Plenty of lobbyists kill time in the House cafeteria as they wait to see members of Congress. Like Riki Wilchins, they may peruse USA Today over egg salad. But few O.K., none have turned to a reporter between bites and said, "What pronoun will you use for me? I prefer s/he."
Wilchins, who started life as a boy 49 years ago, became a transsexual woman in the '70s. But today she (sorry, Riki "s/he" isn't a word yet) refuses to identify with either gender. And her group, the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, doesn't limit itself to trans issues. Instead, GenderPAC works to protect everyone's right to transcend gender stereotypes. A tiny niche? Tell that to the Nevada woman who was fired after she stopped wearing makeup; GenderPAC is aiding her in court. The group also helped the mother of Brandon Teena, who was killed after friends discovered he had female genitalia. (Hillary Swank played Teena in Boys Don't Cry.) "There are many people who do not fit or want to fit into binary genders," Wilchins says. "People have complex lives and bodies."
Which is surely true, but what's strange is that Wilchins' postmodern vision of activism seems to be working even though Washington currently feels a little premodern. When Wilchins founded GenderPAC six years ago, it was barely more than a newsletter scribbled in her New York City apartment. Now, with the help of donations from firms such as American Airlines and Verizon, GenderPAC has a small but well-appointed office in Washington and a yearly budget of $250,000.
Its Congressional Gala last month drew 200 people for an address by Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette. Even conservatives are noticing the change. Before the gala, the Culture and Family Institute warned that GenderPAC was promoting "Gender Confusion Day on Capitol Hill." Wilchins just smiled. "Actually," she said, "that could be our motto."