Yesterday, I changed my maiden name to my legal married surname, just like that. With one simple stroke of a pen, I went from Miss to Missus.
Yesterday, Danica Roem changed the political landscape of our entire country. With one simple election day, she went from Miss to State Assemblywoman.
I remember when Danica legally changed her name from Dan Roem to Danica Roem. Her task was not so simple. She encountered loads of leading questions from state offices, misidentifying her gender AND her name. The process took months. Pronouns became paramount–and evidently too difficult for people to manage. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Two summers ago, Danica came to visit me in Petersburg, VA, presenting for the first time (at least in my presence) as female. True to form, she flashed me almost immediately. I felt an instant pang of jealousy: this bitch was prettier AND bustier than I was. We spent a couple of hours catching up, uncovering the fact that according to my endocrinologist and hers, I actually had more testosterone coursing through my blood than she did. She also joined me for a 12-step meeting to support my recovery. In a predominately conservative crowd, I felt protective of her, yet she was the one who made me feel comforted. She joked that during the circle-up at the end of the meeting, she was wondering if anyone noticed her jangling male parts protruding under her skirt. No one did. Since then, the Serenity Prayer circle-up makes me laugh every time. Throughout our visit, she was more amped to hear about my recovery than she was concerned about touting her own transformation. I guess you could say I was presenting as a sober woman for the first time, and she was THERE. FOR. IT.
Danica and I met in college at Saint Bonaventure University. She sat next to me in my junior year (her senior year) Government class. People gave her shit for constantly raising her hand. I thought she was brilliant. At the time, she was Dan. Not many people knew what to do when this metal head vocalist in a band called Cab Ride Home schooled pretentious co-eds about parliamentary procedure. Dan had long hair and a wide range of opinions on literally everything. I’ve never told her this, but I actually took notes on what SHE had to say, not our professor. I felt like Dan knew more about the issues that mattered to me.
I don’t know the exact moment we became friends. I think it was after class one day when I had finally mustered the guts to raise my hand and participate in the discussion. I was, of course, extremely insecure and self-conscious. She approached me after class to tell me she liked what I had to say. I felt so flattered; here was this loquacious and learned journalism student who knew more about legislation than most Congresspeople with paid legislative staff could ever pay to know. How did I catch the attention of such a special person?
We kept in touch after she graduated. We texted each other with a couple of emails sprinkled into our communications. Then Facebook messenger came around, and we became closer. In 2009, a year after I graduated, Danica and I reconnected. We met at a bar in Richmond to share a few beers. She was back from touring with her band in Germany. I will never forget when she sheepishly reported that she had something to tell me: she was gay. I was thrilled to hear this news, as my best and most entertaining experiences in friendship life were almost exclusively with gay men. It was at this bar where she recounted a story I will never forget. She described hooking up with a dude while masterfully inserting the infamous Mortal Combat catchphrase “FINISH HIM!!!” into the anecdote. It had been a long time since I laughed that hard.
In 2013, I received a major phonecall. I was visiting with a friend in San Diego. We had just gone swimming while drinking, one of my most favorite ill-advised activities at the time. I saw that “Dan” was calling, so I immediately answered. Dan was on the line to tell me that she would be transitioning to Danica. I remember squealing so loudly that I thought we might get busted for waking up the apartment complex. We talked for over an hour about what this meant for her identity, her livelihood and her politics. She was candid and eloquent about her transition process. Counseling, hormone therapy, gender identification, fears, hopes and ambitions. I felt so lucky. It took me a few fumbles with the pronouns “she” and “her,” yet she made the effort to make me comfortable. Her selflessness has never wavered.
On Christmas Eve 2016, I got engaged. Danica was one of the first people I told. She called me almost immediately. She was thrilled, lovely, gracious and adoring. A couple of months passed, and Danica had some news for me, too. She would be running to unseat Bob Marshall. After a few minutes of gushing settled our excited shrieks, she asked me to be her campaign manager. I nearly lost my shit.
But it wasn’t the time.
Danica offered me the most precious of campaign positions, short of being someone’s spouse. She believed in my abilities when I had long since abandoned my political organizer status. Her faith in our friendship was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I gave her proposition a lot of thought, but I realized that finishing school, waitressing and preparing for a wedding had me by the proverbial balls. I would not do her extraordinary candidacy the justice it deserved. She understood–of course she did–and she continued forward.
As most of us in the campaign world accept with a blistering resignation, the two weeks before E-day are the hardest of all. With that intimate knowledge, I stood awestruck when I glanced up from my fateful walk down the aisle to see her smiling face among the guests at my wedding ceremony. Danica had battled the rush hour DC Beltway traffic to witness the marriage of me to my husband. In essence, she suspended her campaign for one afternoon–an action considered incomprehensible to campaigners and candidates alike–to watch one of her very own friends have her day. She sacrificed a crucial weekend day on her campaign to be there for my E-day, with her signature rainbow bandanna adorning her head like a crown.
Danica, you are one of my very best friends. I am honored to know you, because to know you is to love you. In mine, and now the world’s eyes, you are love.
And with that, I will sign off as Danica always does, reminding us to rock on. Go forth and prosper, my Queen.