for North Carolina. I don’t see HB2 being around for long, and I think other states and municipalities are paying attention and hopefully, learning that hate doesn’t pay.