Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2-18-2015 Entry: Nonviolent Resistance and the Trans* Revolution


"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." –Gandhi

 

I often find myself pondering the words of people who achieved great things because I believe that the truth that allowed them to achieve those great things can be learned by studying what they said in addition to what they did. The quote above from Gandhi is one of the most important quotes I’ve ever read or contemplated and as my transition from male to female begins I believe those words hold even deeper meaning than they ever have for me.

It is no secret that transgender and non-binary people are often marginalized by the cultures, societies, and institutions that surround them. I am fortunate to say that I live in a state where such institutionalized discrimination is prohibited by law (not that it stops it from ever happening), but there are many who are not. Almost every day news about a transgender or non-binary person being murdered just for being who they are can be found. Almost every day transgender and non-binary people are harassed, mocked, ridiculed, and even physically assaulted (if not murdered) simply because they chose not to hide their gender expressions. Even just yesterday a news story was floating around about a father in Ohio who stabbed his daughter to death because she was MtF, and the greatest shame of this story was that the news outlets that covered the story initially referred to the victim as a male (i.e. the father’s son).

Such disheartening refusal to acknowledge the victim’s actual gender in addition to the brutal death they suffered is almost enough to give me pause about transitioning. My wife has even admitted to me that she harbors fears about the kind of harassment and physical danger I may face as my transition takes its toll on my physical body, and she is not unreasonable to hold such fears. I hold the same fears myself, (part of the reason it took so many years to finally accept that I was transgender) but the quote at the beginning of this post reminds me of what I am doing. It reminds me of what each and every transgender and non-binary person is doing when they willingly put themselves in harm’s way in order to live a life true to who they are. It reminds me that even though the state of transgender and non-binary acceptance is currently lacking and a great deal of improvement has to be made before we experience true equality, we are still winning.

 

“First they ignore you.”

 

It wasn’t so long ago that being transgender or non-binary in western culture meant that you were completely invisible to the outside world. Most trans and non-binary people hid who they were during the light of day and would only express their true genders in solitude or in the dark of night. There were times in history, many centuries ago, that being openly transgender/non-binary wasn’t dangerous or looked down upon, but the rise of organized Christianity put an end to that for more than a thousand years. It has only been very recently that being openly transgender or non-binary has become somewhat tolerable again by society. And when I say very recently I’m talking about the last 50 years. At the beginning of this change in visibility society as a whole ignored transgender individuals. They weren’t talked about, they weren’t talked to, and they were generally just ostracized from any and all social interaction (except among their fellow gender outlaws). That was how the transrevolution we are currently experiencing began. It was ignored.

 

“…then they laugh at you…”

 

Once enough of the trans and non-binary population started coming out and demanding the attention that they deserved society moved from ignoring them to laughing at them. I can remember so many jokes in the 90’s and early 2000’s that revolved around transsexual prostitutes and “tranny” porn (p.s. I detest that word). Just think about all the movies or TV shows you’ve ever seen where someone made a joke about some guy dating a woman who turned out to be a man (notice that it is almost never a man who turned out to be woman, but I digress). These kinds of jokes increased a great deal as the number of openly transgender individuals increased (I say “openly” but what I’m meaning here is that they made their transition and/or were presenting as their identified gender). These jokes turned into ways to verbally assault each other, particularly among men. I can remember countless instances where males teased other males about being so girly they needed a sex change, or alleging that they had already had one because of how girlie they were. Can’t you almost hear Arnold Schwarzenegger calling somebody a “girlie man”? Sure that phrase wasn’t directly referring to transgender and non-binary people, but the transmysoginistic theme is self-evident (adopting that term from this article http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/01/transmisogyny/ ).

 

“…then they fight you…”

 

Hatred and violence towards transgender and non-binary people is nothing new, but increased visibility of these crimes has shown us that transphobic violence is on the rise (http://www.equalitymi.org/media-center/media-releases/national-report-hate-violence-against-lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-0 kind of dated, but it works). There are a lot of reasons the numbers are increasing, not the least of which is an increase in reporting them as transphobic hate crimes, but these numbers paint a grim picture for openly transgender people. As more and more of us come out of the closet and start presenting who and what we are without shame to the communities we live in I suspect that we will see even higher numbers of violent crimes. The more transgender and non-binary people challenge the systems and institutions that discriminate against them and marginalize them, the more those people who uphold the status quo of those systems and institutions will resort to violence to keep things the way they are. We have seen this over and over again all around the world as marginalized groups of people demand equality and fair treatment. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989 for a great example of how challenging the status quo can result in a violent response; and there are many forms of violence beyond just physical intimidation and injury that can be used to suppress and further marginalize transgender individuals. See this article to witness how political power is currently being used to wage war against transgender and non-binary people: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/09/florida-transgender-bathroom-law_n_6645910.html .

 

The point I’m trying to make is that we as transgender and non-binary individuals have moved through the first two stages of Gandhi’s quote about social change movements and are currently experiencing the third stage; a stage which is on the eve of victory. First they ignored us, then they laughed at us, and now they are fighting us. The number of discrimination lawsuits pertaining to gender identity are on the rise and the number of laws being proposed and debated that would further prohibit the freedoms of transgender and non-binary people are also on the rise. There has been a large escalation in conservative rhetoric pertaining to the dangers of transgender and non-binary culture and influences. Even in my city, one of the most progressive cities in the United States when it comes to gender identity equality and protection saw its major newspaper willingly publish a horribly transphobic full page ad about transgender athletes in highschool in an effort to fight transgender equality. This is something almost completely unheard of before 5 or 10 years ago. The 1990’s would have never been so openly anti-trans as it has become now because we weren’t in the “…then they fight you…” stage of our social movement like we currently are.

 

While this “…then they fight you…” stage is probably the most difficult one to navigate, it also means that we are so very close to finally achieving the equality and fair treatment we deserve. The president of the United States has even openly mentioned and acknowledged transgenderism, and if that is not indicative of the progress we have made, then I’m not sure what is (that was a first, by the way).

 

What this means is that we are at a critical juncture in the transgender and non-binary social movement, and our actions in the years to come will determine how much progress is made. The more of us who willingly stand up and nonviolently insist upon recognition and fair treatment, the faster our victory will become. We must not be afraid to be proud of who and what we are. I know so many of us just want to be men or women because it’s easier to just fit in, but we have an obligation not only to ourselves but to those who suffer as we have suffered to nonviolently resist any attempts by institutions, organizations, and governmental bodies to further marginalize transgender and non-binary people. Even if you are not trans or non-binary but know someone who is or love someone who is, it behooves all of you to continue to brazenly stand up to any injustice that they suffer because they are humans too. We are people too and we deserve love, respect, and equality just as much as anyone else. Just because we are misunderstood or because we are “different” from what you were taught as a child doesn’t make it okay for governments to enact laws against us. It doesn’t make it okay for transphobic violence to be acceptable and misreported by the media. No one should die because of their gender expression and until we can impress upon society as a whole that transphobic violence must stop through transfriendly education and local empowerment efforts, our obligation to trans and non-binary people will not be fulfilled.

I attempt to fulfill that obligation to my fellow trans and non-binary humans by authoring this blog where I discuss issues facing transgender/non-binary people as well as unveiling the deep and powerful emotional states that can be experienced during the transition process. I also spend some of my free time answering emails from people seeking help with their gender identity issues. Some of them need advice, some of them need help determining if they actually are transgender or non-binary, and still others just need a compassionate confidant to reveal their feelings to. I am also in the process of applying to graduate school to become a licensed therapist so that I may one day specialize in gender identity therapy. But even all of this is not enough to further the cause. Every day that I am able to I work to spread awareness and compassion to both trans/non-binary individuals, their friends, their families, their advocates, and most especially their detractors. I try to instill in all of these people I come into contact with the one truth that binds us all, that everyone is worthy of love and appreciation; especially those who are so angry at the world that they feel justified in victimizing transgender and non-binary people because they have the social power to do so.

 

The compassion we must feel for those who would slander, beat, and murder transgender and non-binary individuals reminds me of another powerful quote:

 

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.” –Ender’s Game

 

Obviously our destroying them is figurative, but when we can bring ourselves to truly understand those people who would work so hard to oppress and marginalize transgender and non-binary people we give ourselves the opportunity to love them as they love themselves. We are given the opportunity to truly act out of compassion, and when we return ignorance, hatred, bigotry, and physical violence with compassion, love, and peace, we destroy our enemy. We destroy them because they can no longer be an enemy when they are understood to the point of love. Our love and compassion transforms them from an enemy to something else. Then, and only then, will we see that they are humans too; humans who are afraid and confused, just like so many of us have been afraid and confused about our non-binary or non-conforming genders.

 

Under such circumstances we are destined to win. We are destined to transform our societies the same way we are transforming our lives and bodies. We can stand tall as we herald in a new era of thinking outside the gender binary box and can show the world the beauty that’s possible when you transcend the gender rules and norms set by society. We can be living examples of what it’s like to practice unconditional love, and there is no higher calling than that.

 

So, in closing, I hope that everyone who reads this goes out into the world with a different perspective on gender and the future of the transgender/non-binary  social movement. I hope that each of you makes a point to raise awareness of the struggles that we who have non-conforming gender expressions face simply because we are brave enough to be our true selves. I hope that as you interact with your children that you become aware of any gender normative influences that they are exposed to and make efforts to minimize those influences so that they can grow up to be who they are meant to be, not who society says they have to be because of their sex organs. Let us adopt a mindset of allowing and acceptance of differences instead of condemning them out of fear or ignorance.

 

To be unique is not to be wrong, but to be so perfect that the universe only had to make one of you.

 

-Emma

No comments:

Post a Comment