The two boys yelled at Michael Daylan from across the street.

Hair dyed Go-Gurt pink and green screamed gay in Ormond Beach, Florida. The giant trans flag flapping in front of the house screamed louder.

Michael tried not to listen. His acknowledgment gave them power, he thought; the disregard angered them.

“Alright, fuck you then,” one boy screamed. “Fuck the gays. Fucking fags.”

Michael entered the code for his garage door, but it wouldn’t budge. He typed it again, his heart racing. The shouts and footsteps grew louder. Were they running? He didn’t dare turn around. With another desperate entry, the garage door opened. He slid inside and slammed a button on the wall to shut the door behind him. He turned around and saw their feet through a shrinking gap.

From inside the house, Michael called his ex-boyfriend, Guy, who needed twenty minutes to finish his shift and speed home. As he waited, he opened TikTok, needing to tell someone, anyone, what had just happened. A little less than two months later, Michael showed The Stranger that video at a picnic table in Volunteer Park.

“I’m terrified, and it's a really scary place to be right now,” he said in the video, face red and voice cracking. “I’m tired of being afraid of just living as myself. Please stay safe, and find somewhere that is safer for you.”

He didn’t yet know it, but three days later, on April 4, staff at Planned Parenthood would tell him the clinic could no longer prescribe testosterone or provide any trans-related medical care if Florida Republicans passed SB 254, which restricted nurse practitioners from providing gender-affirming care. He’d taken T for five years and wouldn’t stop now.

On a May afternoon, the sun shone bright and the wind blew through the trees in Volunteer Park with a woosh.

Dylan, Michael’s cat, watched him talk from inside the plastic bubble of his carrier. His eyes flitted back and forth between us and the birds picked at the grass. The cat is normally free to wander on his leash, but he’d lost roaming privileges after a forceful pounce tore the leash from Michael’s hand. 

Michael thumbed a dog tag that hung from his neck with an image of his cousin Jesse, who died of leukemia in 2021.

“When I have bad moments, I rub on the chain and be like, alright, what are we doing?” he said, fiddling with the chain. “It’s a safety thing.”

He’d been in Seattle for eleven days, and it had gone terribly so far.

After the terrifying experience outside his ex-boyfriend’s home and the call from Planned Parenthood, Michael was laser-focused on getting out of Florida as soon as possible.

The too-good-to-be-true affordable Facebook listing for a room in a nice two-story house in Capitol Hill didn’t raise the skepticism it should have. Neither did the “flight attendant” named Hannah, who dodged phone calls and said Michael would have the house to himself because she flew so often. Fear pushed him toward a rash decision, and he fell for a scam.

After three days of playing tourist in his new city, Michael expected to meet Hannah outside the house on 13th Avenue to check out the room. He instead was greeted by a man who said he did maintenance on the house. He rattled off minutiae about prior tenants and repairs over the last decade. Michael believed him. They shook hands. Ignoring warnings from his ex, Michael sent $1,500 in incremental payments to Hannah over Apple Pay, a series of transactions that weren’t covered by fraud protection. In Michael’s mind, it was this or homelessness. He felt uneasy.

The next day, he searched for Hannah on Facebook. He discovered that her Georgia driver's license, along with her purse, had been stolen at a restaurant two years ago, and this wasn’t the first time someone had used her ID. The scammer, or scammers, blocked Michael when he confronted them. He and Guy spent a sleepless night at a Motel 6.

“I really started to think like, fuck, where am I going to live?” he said. “I’m homeless. That was my biggest fear, just ending up homeless with nowhere to go.”

Until August, home would be a $600 per week, cat-friendly extended-stay motel in Bothell that his parents and online donations from a GoFundMe helped pay for. The room was drab and depressing, and despite frequent requests for cleaning staff not to enter, they continued to. A cleaner once pushed her foot into Dylan’s face to keep him from escaping the room when she opened the door. Earlier that week, he’d bought two frozen pizzas, forgetting he didn’t have an oven. He called the room “home,” but he stopped himself.

“I hate calling it home, because it’s not,” he said. “I’m trying to make the best of it, but it’s also like–I live in a hotel. I can’t even invite someone to hang out because, like, I live in a hotel. That just makes me feel shitty that I’ve managed to get myself in this position–I guess I don’t like asking for help. I keep a good credit score. I save my money when I can. I had a plan and something went wrong.”

Not much has gone right for Michael this year. Nine months before his disastrous landing in Seattle, he was unpacking his bags at Guy’s house in Florida. It was the first time he’d lived outside his hometown in suburban Baltimore, Glen Burnie, Maryland. Michael knew Florida was a red state, but he didn’t know much more beyond that. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever heard of the state’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, who signed some of the most severe anti-trans laws in the country this year. DeSantis’s war on “wokeness” and “gender ideology” is a central part of his presidential campaign, a war that sent people like Michael fleeing to other states. 

The culture shocked Michael. He’d seen Trump signs in Maryland, but they seemed innumerable in Florida; staked in yards, taped on business windows, and pasted on buildings. On the highway, “TRUMP” zoomed past on the back of pick-ups and Jeeps.

Michael has been openly trans since high school. At 16, he came out to his peers in Gay Straight Alliance at a school with a lesbian principal. In 2012, when the Westboro Baptist Church–a family-based cult famous for their obnoxious demonstrations and “God Hates Fags” slogan–protested his school, CBS reported that 500 residents counter-protested the three church members, including motorcyclists who revved their engines to drown out their homophobic chants. His dad saw people throw Skittles at them.

Glen Burnie felt safe, but Michael always planned to leave at some point. He worried about being stuck somewhere because he was comfortable, and Guy was his excuse to leave.

He met the gregarious 63-year-old Guy in Glen Burnie. Guy lived in the Florida house his mother passed down to him. He never hid his gayness because he couldn’t, and Michael affectionately teased Guy about his voice.

Once, when Trump visited Orlando, Guy and his late mother stood on a bridge over the highway with a sign that read, “Trump can eat the corn from my shit.” After attending a trans-rights rally, Guy planted an enormous flagpole in his front yard on which he hung a trans pride flag and a gay pride flag that said “Fuck DeSantis.” Michael still worries he’s not careful enough. The boys harassed him just a week after he raised the flags.

“He said he’s never going to pull that down as long as he lives there,” Michael said. “He wants me to know he’s still fighting for me back in Florida.”

The relationship ended three months after Michael’s move from Glen Burnie. They made better friends: Where Guy was tidy, Michael wasn’t, and so on. They fought along basic generational lines. Michael still loves him to death, and they continued living together. They talk every day. Michael said the benefit of living far away from Guy is he can hang up.

Michael compensates for a fuzzy memory by using TikTok as a diary. When Florida isolated him, the app became his community. He stumbled on videos from other trans people in his area and learned about the laws threatening his civil rights. 

Michael said his manager at work helped him leave the state. He’d gone stealth at his job, and only two of his more than 100 coworkers knew he was trans.

That changed the day management told employees to stop using the single-occupancy family restroom on shift, forcing Michael to use the men’s restroom shared with customers. He worried the state’s bathroom law, the Safety in Private Spaces Act, would take away his only legal option and confided in his manager, who ran it up the ladder. The policy changed.

After the boys yelled at Michael outside his home, he told his manager he needed to leave Florida. The man asked Michael if he’d considered Seattle, where his brother lived. He later helped Michael transfer to a new position at his company in Washington.

The 45-hour drive from Daytona, Florida to Seattle mystified Michael. He’d never seen a mountaintop rise from a speck on the horizon or experienced the stoic beauty of a Western desert. He and Guy alternated between driving and snapping pictures.

After arriving in Seattle, Guy said he’d never seen so many trans people in one place, and he expressed surprise when Michael spoke to strangers–he’d never talked to anyone in Florida. 

“It was cool to watch him see the joy I was looking for in life,” Michael said. “They didn’t have that in Florida because of the constant state of fear from just walking outside the house.”

The day after Guy returned to his home in Florida, before Michael had found his temporary home in Bothell, he called and said he finally understood Michael’s fear.

“I said, ‘Well, what finally got you to that point?’” Michael said. “He said, ‘You not being here.’”

In mid-August, we met in the living room of a Capitol Hill apartment that Michael and his roommate, Jesse, could barely afford. 

A small borrowed LCD television rested on an overturned, clear Sterilite storage bin. Barstools with weathered, dark purple pleather seats sourced from a free pile of furniture outside a remodeled Taco Bell in Florida stood beneath the window. They’ve got a kitchen table, and they are also borrowing their only other chair, a cushy papasan. We sat on the blue sectional they bought from Out of the Closet on Pike Street. Life feels entirely different without the constant fear of homelessness.

“When it got so close to that happening when I got here, that messed me up really bad,” he said. “Living here is a lot nicer. When I leave in the evening, I have a place to go home to, and no one is going to walk into my place that I’m not aware of.”

The month-long search for an affordable apartment came down to the wire; again, Michael worried he’d have to live in his car. The landlord texted Michael an application at 11:30 pm and, like a bizarre time trial, asked him and Jesse to fill it out “day of” if they wanted the place. They took that as midnight, and Michael only caught the text as he was setting an alarm before bed.

Seattle is his first city. The parking sucks more than he imagined, and paying for yearly tabs came as a surprise. For most of his life, he dreamt of living in New York City, but he never considered the noise and crowding. He prefers the quiet of nature and feels most content on hikes outside of town, when he can afford the trip. 

His savings dwindled to nothing, consumed by random and sudden expenses. Everytime he opens his bank account there’s less. He’s in a better place physically, but financially he’s still struggling. When we talked, he hadn’t eaten at a restaurant yet, and he had just splurged on a $100 bed frame from Amazon to replace a car mattress not made for hard floors. 

“I would love to hit someone up and go grab a drink at a bar, but I do not have the disposable money to do so,” he said.

Then there’s the loneliness. In Maryland, Michael was surrounded by people he’d known his entire life. Seattle is a solitary existence so far. He’s learning to enjoy his own company for the first time, often at Volunteer Park. On the bright side, his Seattle troubles are more normal than his troubles in Florida. “Just bad dates,” he said, like the Republican man who shared his conservative political opinions after Michael sent a screenshot of his response to homophobic comments on Facebook. Overall, personal issues are easier to handle without the pressure of the impending legislation. 

Michael gets his hormones at Planned Parenthood, but he is on a waitlist for a primary care doctor. He has an intake appointment scheduled for November, which would have taken longer if his mother had not angrily confronted the office.

He feels safer than he did in Florida, but he keeps experiencing things he didn’t expect to in Seattle, like men with Trump hats walking into his job. His friends tell him about the transphobic slurs they hear at their jobs on Capitol Hill. All of his new trans and queer acquaintances struggle to pay bills. The twisted irony of Seattle being both safe and unaffordable is not lost on him. He believed Seattle, and by extension Washington, was supposed to be a safe place for trans people, but it still falls far short of equality. The city ends up feeling like another temporary home, because neither Michael nor Jesse can afford a rent hike.

Michael, who always wanted a kid, wondered aloud if having a child as a trans parent is a good idea. He doesn’t see a positive future for trans people, and he sees only an uncertain path for himself. He said he doesn’t know where he’ll be this time next year. If he stays in Washington, he’ll look for a cheaper apartment in the suburbs. He’s considering moving back home, or out of the country if Republicans introduce anti-trans legislation at the national level. There’s more he doesn’t know. Planning a life, any life, feels impossible right now.

“I think it’s very much, sadly, a big piece of the trans experience in today’s world that we’re all having to have that exit plan in the back of our minds like–if things get worse, where can I go?”

This article kicks off the first in a series of profiles of trans people who fled laws passed in red states this year to seek refuge in blue states. Read the next article in the series here