If I were to give a metaphor for my philosophy of how I personally view equality (“my truth”, if you will), it would be that of a table, spread with food and drink. Seated at my table are people from all walks of life; multiple ethnicities and cultures, orientations and philosophies, coming together to enjoy a great meal and pleasant company. Most likely, I’d be doing the cooking while the banter was going on.
Fifteen years ago, I wasn’t like this at all. Having been raised in a conservative household, my worldview at the time was that of a homeschooled Reformed Baptist fundamentalist, utterly convinced that anyone who did not adhere to the Bible as the infallible, unchallenged Word of God was heading straight to the fires of hell the very moment they closed their eyes in death, no matter how much good they did or how nice they may have been to people.
For me to have completely rejected this myopic, ethnocentric, certainistic view of humanity at all was a miracle, and was the greatest struggle of my life. To see all human beings as equals regardless of the color of their skin, who they sleep with, or what gender they choose to identify themselves was a process that involved ripping away a lifetime of ingrained ideological norms and years of intense cognitive dissonance. To love people for who they are is not a hot topic by which I “build my brand”; it is a very personal, organic undertaking.
Within the last several months, the cause of the transgender community has been one of the most emotionally charged topics of debate, on nearly every platform of media, starting with Caleb Hannan’s Grantland piece that is believed to have involuntarily outed Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, and ending most recently with Piers Morgan’s run-ins with Janet Mock, former People magazine web editor and author of Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. In both of these cases, Hannan and Morgan, who has defined himself as a strong ally of the trans community, were called out to be villains of white cis-hetero “privilege”, willfully tone-deaf and ignorant of just how badly they handled the sensitivities of the people they interacted with.
So let me make sure I get this correct: in the space of roughly six weeks, a country of 315 million people are supposed to immediately hit the internet; do extensive, independent, near college-level research on the differences between sex and gender (terms that have been misused for decades) and able to quickly identify when a trans person is being misgendered or dead-named, terms most people are still unfamiliar with. Further, these people are to become instantly aware of who may be trans in their communities and become fierce advocates and warriors for these people on command, lips loaded with exactly the right words and phraseology under penalty of shaming and even bullying for daring to ask people who know more than they, because “you should have known this stuff already.”
If this is so, this is the most unrealistic and inefficient way to bring the common person to your cause.
As with any area of social justice, the stakes are extremely high. Saeed Jones was absolutely right when he denounced this country’s lateness in how we in this country perceive trans people, and how important it is that perceptions change quickly. But let’s consider the reality of the nation we reside: It took this country over two centuries to elect a man President who up until a hundred and fifty years ago would have been the property of some white slaveowner. In the near forty years since Harvey Milk’s life was taken, we have just started to reach the place where we embrace people we know are gay and lesbian as our neighbors, friends, family, and mentors. It took this country almost twenty years to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the federal government announced just last week that marriage equality was going to be recognized across the land. We still have no high-speed rail in this country, and we don’t fix roads and bridges in America until they crumble and fall into rivers with people still on them. Our nation embraces tardiness like no other.
Furthermore, let’s be real. The most basic, cursory knowledge of the trans community most people have come from Jerry Springer and Maury Povich, who for the better part of two decades have been wellsprings for the stereotype that trans people are salacious, underhanded and deceptive, hell-bent on tricking unsuspecting men into their beds. An argument could be made that these shows create much of the transphobia we see in this country, but instead of going after these two, we opt to conveniently ignore them, probably because…well, who doesn’t love those “You’re Not the Father” episodes?
In other words, there is a LOT of work to do.
It is neither excuse-making nor the shirking of moral duty to admit that the work of eliminating transphobia in this nation is going to be a long, arduous task. There are indeed many lives that hang in the balance, and always will. But ripping the people we wish to join our movement for not having the same level of knowledge we possess is neither productive or wise. As Oliver Willis wrote in his Daily Banter piece, “People wise up when they’re better informed and given knowledge with an open hand versus a closed fist.” I would put it this way: There is nothing noble about having a cause that no one wants to be a part of because the ones who lead it drive people away.