Saturday, December 5, 2009

What makes a difference?

So maybe this week I don't have a long drawn out dissertation on life, the universe, and everything. I've been thinking that not everyone who reads this thing is local and yet my previous posts have been sort of coming from a place where you almost have to be local to know what I'm talking about, so let me try to do some posts, perhaps shorter, on some more general thoughts.

A friend of mine has ask me a few questions about where this sort of thing comes from and why a person with GID makes the choices they do and I want to address those here at some point but I'm still kind of gathering my thoughts on that in a way that I can be clear and not give in to my usual tendency to wander off on tangents.

In the mean time, another thought is on my mind this evening, which is this - does real world contact do more to build tolerance than political activism?

One of the things I've gone back and forth on in terms of where I go from here is the extent to which I "keep my head down" and live my own life, as opposed to the possibility of - for example - trying to start a support group for folks like me in North Mississippi (believe me, there are NO resources for gender issues this side of Memphis that are easily found) or some other effort to "be active" beyond getting through my own life unmolested. But what I don't have an interest in is being a "professional victim." It seems to me that those who very loudly and publicly proclaim how they and those like them are being abused often alienate the hearts and minds they are trying to win. I don't want to be that sort of person.

First of all, there is the problem of mistaken perceptions. I personally think it is most unfortunate that gay/lesbian issues are joined at the hip with transsexualism in the minds of most people (practically all people who are not themselves trans). Both in the LGB community, and in the "Christian Conservative" movement, they are thought to be all the same set of problems. In my humble opinion, they are not. Meaning no disrespect to gays and lesbians when I say this, there is a fundamental difference in their orientation situation and our identity situation. At it's most basic level, being transsexual is not a SEXUAL issue at all, it's a gender issue. Which is to say that it's not at all about who you have sex with or, indeed, if you have sex at all.
A great many transsexuals, whether pre- or post-operative, are essentially celibate the rest of their lives (and quite happy to make the bargain if that's the price that must be paid). Many others remain oriented towards the gender that they were always oriented towards (i.e. a transwoman who is still romantically interested in women - which puts the lie to the myth that transsexuals are just homosexuals in denial) as well. Our issues with our identity are not predicated on or even directly related to our sexual behavior.

Whatever might be said for or against the rights of homosexuals to practice their lifestyle unmolested, there issues are not the same as ours. Take one obvious example. A gay man can and does commonly use a men's restroom without an eyebrow being raised. Why? Because his bedroom habits are not at issue when he is using the restroom, it's as irrelevant as what he had for dinner last night. By contrast, every time a pre-operative transwoman sets foot in a ladies room (at least one which is designed for more than one occupant at a time) she is risking the wrath of some offended person taking exception. Now, whatever your opinion of the bathroom issue (perhaps I'll devote a column to that issue sometime in the future) the point remains - for us the issue is the restroom itself, not what we do elsewhere as it is for the homosexual.

That's just one illustration - but the point I'm making here is that despite that reality, in the common perception of opinion and politics, trans issues are intertwined with homosexual issues. Another case in which, politically speaking, perception becomes reality. So I'm pretty much stuck with knowing that as you read, you'll be thinking "gay rights" no matter how I preface it.

Now, in saying I don't want to be a political crusader, that's not to say that there are not legitimate issues that need to be worked out in this ever-more-complex society. It's not to say that I might not at some point find myself treated unfairly (in fact, I'd be stunned if it didn't happen) and that such unfairness wouldn't possibly put me in a position of protesting I'd rather not be in. But nonetheless, having been on both sides of the issue, so to speak, I have maybe a bit of insight not everyone "in the trenches" on these battles has. I've seen both sides demonize the other and I've noticed, I think, that it is the most political of activists that seems to most provoke suspicion on the other side.

So. what really works? If I, or anyone else in my position, wants to see a world that's more accepting of our condition, do we really need to march with placards and be "in the face" of those with differing opinions? do we really need to (as the gay press does with great reliability) accuse those who have a differing view of being "haters"? I can testify that during all the time I spent reading and listening and talking to people who had views which gay rights activists would label as intolerant, I never saw even one example of open hatred among the people I interacted with. I mean sure there are people like Fred Phelps and Steve Anderson but the vast majority are not remotely like that. It seems to me that nothing is to be gained by an "us vs. them" mentality in which you assume the worst about the "opponent."

Likewise, it does the conservative side no good, in the long run, to constantly try to make the worst possible connections in expressing their disagreement. Constantly comparing gays to child molesters for instance, trying to build up the mental image that the leather clad parader in San Francisco represents your typical gay or that the over-the-top drag queen represents your typical transsexual (with all due respect to leather-clad drag queens). In fact, all that really says to a lot of the people who's mind you are trying to change is that you are out of touch with reality. Heck, most drag queens aren't even transsexuals in the first place.

In my observation, both in my VERY limited time living it but also in the testimony of many others who have traveled a similar road, what really works is recognizing and honoring the humanity of the person in question. When the person with the "abnormal" lifestyle is loved and cared for by a real flesh and blood Christian they get the chance to find out that not all (hardly any in fact but you get the point) Christians are motivated by "hate."

Likewise, hopefully at least, when people who've never had any experience with a person with these issues in their life has a chance to know a real person that they have known for years and have some respect for happens to be one of "those people"- when you find out your nephew is gay or your sister is a lesbian or your uncle is trans or ...whatever else you don't personally agree with - hopefully then it gives you the chance to see the people on the other side of public opinion as something more worthy of respect than they were when they were "those people."

Does that mean you have to change your opinion, either way? of course not. You can love a person with whom you agree on absolutely nothing politically or otherwise. It doesn't take approving of someone's issues, decisions, choices, whatever you want to think of them as - in order to have some kindness and compassion for them. That's a matter of simple human decency isn't it? What do we gain by calling each other "hateful" or "sick" except more distance between us?
Differences of opinion are to be expected. But villainizing those who disagree is beneath all of us. I have no idea to what extent I'll try to do in the future (I suspect very very little) but I do hope that at least every once in a while, someone who's known me for years can now take a second look at transsexualism based on what they see in me. Maybe I can "put a face on" the issue in a way that will help someone be more open minded.

Or - Maybe not.

1 comment:

  1. I think if more people could handle the issue the way you have, there would be less problems. You have always tried to approach people without expectation or accusation inherent in sharing your news. You never demanded or expected anything from just wanted to share the fact of your authentic self...simply to do that. You never behaved like you assumed the person you were telling was a hateful bigot right out the gate. You also accepted others for who they were...even if you disagree. Most people forget tolerance means just that...and should come from every side of these issues.