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Farmer Lee Hennessy pets two goats on his farm. Nancy Giard/Farm Photo Project

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‘I Would Love to Fly a Trans Flag, But It Might Put My Animals in Danger’

Farmer Lee Hennessy on why he’s crowdfunding for a security system for his upstate NY farm

Moxie Ridge Farm, in Argyle, New York, is a small diversified livestock farm. We have our goat milk and onsite creamery for our goat cheeses, but we also raise pigs on our whey, we do lamb and mutton, and we’ve just started our meat goat herds. We’re just celebrating our fifth anniversary and, thanks to the Farm Service Agency, we have a chance to buy our farm.

Part of the farm’s mission is for me to be visible as a 40-year-old trans man. But I’ve been really struggling with how to balance keeping myself safe and high-functioning, while at the same time doing what I want to be doing with my life, which is being that trans person that’s just living and doing cool shit.

I came out as trans out here on the farm. When I was having that realization, I had a lot of ingrained fear based on what I was taught about how wrong, and therefore dangerous, it is to be trans. While I was thrilled to finally move through the world as myself, I’m not proud to say that a built-in reaction to the thought of doing that was, “I’m going to get murdered, right?” When I was a teenager in the ’90s, Boys Don’t Cry won a bunch of awards, including an Oscar. The stories that were being told about trans people and queer people were all stories of violence. That was terrifying as a kid, assuming violence was inevitable. When I was in middle school, I was bullied, and the way that I could control my own safety was by dressing really feminine. For a lot of trans people, and especially for me, safety is a really big deal, and that safety has nothing to do with us. It has to do with how other people see us. It’s not inherently unsafe to be a trans person; it’s unsafe because of other people’s opinions about our bodies.

And now this anti-trans rhetoric and legislation is spreading around the country. Anti-trans talking points are being weaponized, and there’s an entire political party where it’s part of their belief system. In this context, my staff and I need to feel safe on our farm. We shouldn’t have to have a security system, but I started a GoFundMe for one to ensure we can all do our work with some peace of mind.

The fear caused by these anti-trans sentiments have absolutely made it harder to do our work on the farm — and it’s affected how I run the farm. I’m single, I live alone, I run a business, a huge part of which is maintaining a social media presence. But if you look at my social media for pretty much the whole year of 2020, whether it’s my personal Instagram account or the farm’s Instagram account, there are almost no posts. Because I was afraid. Social media is very public, it’s strangers; and we’re out here, we’re exposed — anybody can just walk up and mess with my animals.

I realized we needed a security system when I began actually turning down business opportunities out of fear that they would draw attention to the fact that we’re a trans-owned farm. Last year we got a marketing grant through the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, and as a part of that grant, we have a PR team. I’ve been putting off starting with the PR team because it would mean more people would hear about us, which is the point, but also it is very in vogue right now for others to not like the fact that I exist. But we’re also launching a big mutual aid program, so we need to get the message out, and that requires me being visible, and me being comfortable and saying, “This is a trans-owned farm, we’re going to be supporting trans-owned farms, we’re going to be supporting Black-owned farms.” I wanted to launch this in December and I kept putting it off.

It really came to a head when I got COVID this winter. I had a meltdown in therapy, freaking out because I couldn’t go to the farmers markets. I realized I was afraid because we’re totally accessible. We have 700 feet of road frontage, and we’ve got over 100 animals here we rotate and graze, and anybody that wanted to could come by and potentially hurt them. I had to ask myself, “What can I do that’s in my power to make myself feel safe in this?” Our security system would include a fence, security cameras, motion-activated lighting, and gates that would close properly at night. It’s all basic, but it would ensure a little bit of protection.

As I specify in the GoFundMe, though, this security system is not to protect me from my neighbors. There is this ridiculous misconception that people that live in the country are small-minded and dangerous. And that is not the case. A lot of that comes from classism. Our community has been super supportive of me and the farm. I’m a part of my community. When I came out to my community, I was nervous. Trump was in office at the time. But I told my neighbors — they had no idea what transgender meant and they asked questions, I explained it, and they’re like, “Okay.” Never missed a beat. It’s actually made me less patient with people who insist it’s hard to remember a new name and pronouns. Like, if the 80-year-old I buy grain from can get it, you can figure it out. And you know, I’m not the only trans person in my town!

But still, I would love to fly a trans flag and the rainbow flag, and I don’t, because I don’t know who’s driving by and if they might have an issue with it, and that puts my animals and myself in danger. Does anybody really believe that a keyboard warrior making a gross threat online, or saying how people like you should be dead, that they’re going to go and do something? No. Does it only take one? Yeah.

For people unfamiliar with what it’s like to be trans in this world, it’s easy to say, “Well, what makes you special? I’m a farmer, I don’t have a security system.” Yeah, farms shouldn’t need security systems. It’s a farm! If you’re not queer or trans or what’s considered “marginalized,” then why would you understand that you need to put different security measures, for example, into place in order to be safe? And I’m a 40-year-old white trans man who is often mistaken for cis. I am the most privileged of this community. So what I say in terms of what I feel, that’s important to keep in mind, because other trans people have to deal with a lot more.

Having the security system will mean we can fly that trans flag. We can finally have a sign. Once we started seeing people responding to the GoFundMe, we started dreaming of having visitors. Maybe it’ll be open, maybe it’ll be by appointment, but it would be lovely — especially for queer folks — to be able to invite people to come on up and have a great day at a farm. To say, “Don’t be worried about getting side-eyed or being judged or whatever. Just come up.” We could finally have a food stand on the farm. We could show other queer people that this is what it’s like to have a farm, and that you can have a good life in the country.

If the hate, the violence, the trendiness of scapegoating us were not going on, I’d probably be still flying under the radar. But this moment has galvanized us to take our safety into our own hands. I feel like in this way we’re acknowledging what’s going on, we’re acknowledging reality, and being vulnerable enough to ask for help. And it’s been beautiful to see the support — our communities have been supportive and have been contributing without even knowing anything about the farm, without knowing anything about me. I did not expect it to be an emotional thing, and it has been, in a really good way. It’ll result in not just more joy, but other people seeing that, experiencing that, and hopefully being inspired by that, whether they’re trans or not. I have been doing this and it has been hard, but now I think: What else can our farm do?

Lee Hennessy is the owner of Moxie Ridge Farm & Creamery, a small-scale diversified farm and goat dairy, in Argyle, NY.

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