Ferocious Butterflies: Jessica Hicklin on the 2016 Election

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November 16, 2016
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Jessica Hicklin
Jessica Hicklin

Lambda Legal client Jessica Hicklin is a transgender woman incarcerated at the Potosi Correctional Center, a facility for male inmates, in Mineral Point, Missouri. Lambda Legal represents Jessica in a case challenging a Missouri Department of Corrections “freeze-frame” policy that bars access to hormone therapy for inmates and others in custody if they were not receiving treatment prior to incarceration.

The irony of the butterfly is that it arrives from such a grubby, ugly little thing… ugly like Wednesday morning, the morning I woke to the oppressive defeat in the previous night’s election.

Hours of Shakespearean soliloquy later, certain only of the nobility of death over the indignity of life in this body that is not mine, with the whole of my intellect, I could not comprehend what I was feeling. It wasn’t just the bitterness of defeat, it was something else entirely, something much heavier.

I knew that the heaviness in my heart wasn’t the result of disillusionment. After all, as an incarcerated trans woman facing bigotry and misogyny on a daily basis, and with the murders in Orlando and Ferguson still fresh, I live under no illusion that the battle has been won. If anything, this election simply confirmed the fight that remains. But I still couldn’t put a finger on what this heaviness was or why.

Three days passed feeling this uncertainty. I thought of my friends’ fearful voices of despair and rage, and I imagined their faces, tear-streaked with agony for what had just happened, tearing at a long-ago scabbed wound.  And then, wound laid bare once again, an epiphany drove from my mind the veil of uncertainty.

With stark, numbing realization, I discerned the precise source of this heaviness. Only once in my life have I heard the voice of submissive defeat. Twenty years ago, as I sat in the courtroom an accused murderer, I also witnessed incredible tragedy. That day I realized how a single act – an irretrievable moment in time— can lead to monumental destruction. 

That day I realized how a single act – an irretrievable moment in time— can lead to monumental destruction.

In the two decades since my sentencing, I have devoted my life to fighting such destruction – by facilitating restorative justice activities in prison, helping others hold themselves accountable, the way I have worked so hard to do in my time here. I strive to ensure that no person shall ever again experience the horror that my singular act of drug-induced insanity brought to so many.

I have seen, firsthand, the pain and suffering that comes with loss, wielded by the heavy hand of destruction of life. And I recognized it in the voices and emotions of the people around me. People who stood to lose so much in the avalanche of backwardness promised. I collapsed into tearful sadness, cocooning myself in depressive inertness, and I stayed in this state for two days.

I remembered the strength in the human spirit that fed my transformation, the fight of survivors, the courage of defenders of the vulnerable. Then I emerged, not as the defeated “man” that circumstance has dictated upon my exterior, but once again as the beautiful butterfly of the woman I was born to be, ready to battle injustice in all its forms.

It is in that spirit that I remind you how we are like the butterfly who with a simple flap of her wings can cause a storm a thousand miles away. In every moment, in every flap of our wings, we carry with us the strength to rouse a tornado. With this same power we can choose to invoke the duty of the compassionate heart that defends against intolerance, fights for equality, and rebels against oppression. As the beautiful butterflies we are, rising from the grubby caterpillars of circumstance, each one of us has the ability in every moment to effect change upon the world that will last for eons.

Rise up, ferocious butterflies. Stir up the winds of compassion, and fight evermore the battle for justice and equality.