I was browsing around Facebook, the way you do, and this image of a quote by Lavern Cox scrolled into view. Here is a slightly bigger context and a link to more about this interview:
GAYLE KING (CO-HOST): Did you tell anybody you were going to do that?
COX: I did not tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to say I couldn’t do it. So I didn’t tell anyone, no one knew, like none of my people knew that I was going to shout out Gavin. And I did it because I was partly frustrated that no one was talking about it. This is the first time that the Supreme Court is hearing a case about trans rights. And last year, over 50 bills criminalizing trans people for using the bathroom that’s consistent with their gender identity were introduced in state legislatures all over the country. All of a sudden, over 50 bills. And what people should know about these bathroom bills that criminalize trans people — criminalize me going to the women’s room, is that these bills are not about bathrooms. They’re about whether trans people have the right to exist in public space. If we can’t access public bathrooms, we can’t go to school, we can’t work, we can’t go to health care facilities. This is about public accommodations. And so, public accommodations are always key to civil rights. I can’t help but think about that moment from Hidden Figures when Taraji P. Henson’s character had to walk 45 minutes to the bathroom. Gavin had to go do a special gender neutral bathroom, a nurse’s bathroom that was way out of the way. And initially he was doing this, he was like this is really crazy can I just go to the boy’s bathroom like everybody else? And for seven weeks he did without incident. Then they found out about it and they said no you can’t.
The power in these words arrested me. The clear incisive laser sharp focus on the real issue at hand. There are people who think it is the job of the government to make people they hate go away. There are people in government doing just that. Any bullshit excuse for who they are “protecting” by these bills are utter nonsense born out by nothing but their own paranoid repressed fantasies and desire to exploit fear and hatred for political gain.
If you’ve gotten this far and you are wondering why I’m talking about trans issues on Open Relationship University’s blog, I think that’s a fair question.
This matters, and it matters to all of us. We can’t let the prudish totalitarian hateful people win. We’ve been down that path before. The more fanatically hateful people can control those they hate, the more they look to control other people. We know what kind of shit can get started if we listen to someone who is telling us who to hate. We know how awful things can get in some classes or types or colors of people don’t deserve the full protection of the law and civil society.
The power of the government is used to target a trans person. The word in that sentence that should strike you with fear is person. We’ve already lost if the government can decide which type of law abiding person to target, and it is just a matter of time before they come for those that you love or your own precious skin.
But it matters for more than just the political reasons. Basic human rights would be enough, but there is something else too. The underlying assumption that there are right and wrong ways to be are toxic to our own ability to fully be the best version of ourselves. Let me try and break that down a little more. People use their own “moralistic” ideas of right and wrong to justify their bigotry. We know that. But even if we don’t embrace their bigotry, even if we actively fight their bigotry, if we don’t also unpack the “moralistic” arguments they use to justify themselves, then we run the risk of turning that worldview back on ourselves.
When the moralistic people get to tell us they know who is right and wrong, our ability to be who we are narrows a little more. And one day, some desire of yours, some way that you want to express yourself or be, it’s going to fall on the “wrong” side of that equation and you are going to have a hard time being true to yourself.
I’m going to share a personal story about dealing with my own trans phobic feelings. But first I’d like to explain some terms.
Assigned Gender -The gender adults assigned a child at birth. For most newborns they look once at the genitals and make a call (it’s worth noting that the in about 1 in 2,000 cases this method breaks down and more work is required before the baby gets an assigned gender.)
Cisgender (often shortened as cis) -this means that the person still identifies as their assigned gender. Nobody knows what percentage of people are cis, but a good guess is over 99%[Note from editor Michon Neal of PostModernWoman.com: “I think this number is much smaller, actually. The only ones usually recognized as trans are the ones who are medically declared, which for many reasons, are the minority of the entire trans community.”]
Transgender (often shortened as trans) -people who don’t identify with their assigned gender.
Another paper, published in 2011 by the Williams Institute, used survey data to attempt to count the transgender population. It estimated that 0.3 percent of the population, or 700,000 adults, identified that way.
This is one of those issues where we don’t get to decide for other people who they are. I think most people who have found this blog and read this far would already know that if someone came up yo you and said “I’m gay” that you could say to them “No you are not.” That’s insane. We don’t act that way. Gender identity is the same kind of thing. You just have to listen and accept, and people should do that to you. Just to prove it to the cis people who might have doubts, imagine if someone walked up to you and said you were wrong, you are really not the gender you say you are. That’s insane. It goes the same for everyone.
I threatened above to tell a personal story.
A few years ago I was in a business networking organization, and there was a sign printer in the group, and she is a trans woman. I’ll call her Georgia because that wasn’t her name. For some reason I did not understand, I felt uncomfortable around Georgia. I knew I felt uncomfortable with the fact of her being trans, but I didn’t know why. I am not proud of this, but I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen. She was the first trans person that I spent any time with. She never did anything untoward. It was clear that my uncomfortable feeling wasn’t caused by anything she ever said or did. She was just as innocuous as any of the other business professionals in the group. Clearly, my feelings we mine own, but I didn’t understand them.
Here is the great thing though about the arc of these feelings. They didn’t last. In time Georgia was just Georgia. Just another person in this group trying to get more clients for her business just like me. The fact that she had been assigned a gender that didn’t work for her and had transitioned to one that better fit her identity, whatever feelings that initially triggered in me just faded.
Looking back from the distance of years at that discomfort is interesting to me for a few reasons. Personally, I can wonder why being exposed to something new and unique in my experience caused those feelings. I think part of it was a genuine “I don’t know what the protocol is here and I’m scared I’m going to do or say something wrong” but there was more to it than that. I think partly it was being forced to question some underlying assumptions I had about the reality of gender, which I had taken to be both immutable and binary. Here was a living person who just in existing proved to me that my ideas were limited and needed some rethinking.[Note from editor Michon Neal of PostModernWoman.com:: “Absolutely. Hm, and kudos for writing about cis feelings about trans people without pitying yourself. Too many times, cis folk pass it off as this huge thing to overcome. It’s gross. You clearly own this as your issue. But lol, maybe do mention that it is not inherent to these aspects of people to inspire such a reexamination of reality. It’s a facet of the culture and how we are taught to conceive of the world. You seem to be writing that implicitly, but making it apparent is important.”]
I’ve since met and known and even loved other trans people. I still sometimes worry that I am going to say something offensive in my ignorance. But that initial discomfort at the existence of someone who had embraced a gender identity different than the one that had been assigned to them, that has not returned.
In the light of a political climate where politicians are using fear and hate and bigotry against trans people to consolidate power and distract people from more pressing issues of inequity and environmental destruction I think taking a moment to acknowledge this edgy period of discomfort is vital. That edgy feeling is the one that politicians try and exploit for their gain. They used to do it mostly to and about gay people. Gay people can trigger an edgy feeling (especially in people who are repressing their own sexual identity.) But as more and more people know, love and accept gay people that has become a less effective political tool of divisiveness. Trans people are just the next target.[Two notes from editor Michon Neal of PostModernWoman.com:: “do not fail to account for race and misogynoir. We were the queers they went after and still go after primarily. We were specifically bisexualized and queered as part of our dehumanization. The gender binary is a product of colonization, so trans and gay and queer issues are absolutely racialized” and “Not “next” so much as simply “one of the current”. Trans people have long been targets”]
So, I invite you, faithful reader who has gotten to the end of this blog post to consider a few things.
1. If trans people trigger feelings in you that are uncomfortable, don’t panic and don’t blame trans people for your feelings. Sit with your feelings, know that they will fade, and respect everyone’s right to be who they are.
2. If politicians are targeting human people for being different, know that those politicians will come after you or someone you love any second now.
3. Give everyone as much spaciousness to be who they are and express their own unique self as “weird” as it might seem to you, because their are “weird” parts of you (like being into open relationships for example?) and the more you are in the habit of accepting and not condemning, the more you can become who you really are without squashing yourself under a mountain of shame.
4. If you care about these issues, if you want to protect the rights of people that are being targeted by hate, or if you want to learn more about these issues, here are a few good places to start:
The Trans Justice Funding Project is a community-led funding initiative founded in 2012 to support grassroots, trans justice groups run by and for trans people. We make grants annually by bringing together a panel of six trans justice activists from around the country to carefully review every application we receive. We center the leadership of trans people organizing around their experiences with racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions. Every penny we raise goes to our grantees with no restrictions and no strings attached because we truly believe in trans leadership.
When you become an ally of transgender people, your actions will help change the culture, making society a better, safer place for transgender people – and for all people (trans or not) who do not conform to gender expectations.
The National Center for Transgender Equality is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people.