"I feel like we're living in times people write about," Matt said as we walked home from the train, dusk settling into Brooklyn for the night.
I didn't know what he meant. It was 2008. From where I was standing, everything seemed painfully dull. My $200,000 liberal arts degree had scored me the opening shift at The Victory, a coffee bar the size of two phone booths in downtown Brooklyn.
"The economy is crashing," Matt explained.
"Right, right," I replied.
Matt was a writer for the New York Times, ostensibly at the peak of his career, a career in the field I wanted. It wasn't lost on me that we took the same train home, to the same dingy two-flat building.
Everybody warned me that the first year out of college was the hardest. Nobody told me that if you decided to be a reporter, the first year was actually a preview of most of your career.
It was three years until I finally found a full-time job in journalism, a job I hoped was a stepping stone to something better. Tracy Baim made me a full-time reporter for Windy City Times in 2011 for a salary of $23,000.
I never wanted to work in LGBTQ media. I wanted to be at the Chicago Tribune or the Sun-Times, some place my parents would want to tell their friends about, some place less gay. But being visibly queer and an out trans person in the middle of an economic downturn foreclosed that. Tracy and Andrew Davis gave me a chance when no one else did. So, I went to work.
I was in Millennium Park the morning that the first LGBTQ couples in Chicago got civil unions. I sat in the dark at Center on Halsted at a memorial for transgender trailblazer Lois Bates days after she died. The night that the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned and people flooded the streets of Lakeview to celebrate, I was there to cover it. I was there on the day in 2013 when families filled the state capitol to watch marriage equality pass, and when Rep. Greg Harris stood up and tearfully told those families he didn't have enough votes to pass the measure.
Somewhere in that time, I stopped wanting another job. I realized that being a trans person reporting on trans stories was powerful, rare even. Ten years later, it's still powerful and rare. Windy City Times didn't just give me a chance at a career. In humanizing the queer people whose stories I told, I learned to celebrate myself. I found a calling.
I sometimes wonder if anyone will remember the state-by-state battles that were waged for LGBTQ rights and the people who waged them. For years, I wondered why Tracy felt a need to cram so many names into every article, to tack on mentions of every last organization in attendance at every event. I knew she was keeping a historical record, but it didn't occur to me why.
Now I know. It wasn't just about who was there. It was about demonstrating for a future generation that the one before it had shown up, had fought for them. It was about being able to look back and see just how big that movement was, even in the moments it felt mundane.
This, to me, is the real legacy of Windy City Times. I can flip through pages of old papers and see thousands of names that pushed the needle toward equality. I have lived through times that people wrote about.