Monday, November 14, 2016

Transcendence

Dressing for the job I want.

As I've mentioned in the past, I've been a regular poster on the Something Awful forums for the last thirteen years.  The forums basically were the precursor to Reddit where people would be able to converse on just about any topic, with moderation to help keep the discussion intelligent (or at least entertaining).  I used to post a lot in the "Transgender MegaThread" (or TMT) - a thread that exists for trans people to meet and connect with other transpeople.  It was a really valuable resource for me when I was first starting to transition, and I stuck around for a long time after I was done so that I could pay it forward and help others.

I don't really post in the TMT anymore, but I occasionally skim it.  And one day a few weeks ago, an online friend of mine made a post in the TMT about strongly wanting to see a therapist about her gender identity that I happened to see.  I was pretty sure she knew I was trans, but I had no idea about her until I saw that post.  I reached out to her and let her know that (a) I was down to help her out with anything and everything, (b) I have a lot of information about my own transition on my blog, and (c) she sounded almost exactly like me back in 2007 when I was trying to gather my courage to come out.   Her name is Ellen.

This happened right around the time that I knew I was going to Oakland for the documentary, so the timing was a little bit freaky.  I was literally in the process of re-reading things I wrote when I first came out when she came out to me.  It strangely helped a lot at a time in my life where I was trying to figure out how I'm supposed to do something useful with my writing.

Ellen had all the fears I did when I started, mainly centered around whether or not to embrace the reality that she might be transgender.  I gave her my usual disclaimer - while I'll never tell anyone specifically what they should or shouldn't do, I'll always share my own experiences and give good generalized advice because I consider her a friend and want the best for her.

She's been going to a therapist and I think it's made her a lot happier.  She told me that she referred to me in one of her sessions as her "e-mentor" which I took as a huge compliment - as someone who sees their ideal self as a "sage", that's pretty much the exact kind of image I'm going for.

Not to be confused with "dementor".  That's the exact opposite of what I'm going for.

She's still extremely early on in the process and figuring out exactly what it is she wants.  As long as she's making decisions that make her happy, I think she's doing the right thing.   It was fun being able to talk her through things like coming out to her roommate or purchasing female clothes for the first time.  She's continuing to see her therapist, taking her time making decisions, and seems to be happy with the way things are progressing.  I see a lot of myself nine years ago in her.

Unfortunately, she lives in a part of the country that is particularly known for not being tolerant of transgender people.  And she works in a profession where it would be difficult to come out without people raising a stink about it.  That's the kind of problem where I can't really offer anything other than "I hope you manage to find a way, and you have a friend in me if you ever need help getting there".

When Trump was elected, Ellen was the person I immediately thought of.  What the fuck, America.

If there's one thing that I have always been extremely confident about over the last decade, it's that things have been heading in a positive direction for transgender people.  At no point did it ever cross my mind that things might actually manage to get worse.  Even with that stupid bathroom bill that was passed, the public backlash against it seemed to make it obvious to me that in the long run, we would eventually be able to get to a point where gender identity isn't seen as a big deal.


I understand the temptation to turn our backs on those we perceive as the enemy.

By definition, the only people that I interact with on a regular basis are tolerant of trans people.  And having only lived on the coasts, I think I might have had a skewed perception of just how many people share negative opinions of LGBT people.  To illustrate this, I'm going to share are some things that I wrote in the TMT back in 2009 regarding my thoughts on using the women's bathroom.  This was back when I was living in Boston, which relative to other parts of the country was an extremely good place to transition.

March 5, 2009  (TMT)

"When I transitioned at work, there was exactly one person that filed a complaint regarding my using the women's restrooms. I never found out who it was - we have an "anonymous questions/suggestions for the CEO" box in the lobby, and someone put in a question asking if it was right that I used their bathroom. The higher-ups in the company were firm in stating that I was to be treated as any other woman, and I never actually found out who had asked the question. Honestly, I'm glad that I never found out. These days, I'm quite universally accepted as a female, and I have no idea if anyone actually has a problem with it.

And frankly, I've learned not to particularly care if people have a problem with it. What I've found is that even when people have issues being around trans folk, they're pretty easily swayed once they see that I act completely normal in the bathroom. There is a lot of misinformation and a lot of prejudices out there that we have to work against, but that doesn't mean that trans people should just throw up the white flag for the sake of making every single person happy."

April 27, 2009 (TMT)

"For example, I used to be petrified to use the women's bathroom when I was presenting as androgynous. One day, I stopped and thought about what I would do if I saw an androgynous/female-looking person in the men's room.  As it turns out, I wouldn't do anything. I'd go about my business and not say a word, because I'd look like a jackass if I was wrong and not really gain anything if I was right.  I thought about this and realized that as long as people don't act negatively towards me and respect me, I don't really care if deep down they think I might have been born male.

I said those seven years ago, and if anything I thought the world was growing more tolerant.  I still stand by my statements and despite the election I feel like a majority of the people out there are on my side on this one.  Trans people should feel comfortable going into the bathroom that fits their gender preference, because there's no actual downsides to doing so.  And so I wanted to put some food for thought into the world regarding how I think we might make it all go away.

My goal is to teach the world a spell to make intolerance disappear.

If we're going to build a society (and for the sake of argument we can call it "America") in which all members are having their human needs fulfilled, I think that that has to be change that comes from the bottom up.  I fully understand that the election is important, but here's a chicken-egg question:

Which comes first?
  1. We elect a leader that represents the ideals of a clear majority of the people
  2. We, as a society, make an attempt to connect with others on a large-scale basis so that we can all get on the same page
I kind of feel like a majority of the internet seems to think that #1 has to come first, and I disagree.  The problem right now isn't the president, it's the fact that people are picking sides and convincing themselves that the other side is "the enemy".  Even if Clinton won, we'd have a giant percentage of the population thinking all the same things - at least by Trump winning, a spotlight is now shined on the divide and I think America can bounce back from that.

To my friends on the left - instead of writing people off as bigots, why not ask yourself if there's more to the story?  Is it possible that the transphobe that you're about to write off simply hasn't met any cool LGBT people and so they've let their opinion be formed by media / their peers?  That was almost universally the reason that people had an issue with my transition, and in almost every case people came around once they realized that I was pretty much just the same person I always was, only happier.

Next time someone spouts transphobic stuff on the internet, reach out to them privately and ask them why they hate trans people so much.  Don't do it publicly, because then the spectacle of it all will focus the conversation into destructive instead of productive.  Regardless of how wrong you think they are, ask them questions that you think might help you come to a stronger understanding of where their opinion comes from. Your goal is to see the person as more than "a bigot" - if you want them to see you as more than "a queer" or "a liberal" (or whatever) you need to show them the same respect.  

Trust me, it works, and it feels good.  I've made a lot of internet friends with people who started off with a bias against trans people simply by reaching out and showing interest in why they felt that way.  More often than not, ignorance is literally just a lack of experience on something and it's easy enough to fix if you don't judge the other person off the bat for being ignorant.

That's how we win.  Don't worry about focusing on the people who are swimming in hate, because not everyone wants to have their mind changed.  If echo chambers are the problem (and I think they are), then all that needs to happen is for LGBT people to engage intolerant people in large numbers and I think this can all go away in a few years.

You need to be able to see the world from other points of view.

Just remember - statements like "grown men want to watch your little girl pee" are objectively false scare tactics and so we should always win that argument by just telling the truth.  The important thing to think about is why people would believe that.  I would argue that social media has tricked people into taking extreme sides (by encouraging us to argue endlessly over it) and that the biggest likely catalyst towards people buying that as a valid argument was that they bonded over being shunned by people who attacked them for being transphobic.

It frustrates me when I see people make Facebook posts like "if you voted for Trump, unfriend me now" because to me the polarization of opinions caused by echo chambers is the exact nature of the problem.  I understand that people are upset right now, but you can't try and change the country if you're not willing to listen to the other side, and you can't justifiably get mad when they end up doing the same thing to you.  I feel like people need to hold both themselves and their ideological opposites to a higher standard - we should always strive for productive conversations, especially the ones born out of disagreement.

I feel confident that making allies goes a lot further in the long run than making enemies or writing people off. If we get enough people to work together for the greater good that makes everyone happy (which I believe is possible), I think things like the bathroom bill wouldn't last a week because the people would recognize it for the useless distraction that it is.

In a world that needs optimism more than ever, I can't stress enough how strong of an impact connection has.

If it helps, feel free to transphobic people that you know to me (Shelly Moonbeam on Facebook) as someone who is happy to answer questions about how transition affected my life.  It's kind of funny for me to engage in debate with people whose position is "you shouldn't have any rights and made a mistake" - more often than not I'm able to change people's mind on that one just by being respectful and asking questions.

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