Aidan Key knew history was being made, but he didn’t see anyone recording it.
So as bills that would restrict which bathrooms transgender people were allowed to use were discussed in Washington state back in 2016, Key — an author, speaker and community organizer who grew up in Juneau and navigated his own transition — reached out to filmmaker Vlada Knowlton to capture some footage of a Snohomish School District meeting.
“I just felt that history is happening all around me,” Key said in a phone interview. “It’s just moment by moment every day, this huge pivotal moment is happening in time and nobody’s capturing it.”
In Juneau and Anchorage, there are ordinances that prohibits LGBTQ discrimination. A similar state bill has made slow progress, but has now twice made it out of committee.
Key, who is director for Gender Diversity, a nonprofit that increased awareness and understanding of gender diversity in children, said he’s proud to share the documentary and his story with Juneau.
“I love my work,” Key said. “I love bringing it home. I want to share it with the people I grew up with because they’re who I grew up with. Even with them, there’s questions and curiosity and so forth, and they’re proving to me a theory that I have in life, which is that people are people. They have questions about things they don’t know much about.”
While the film is not about Key’s journey, he said his transition from Bonnie Bowers to Aidan Key is integral to its existence.
“If I didn’t have this personal journey, I wouldn’t be chatting with you today,” Key said.
He said he hopes “The Most Dangerous Year” and a planned question-and-answer session after help illustrate the humanity at the heart of the documentary.
“My hope is that in all the various people featured in the film that they recognize themselves, they recognize their neighbor,” Key said. “What I hope that they really get is how challenging and complex this issue is to have it touch someone’s life.”
That challenge extends to family, friends, loved ones and supporters of transgender people, Key said.
Brenda Bowers, Key’s twin sister who still lives in Juneau, told the Empire about what it was like in 1998 when she found out her twin sister would become her brother.
“She called me from Seattle and said, ‘I want to come see you, I have something I need to talk to you about,” Bowers said. “Well, that’s very, very unusual. We talk about everything all the time. To say, ‘I need to be there to talk to you in person scared the crap out of me. I had to wait for the flight to happen. I kind of tried to run through the possibilities. I landed on cancer or some serious health issue, and I was utterly terrified.”
However, as soon as Key and Bowers were together, those fears quickly dissipated. When Key arrived in Juneau, he quickly told Bowers what was happening, even if Bowers had a tough time comprehending.
“Transition wasn’t a word ever used in that kind of context that I knew of,” Bowers said. “I couldn’t understand that phrase. There was no way to put it together. There was no language back then. My thought back then was, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I’m going on this journey with you. There’s nothing that’s going to tear me away from my sibling.”
Behaving with compassion and respect is important for people hoping to support a transitioning friend, family member or loved one to have, Key said. A willingness to learn is important, too.
He said those same qualities are also important when discussing transgender issues, such as the bathroom bills in “The Most Dangerous Year.”
“If you don’t step into that, you’re just relying on conjecture and uninformed opinions,” Key said. “Why would we do that with something that is so critical? We’ve got children whose lives are at stake here, and we have a lot of people with a lot of opinions.”
Key said showing “The Most Dangerous Year” around the country and talking to people from a variety of backgrounds has revealed how many people are approaching transgender issues with open minds and good intentions.
Bowers and Key said generally, the average person’s understanding of gender identity and expression is superior to where Bowers was at in 1998.
Key said that’s one sign that we’re at an important point on the transgender civil rights timeline that he hopes to see continue forward.
“We have a pretty critical moment in time where we can open our hearts and open our ears and step in and learn and put things on the table,” Key said. “That moment in time, in respect to this issue, is a moment in time where our world is more polarized in many ways. Where are we in this moment in time? We’re at a pretty critical place. We could tip, and I want us to tip in a way where we come back together. My hope is that we can continue to find our hearts in this process.”
Know & Go
What: “The Most Dangerous Year” screening and discussion
When: 6:30 p.m., Thursday, June 6
Where: University of Alaska Southeast Egan Library, 11120 Glacier Highway
Admission: Admission is free
Need someone to talk to?
There is a local transgender support group that meets monthly. Those interested can contact Margie Thomson at 723-9574.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.