As I think about the time I’ve spent involved with the Transformative Justice Law Project (TJLP), the song “For Good” from Wicked comes to mind. Absolutely, the incredible people I’ve met through TJLP have truly impacted who I am and informed how I think. TJLP — as a community, as a law project, and simply as a space in which I’ve been has definitely allowed me to grow and learn and flourish.
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Interning with TJLP, and spending time with people involved with TJLP, has had an immense impact on my own personal politics and how I view the world — and how I want to interact with the world. TJLP brings their values to life. Transformative justice shapes how they act and what TJLP does. The need for prison abolition becomes crystal clear through working on clients’ cases, with an emotional strength that surpasses anything I’ve found in any of the books I’ve read. Gender self-determination is brought to life through the name change mobilizations (which are also ways in which transformative justice is enacted), as well as in the way they treat everyone. Beyond that, TJLP takes intersectionality seriously to an extent I’ve not seen before — they don’t focus solely on combating transphobia and instead see how racism, classism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression are tied together. While I certainly am still learning, I can say with certainty that being involved with TJLP has made me a better person.
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
In a way, although life is never so neatly separated, I almost feel as though Genderqueer Chicago has helped me explore in terms of gender-weirdness (gender-variance, genderqueerness, whatever you’d like to call it), and TJLP has helped me to embrace my own sense of masculinity. People at TJLP have shown me that I can be a man if I want to be, without changing a single thing about myself — not how I talk, or walk, or sit, or do anything. My love for Broadway, my tendency to gush over puppies (i.e. dogs in general), my affection for fruity drinks, my near-inability to speak without using excessive hand motions — none of that detracts from the legitimacy of how I identify. The way they use masculine pronouns for me as though it’s the most natural thing in the world still has the power to almost take my breath away, and at the same time, it makes me feel all warm and glowy inside. How I view masculinity and what it means to be a man — and how I view myself — has been forever changed because of the people at TJLP.
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend
I don’t want to think about the idea that I won’t see people from TJLP again; I refuse to acknowledge that as even a possibility. Still, no matter what happens, I will carry my experiences from TJLP with me. I am absolutely a different person now than who I was when I first moved to Chicago — or perhaps I’m just more who I always was. Either way, the people I’ve met have had an enormous impact on who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am — where I am in my life — without having met them. I owe the people I’ve met through TJLP so very, very much. In return, all I can say is that I will Fight to Win.
Who can say if I’ve been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good