Making Trans History

Mel Wymore could become the first transgender person elected to the New York City Council.
by Edwin Rios
In late 2009, at his first meeting as chairman of Community Board 7 in the Upper West Side of New York City, Mel Wymore made an announcement: he was beginning a gender transition. “My children still call me Mom,” he says, “but in the real world, I’m very much Mr. Wymore.”

Three years later, Wymore is on the short list of candidates running for City Council in the Upper West Side in 2013. If elected, Wymore, a 50-year-old parent of two, would be the first transgender person on the Council and, to his knowledge, the first transgender person elected to public office in the state.  Excerpts:

MEDILL EQUAL MEDIA PROJECT: WHY ARE YOU RUNNING FOR CITY COUNCILMAN?

Mel Wymore: I’ve been very active for a couple of decades on the Upper West Side. As soon as I moved here in the late ‘80s, I started getting involved. I really love the community, and I’ve gotten to know it very well through various projects, ranging from food programs for seniors to youth programs at the local Y to land use projects to transportation projects. Running for City Council is a natural progression for the work that we did together.

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE YOUR TRANSITION?

I was a very, very happy child growing up in Arizona. I felt very free and able to express myself in uninhibited ways. As I grew older, that sense of freedom and self-expression felt increasingly limited, though I didn’t really understand why. First I thought it was about sexual orientation, and I came out as a lesbian. But eventually I realized, in practice, I didn’t feel that sense of rightness I expected to. I looked into gender and I found this organization called the YES Institute that, by coincidence, happened to come to conduct an anti-bullying program at my kids’ school. They really opened my eyes about gender. As I learned more, I realized, “Wow, this feels increasingly right.” So as I looked into it, it became clear that transitioning was a path that made me feel more myself, more whole, more self-expressed. I would just see how it felt to become more masculine, and with every step, I felt better and better.

HOW DID THAT CHANGE YOUR FAMILY LIFE?

My family, my friends, all the people in my life have joined this journey with me. I’ve always been really open and honest about my self-exploration, so the first step that my entire family went through was when I came out as a lesbian. That entailed, in some ways, more life changes than my gender transition has brought about because it involved a divorce. There was some loss associated with the separation of my kids’ parents, and my own parents felt a sense of loss and so that was the first stage of transition that had an impact. We all worked hard to stay together as a family, just under a different structure.

DO YOU THINK YOUR IDENTITY WILL PLAY A ROLE IN THE POLITICAL REALM?

It’s hard to predict that. My hope is that people will see me as an open and honest person, as a brave and strong person, as a person who doesn’t give up and who strives to do what’s right and tries to create a world where everyone will be exactly who they want to be and exactly who they feel they are and not feel consequences from that. That’s the kind of world I want to create for everyone. I also hope [my transition] is not all people see. It definitely speaks to who I am as a human being, but it’s also not the issue. The issue is how do we make this world a better place.

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© 2012 Medill Equal Media Project
Medill School of Journalism | Northwestern University
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