Imara Jones: Hi fam, I’m Imara Jones, and welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show about news, culture and politics from a trans perspective. This is our first show since the Thanksgiving holiday. If you followed my Instagram, you will know that I cooked my heart out. However you celebrated it or didn’t celebrate it, I hope that you enjoyed your time. So many are struggling this year in so many ways. And all of our listeners are in our hearts. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. I’m thrilled that you’re here. Please take a moment to subscribe, so you can automatically receive all of the good stuff we have to offer on the TransLash Podcast.
I also want to give a shout out to @queerrican on Instagram for telling everyone to listen to our podcast and thanking us for the work that we do. Thank you so much queerrican. And if you shout us out on social media, your words can end up right here at the top of the podcast as well. Now, turning to today’s show, if you are a regular listener, you know that we normally have three segments, Trans Joy, The News and Transform, but today we are breaking format and rolling all three into one interview. That’s because the person who is bringing us joy this week, and who is in the news and who is transforming our community is the same person. That person is Mauree Turner.
Mauree Turner, whose pronouns are both she and they was elected on November third, to represent Oklahoma’s eighth district. Their win makes Mauree the first openly non-binary person in US history to become a state lawmaker. She is also the first Muslim and openly queer state legislator ever elected in Oklahoma. During their campaign Mauree you received critical endorsements from national leaders like squad member Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
In addition to making history, Mauree is a community organizer focused on fighting for the civil rights and liberties of everyone and has worked with the ACLU of Oklahoma, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Oklahoma and the NAACP among others. In full transparency, Mauree happens to be the niece of my friend Maurice Franklin, a fact I learned only after Mauree’s election. This will be our first time in conversation. Mauree, thank you so much for joining me today.
Mauree Turner: No worries. Thank you for having me.
Imara Jones: Yeah. So, your uncle says that he named you, that you’re his namesake. Now, I don’t know if that’s just urban legend. You know, people take credit for stuff after it happens. So I’m just going to confirm with this source, with you, whether or not that is true or not, or is that just family urban legend, something your uncle says to everybody?
Mauree Turner: I think it’s a bit of everything. I was named after a couple of my uncles. So my name is Mauree Nivek. And so I was named after my uncle Maurice and my uncle Kevin. Nivek is just Kevin spelled backwards. So.
Imara Jones: Okay, all of the above.
Mauree Turner: Yes.
Imara Jones: Sounds good. Sounds good. Quite a family. First of all, I just wanted to congratulate you on your win. And we’re going to talk about kind of the full range of your life. But we start off this podcast with joy. And I’m wondering if you can tell us how you felt on the news of your election. You know, as I mentioned, there’s so many people who were elated. But how do you feel?
Mauree Turner: Honestly, I’m still trying to process it all. I haven’t really had any downtime since November the third, honestly since like, probably since February. And so still trying to process it all. It’s still very humbling. I still get messages every day, from young folks across the US and across the world that just feel really kind of elated to have someone that looks like them, someone that uses the same pronouns as them, just a place for visibility, and a kind of comfortable digital landing zone, especially when it comes to queer Muslims, gender diverse Muslims, the outpouring of messages of sometimes folks who literally left Oklahoma because they didn’t feel like they could be themselves.
They didn’t feel like this was a place where they could grow and flourish fully as themselves, like getting those messages specifically, which it’s odd that there’s been like more than one, right?
So that is like, continuously like propelling me forward. And a really kind of humbling experience that I’m honestly trying to wrap my head around, like, my roommate always talks to me about how, he’s like, “Oh,” he’s like, “Did you see this person follows you? Did you see this person follows you?” That’s like, I don’t, I don’t check social media, I’m really bad. Clearly, like, tech savvy is not my forte in any way, shape, or form. And so I’m like, I don’t know how to check any of that. He says things like, “One day you’re going to be able to like own the fact that like, you really made history,” and so it’s really eye opening and I think I get like another little jolt, like every day when I get another message of somebody who just is happy to have some sort of visibility is really, really heartwarming and really remarkable.
Imara Jones: Before I came on, I messaged a friend of mine who is a queer Muslim activist who was ecstatic when I told her that I was going to be talking to you. And she said, “Tell Mauree that she has so many queer Muslim people across the United States and across the world that are big fans of hers.” So I wanted to relate that to you and the sentiment that you’re receiving, I’m sure it’s only a fraction of the reverberation of your impact around the world.
So it’s exciting. And hopefully, you’ll get a chance to stop drinking out of the fire hydrant and to be able to absorb, as you said, like the heartwarming nature of what’s happening and impact of who you are. It’s great to hear. I wanted to go back to your child.
And I’m wondering if you can just talk about when you first knew that you were non-binary when you felt that in your self, in your embodiment, and your experience with non binary as a gender identity. For so many people, even many queer people, non binary can be unfamiliar terrain. So can you just take us into that part of your experience and growing up because it is a key part of who you are?
Mauree Turner: Yeah, I guess that journey really started about two decades ago, to be honest. I remember.. So some of my earliest forms of activism and community organizing, and just kind of community care in general, were when my mom would go on work conferences, we would go on LGBTQ+, or HIV and AIDS awareness conferences. So some of my earliest insights to that was being able to, like at such a young age, being able to be in a space like that, that was continuously affirming and loving, right, but a place where you could feel all the, all of the hurt, but all of the joy to and having that community was really kind of formative.
I remember, in second grade, there was one day I just came home from school, and I sat, like me and my mom, all of our most serious conversations were had on the first floor of a bunk bed in our room. So I remember coming home, and I asked my mom, if we could talk and I looked at her and I said, “I don’t see any difference in boys and girls other than the way that they use the restroom. And that’s none of my business.”
And so to be able to come to that realization that early in life was really kind of formative. But also at the same time, I didn’t understand the journey that I was getting ready to embark on when it meant like understanding gender identity. And so for me, it’s something that I’ve continuously worked through. And I think it’s like, it’s still something that I work through. I have always lived a life where my mom is, like, you know, “Take the time that you need to explore and learn,” right? Like, it doesn’t have to be like, okay, you learned this and then like, that’s it like you can continue to learn and grow and change your opinion, and what that really looks like.
So at that point in time, the conversation that we were having was about me coming out as queer, but not necessarily gender diverse in my mind, or not… I won’t say in my mind, but I didn’t have the words, right, and hadn’t embarked on that plane of knowledge just yet to understand that, what that really meant for my gender identity. And so it’s something that I got to explore more when I left Ardmore, and got to go to Stillwater for university and got to embark in Gender and Women’s Studies courses in sociology and psychology and what that really looked like. And so I was able to understand what gender fluidity looked like and understood, like what that meant for me. And so it’s a long journey. And I think it’s something that is a very intimate journey. And something that I wish I had, I guess, honestly, just a little bit more grace, sometimes, like you get thrown into this political world, and everybody is like, “hey, do this survey,” “hey, fill out this questionnaire.” And they’re like, what’s your gender, they want you to fill out these boxes. And they want you to define yourself and put you in a tight knit box. And there are people who like I get messages today from folks that are 30-plus, 40-plus, right, that are like, “I’m still trying to figure this out for myself.
So, thank you for providing this space to understand that like, this is something that we can still learn and grow and do”. I think it’s really funny because some of the folks that are like, “yeah, we are here to protect you and to be your ally and be your landing place” are also just like, “but also get into this tiny little box for us really quick.” So there’s been a lot of kind of an uphill battle because I wonder like at this point, I often, like the question that I ask myself, and this is something I haven’t told anybody yet.
But the question that I ask myself when I wake up and it’s like, “Am I using that she part right?” When I talk about my pronouns, am I using “she” to make other people comfortable, right, to try to still kind of fit into what society has told us, like, is ladylike and is not. So am I doing it because, like, I look a certain way, and like that makes people more comfortable? And so that’s like something that I’m like battling right now. It’s an uphill battle. But it all started back in second grade, well, I guess long before, but was able to have the first conversation with my mom in the second grade.
Imara Jones: Yeah, I mean, I think that one of the things you’re just touching upon is that, you know, gender is a journey. And it unfolds and has shades and colors as we move through and understand ourselves, interact with the world. And I think that it constantly unfolds. And I think that even people who have cisgender, which supposedly is about not questioning yourself, I actually look at the experience of, for example, older women in my family.
What womanhood means to them has changed a lot as they’ve gotten older, and they have a very different relationship to themselves. And I think that the only thing that you’re experiencing, as a person who is literally outside of the boxes, is you get to live with that all the time, whereas other people disconnect from that reality. That’s the only thing that’s happening for you, I think. And it’s the conversation you’re having with yourself, is the conversation that everybody should be having with themselves. And we should all be asking these questions.
One of the things that you’ve spoken about that led you to enter politics was your experience growing up in Oklahoma, with a father who was in and out of incarceration for minor offenses. We often talk about intersectionality overall, but I think that actually your experience, and then his experience, actually, as a person who is Black, Muslim, in, his case, again, a man in Oklahoma is emblematic of why we need an intersectional lens to understand this moment. Intersectionality is actually a perfect way to understand who you are. And I’m wondering if you can talk about that experience with your father and your world growing up and how it motivated you to run?
Mauree Turner: Yeah, for sure. I think one of the most important things for me to share is that like, my father and my grandfather were in and out of prison up until I was maybe around 12, 13. But also, my mother made it very central to our lives, right, that he was a part of it. And when I say our I mean, like me and my siblings, like she would make sure that she was taking us to go visit he and my grandfather, and I come from small-town Oklahoma.
So there was a time where my dad was incarcerated in a minimum security facility right outside of small-town, Ardmore, Oklahoma, and a smaller town, Gene Autry, Oklahoma. And they would bring the folks that are incarcerated there into town to help set up for rodeos and, and tear down rodeos and things like that. And so, one day, my mom when they brought the folks in to help get ready for rodeo, my mom went and picked up my dad and snuck him back to the house and made him make us clean our rooms. Like my dad taught me some very formative life lessons growing up.
But around the last time that he was released from prison, I was spending more and more time with my friend’s parents and with with folks that didn’t really look like me and didn’t understand, like, what my life was like. And the narrative that was being reinforced there was that if people were in prison, they were just inherently bad people. And that my baba, my dad, didn’t want a life with me, didn’t care about us. So that really put a big strain on our relationship. I remember, I had graduated high school. And after I had walked across the stage, I went over and saw my family standing in the crowd. And I went over to the bleachers. And I looked up and my sister was like, “Oh, look who’s down there!” And I looked down and she was like, “Do you see him?” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And my dad was standing in the crowd. And I didn’t recognize him.
Imara Jones: Mm hmm.
Mauree Turner: And I think it was kind of like a subconscious thing, like, like I just like, didn’t want to recognize him. But also, the reinforcement had really done a really good job of severing that tie, at that point in time. But I think one of the key parts of religion is to make sure that you are honoring thy mother and thy father and the way I did that with my mother was our quality time, our community organizing. And the way I did that with my father in the beginning was through religion.
I was like, I might not have a relationship with him, but religion is how we can do that. And I found a place that those things intersected. And that was with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. I started out as a Governmental Affairs intern, and then worked my way up to a Board Member.
But being able to use that intersection, right, in that sense, was really just very formative, right, and helped propel the work that I did and why it’s so important. Like as a Muslim, I also specifically lean heavy into justice, reimaginement and rebuilding because a good portion of Black Muslims find their way to Islam via the carceral system in the US, and so very much so very, everything that I do is like very cyclical and finds its way back to some formative part of my life or my identity. And there’s just something about that shared lived experience with your community, right? That you can’t deny when it comes to making policies about their lives.
Imara Jones: Within that context, when did you make the connection between your dad’s experience, your experience, and policy? Like how did you join up that what happened to you wasn’t about individual pathology or not about the choices of an individual, but the way that the system works, and then wanting to change that? Do you remember when you made the connection between your life’s experience and the need to change the way the world operates?
Mauree Turner: Yeah, I think that was around the first or second week of April, back in 2017, 2016, I believe. It was my junior year of college and I had went to university to become a veterinarian. And this week, I was actually in the city, in Oklahoma City, helping CAIR put on the annual banquet. And my mom never leaves Ardmore really for, for just about anything. But this week, she came up and attended the banquet. And then we get a call from my great uncle on my dad’s side. And he told us that my my dad had had a really bad automobile accident. And had ended up in the hospital across the street from the event that we were putting on, serendipitously.
So we left the event and we went to the hospital. And this was the first real conversation that I had had with my dad since he was released from prison. And I don’t know if anybody has ever really experienced that. But you know how hospitals already smell weird and just felt like bad blood. And just like we weren’t really sure, like, I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it or what that really looked like. And so the next week, I sat by my dad’s side, and I got to hear his story. And I got to hear his interaction with his school teachers. And you know how some people become products of their environment.
My dad grew up in an environment where his teachers literally continuously told him that he wasn’t going to amount to anything, and he might as well just drop out, you know, sometimes you, you have that self fulfilling prophecy. And I think it was things like that, that really took form, but also, our justice system is racist, it’s sexist, and just bigoted in just about every way, shape, or form, specifically here in Oklahoma.
So listening to his battle with Oklahoma’s justice system, his battle with Oklahoma’s public education system, and understanding how that looked in my life and how it looked at my siblings’ lives. And some of my classmates’ lives, too. That was the week I decided that I was going to leave the idea of becoming a veterinarian behind and I was going to figure out how we community organize around rebuilding Oklahoma’s justice system. I think when I first started, I was like, “Yeah, I think reform is the way to go. Right. I think that’s what the number one thing that a lot of people are talking about.” And so I was looking for who was doing holistic justice reform. Because at that point in time, the only conversations that I was hearing around it in Oklahoma, were how it could save taxpayers millions of dollars, which is really important, right? But also, I wanted to know who is doing that work on the school-to-prison pipeline, I wanted to know who was doing that work on reentry programs. And so I wanted to know who is doing that holistic work on justice reimaginement and rebuilding, I think, because, for me anyway, it’s become increasingly evident that this is not a system that can be reformed, but needs to be reimagined and rebuilt. And so that was it.
Those first two weeks of April have been very, also very cyclical in my life. In that two week span was also the same time I lost my granddad a couple of years prior to my father being in the hospital. And a couple of years later, that was the day I got to file and run for office. So it’s really kind of interesting what you can manifest in your life. But yeah, I think I had already started doing the work to figure out what Oklahoma’s justice system how it played a role in my life when I started to think about the work I was doing with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. And it really just kind of caught on like wildfire from there.
Imara Jones: Wow. One of the things that can be a conversation in our community is whether or not we should be participating in electoral politics. And it seems as if your life’s experience in the way that you perceive the world led you to answer that, clearly affirmatively. And I’m wondering if you had to make your case for why we should be involved in politics to a room of people who were skeptical, what would you say?
Mauree Turner: One of the the key things I would tell people, like that I would be able to tell a room of people about why it’s important that we get involved in politics, is that nobody is going to be able to advocate for us, like us. I think the the cornerstone of my campaign is this, not not just the notion but, right, but the action that you can do nothing about us without us. Right, we should be in the room in the room where it happens, like to know how the sausage is made. These people are making decisions that affect our everyday lives. And I want to be a part of that. Because continuously we get carved out of the solutions, because they don’t create a space for us. And I don’t want to have a seat at their table.
I want to build a new table, I want to build new institutions that keep my community at the center of it, my communities at the center of it. This is how politics has worked for years. And we are continuously left out of it. And the way we reimagine it and rebuild it is by getting involved. And it could be something like City Council, like your school board, because those things affect police officers in schools. And we have a plethora of those and not as many guidance counselors and social workers.
It could be your city council because they affect how, right now, how your cares dollars are spin. So in Oklahoma, we got roughly 47 million, and they’re using a good portion of that to put hand sanitizer dispensers in our travel stops for people who come in and exit Oklahoma, rather than giving it to the people who are facing evictions, who are facing medical issues right now. Those things affect our everyday lives. Yeah, miracles really happen when you when you get involved.
Imara Jones: Miracles really happen when you get involved. What are you most looking forward to when the Oklahoma State Legislature sits in February, your district is not what people probably would think–it’s mostly white. It’s in the middle of Oklahoma City and includes Oklahoma State University. And so there’s so many different things that you could have on your plate and on your table. What are you most looking forward to? And what do you want to work on the most?
Mauree Turner: Oh, the work has already started. Right now we are putting in our ideas for legislation. And so some of the things that I am trying to work on is, right now it’s almost an act of God to be able to get your gender markers changed on your IDs in Oklahoma, one of the deciding factors is that you actually have to have surgery, when that is not something that has afforded to everybody. Also working on, so one of the big things that in justice reform, or justice ‘re-imaginement’ and rebuilding, is that we know, what we hear from our juries here is that if they knew, if they knew that when they found someone guilty that they were automatically going to prison, then a lot less people would be found guilty. And so making sure that I’m also working on some things to make sure that juries have the full range of information. And then in Oklahoma, we lack infrastructure in a lot of different ways. So the hope is that I can also work on taking our power lines underground for everybody within the next hopefully 10 to 15 years.
Imara Jones: And what personally are you most looking forward to about being a State Legislator?
Mauree Turner: I think we don’t really see community organizers in this state level, have a place to make actual policy change, which is what I’m really excited about, that we’re seeing across the US. But to be able to take that community organizing aspect from the community and put it in the Capitol as well. And so I’m really looking forward to being able to do that community organizing and bridge building at the Capitol. I’m really excited to be able to provide that visibility for folks across the world, but also really excited to be able to do that grassroots community organizing in the legislature.
Imara Jones: Well, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk, you have so much on your plate and the fact that you would sit down with us is extremely gratifying. I know for me and for our audience, I know I speak for everyone when we are sending you the best and wishing you the best and rooting for you to continue to succeed and to shine and to grow and to explore. One of the things I realized when you were talking, I forget this about myself sometimes, but I actually was born in Oklahoma.
I was born in Lawton, Oklahoma, actually Fort Sill. And, you know, I didn’t, one of the things I didn’t do is that I didn’t change the marker on my birth certificate because it’s so onerous there because I have the–I have to go before a judge and all this other type of stuff in Oklahoma, which I was like, “No, I’m not going to do that.”
So I think for me personally, and for so many you represent hope and change, and parts of the country where we don’t always believe that that’s the case. But as you say, miracles can happen when you show up and thank you so much for showing up Mauree, so appreciated.
Mauree Turner: Thank you. Thank you so much Imara.
Imara Jones: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. As-salamu alaykum.
Mauree Turner: Wa ‘alaykumu s-salam.
Imara Jones: That was Mauree Turner who is the first out non-binary state lawmaker in the United States, and the first Muslim queer legislator in Oklahoma’s history.
Thank you for joining me on the TransLash podcast. Now listen all the way through to the end of the show for something extra. I’m Imara Jones. If you like what you heard, please go to Apple podcasts to rate and review us. Also, you can listen to Translash on Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. Please check us out on the web at translash.org to sign up for our weekly newsletter.
Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @transmedia, like us on Facebook and tell your friends. TransLash Podcast is produced by TransLash Media by Futuro Studios.
The TransLash team includes Ruby Fludzinski, Oliver-Ash Kleine, Montana Thomas, Yannick Eike Mirko, and the Futuro Studios team includes Nicole Rothwell, Jess Alvarenga, Stephanie Lebow, Julia Caruso, Leah Shaw, Elisheba Ittoop and Gabriela Baez. Our digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano with support from Agency of Joy. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK Records. Also, I want to give a shout out to Sophie Davis, an intern on the Futuro studios team. She’s leaving us for her next big adventure. I’m so excited for her and know, she’ll go on to do great things. Thank you for all of your hard work, Sophie! Alright TransLash fam, what am I looking forward to next week?
Well, next week, it actually appears, drumroll, drumroll, that I actually have a light schedule. So I’m looking forward to a light schedule. I don’t know how all of you are feeling. I think that we are still all shot from this year. It’s been really rough in so many ways, very demanding, despite being a time of openings and new changes. So I’m looking forward to a light schedule. And I’m looking forward to us trying to get and create as much space for ourselves during the crazy time because that’s the only way we’re going to actually have it as when we are taking it if we were able to, so I’m looking forward to light schedule. Isn’t that boring and sad, like, that’s my life. All right. Uh, tell us what you’re looking forward to online. And again, like the shout outs, maybe it’ll make it in. Have a great week.
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