Spoiler alert: As I write in the Epilogue to No Place Like Home, Sandra Meade, who I profile in “Chapter 10: Kansas City Royalty,” no longer lives in Kansas.
(To enjoy a few seconds of her strong, calm, articulate presence, watch her on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where Kansas makes an appearance at about 2:30.)
After serving the cause of LGBT equality with grace and power for several years, Meade had earned a break from activism – and fallen in love. Her new boyfriend was a scientist, she told me, “so he’s not afraid of difficult concepts like the fact that somebody’s brain might have organized differently in utero than their genitals already had.” Last year, the two moved to California (Meade works from home, so she can live anywhere). That much is in the book.
“I told him I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in the Midwest,” she said of her boyfriend when we caught up by phone in December 2017.
“I wanted the mountains and the beach. It was coming up on our two-year anniversary, and lo and behold he suddenly had job offer in California. I sold my house and we upped and moved. He’s got a scientific job here that he absolutely loves.”
But their new home isn’t in the place most people think of when they envision LGBT pilgrimages to California. They live in Visalia, in the San Joaquin Valley about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“It’s in one of the reddest counties,” Meade said. “Devin Nunes is my congressman.”
Her new home is more conservative than the suburbs where she lived in Kansas.
“I always felt pretty safe because I lived in the Kansas City metro,” she said. “It was still a conservative area in the Bible Belt, but I didn’t feel the stress that I’m sure my trans brothers and sisters in more rural areas felt. Now that I’m living in a small rural town in California, I feel more cognizant of my surroundings, more cautious than I ever did in Kansas City.”
At the moment, she’s not interested in establishing the networks and name recognition that made her a leader in Kansas. But she has joined the board of a new organization called The Source LGBT-Plus Center.
“They created this organization just over a year ago because of the need to have someplace safe for LGBTQ kids and adults to find support in this very conservative area of California,” she said. “I’ve been invited to speak a couple of times at different venues, where people were interested to hear what it was like in Kansas and the activist work I was involved in working with Equality Kansas.”
Those experiences in Kansas are familiar to folks in other places around the country.
“I’m horrified by what’s happening with Donald Trump,” she said. “People are so emboldened to be anti-LGBT publically, so that national shame – I think we should all be ashamed of that – has reached such a fevered pitch. I think it’s affecting all of us. As a nation, we were heading the right direction under Obama – in general there was acceptance and tolerance and a gradual march forward. Since Trump got elected, I feel like we’re taking steps backward, and for the first time in a long time it’s scary. It poses more risk again for our young people and potentially halts progress.”
She helped coordinate Visalia’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, was invited to speak at PGLAG and was a speaker at Visalia’s Women’s March 2018. She plans to stay involved with local progressive groups in that area of California.
Meade said she’s proud of what she accomplished in Kansas and admitted that she misses it at times, but she’s happy.
“Everything is good,” she said. “I don’t miss the fights we had in Kansas when it was more confrontational: What nasty bill is back? Or, what has the administration or the legislature come up with that we now have to oppose?”
That’s not a problem in California, given the state’s progressive legislature, and it gives Meade a chance to concentrate on the positive work of education, which, she says, “I’ve always loved: advancing understanding through education.”
She also has a bit more time for fun.
“I recently joined a pool league,” Meade said, and I remembered me how she’d told me, in one of our long-ago conversations, that she was a bit of a shark. “I had played in leagues for years in Kansas City, but gave that up when I started transitioning,” she said in our recent conversation. “I’ve gotten back into that here and I’m excited.”
Pool players and all other Californians should keep an eye on Sandra Meade.
C.J. Janovy is the author of No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. Follow her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.