Finding Allies In Unexpected Places

We’ve all heard plenty about the characteristics of the so-called “Millenial” generation.  They’re lazy, they’re entitled, they’re activists just looking for a cause. Personally I’ve always felt the labels given to this generation are unfair and judgement passed upon them are even more so (especially since it was my generation that created them).  What often goes unseen is their prevailing level of desire for social justice.  In the area of all things gender identity related in particular, they’ve taken on a far more open minded view than traditional culture.  In fact, this generation seems to actually vilify those who do not share their viewpoint, and it seems they’ve taken it to an extreme.  I’ve watched as my eldest child (who identifies as non-binary themselves) has blasted potential allies who simply were trying to understand but asked the wrong question or asked it in an inappropriate way. It’s this almost belligerent approach to demanding acceptance that I want to address.

I’ve heard all the arguments about why we as trans people shouldn’t have to put up with this.  It’s not our job to educate people, why do we have to be understanding of them when they’re understanding of us, etc.  I agree with the validity of these viewpoints but the fact is we in the transgender community are the ones with something to lose. We’re the ones that seek equality and justice.  Indeed if you look back at every social justice movement in the history of this nation, each was only won when the marginalized group stood up and worked together to be heard.  Long held social preconceptions had to be overcome in each case and that could only be done through educating those who may be sympathetic to the cause if they understood the facts. This is no different today when it comes to transgender people. It’s not the ideal world, if it was we’d already have equal treatment.  The fact is while this type of education of others can be burdensome and repetitious, if we’re not willing to put in that work we’ll never achieve equality.

We have to work to build allies because ultimately the transgender community or even the larger LGBT community will not win this battle on our own.  We need allies in the form of heterosexual cis-gender people whether they be black, white, Asian, Arab, whatever. If we look at those previous historic examples of struggles for equal treatment, their progress only began in earnest when members of the dominant social groups began to see the value of their cause and support it.

Our enemies are master manipulators. They drive a message of whining minority groups who want special treatment and aren’t willing to play within the socially accepted processes. They fabricate stories of violent and hypocritical lashing out from our ranks in order to erode sympathy we may gain for our cause among the masses. When someone who is open-minded enough to potentially become an ally, parrots one of these stories or expresses concerns consistent with that falsified message, responding with venomous indignation only play’s into the manipulation that has been perpetrated against us. It is incumbent on us to play the “bigger person” role and exercise extreme levels of restraint in order to overcome the messaging of those who hate us.  But that is our path to success.

I’ll detail two recent stories from the last month that illustrate how often times those that may seem like enemies can be converted to allies through just a little education.  The first was one of my in-laws.  While not hateful toward me, she expressed many of the prevalent anti-trans biases that we hear in the media today. We were talking about bathroom bills and she of course parroted her concern over supposed threats to women and young girls if “men” are allowed to use their bathrooms. Calmly and quickly, I pulled out my phone and pulled up a recent picture I had seen of a trans-man in a bathroom.  He was of muscular build, had a full beard and was wearing a cowboy hat, the traditional “man’s man” if such a thing there ever was.  In a very cool and collected tone, I showed her the picture and asked, “so you would rather that this person use the women’s room from now on?”  Of course she balked and said no.  However, when I pointed out to her that this person was born with a female body and based on the wording of current and proposed laws in North Carolina and Texas, would be forced to use the women’s room, her tone changed completely. Suddenly she was open to hearing more about the transgender experience.  By the end of our conversation she stated that we have separate stalls, so what does it even matter.

The second story comes from Facebook. I received an alert that a friend had commented on a story about a cis-male and trans-male couple that were pregnant. I looked as his comment and found it incredibly offensive but it also exhibited the type of ignorance that plagues are society in terms of transgender issues. I calmly started a messenger session with him and suggested he view a video I had posted the previous day in which a professor discussed in detail, the physical characteristics of brain formations in transgender people versus cis-gender people.  I respectfully but directly suggested that it might clear up his confusion on how a pregnant trans man is actually a man.  Ultimately I got him to agree to watch it.  Afterward he admitted it was eye-opening for him and that he didn’t realize science had made such discoveries. We ended up having a long conversation in which he expressed a view that everyone should be free to do what they need in order to be happy as long as they don’t harm others. He still mentioned his fears about straight men in women’s bathrooms, but I figured I had still made a huge dent so I calmly disagreed but left it at that.

Now sure, these to anecdotes are kind of a best case scenario.  Not everyone is so open minded. However, not everyone we perceive as close-minded and ignorant is really a lost cause. Some respond well to scientific facts which we have on our side.  Others I’ve found respond well to the opinions of medical doctors and mental health professionals, again on our side. Sometimes just the social dignity aspects are the key to opening someone’s heart to our need for equality. However, the surest way to reinforce the false stereotypes these people harbor, is to assume they’re bigots and react with anger or disdain.  Sometimes all it takes is the patience to determine how we can best appeal to their sensibilities and leverage that with some factual education to enlighten them.