I was talking with a friend yesterday because I needed clarity and to vent. I got in a stupid Twitter squabble over what is an “ally” to transfolk. As is usual on the internet, the squabble continued back and forth throughout the afternoon, and so I messaged my friend, remembering she had gotten attacked by numerous people for calling herself a transsexual. She would never do so to others, and is one of the most sweet and supportive people you could meet, but for her “transsexual” spoke to her own experience, and it is one way in which she identifies. While I have friends that disagree with what I am about to say, and that is their right, we all have a right to self-identify, and yes I get how it also might hurt the greater group, but I refuse to kill someone’s experience or individuality.
The transgender activist Kate Bornstein proudly calls herself a “tranny”, and she wears the title like a battle scar of all that she has been through…an ugly word she has taken ownership of to turn it against those who hurled it at her in hate. This is her right, and you are certainly free to disagree with her, as activist/writer Jennifer Boyland has done on more than one occasion, which is her right. Now, let me be clear, I do not like to see transwomen refer to themselves as transsexuals or trannies…I would never refer to a person as such, but their experience is not mine, nor do I know all they have been through that might lead them to use such labels. I support their right to self-identify, and while I might seek to understand why, I would never simply say they are wrong. After all, a big part of the fight for transgender people is the right to self-identify as they see fit…yes as male, female, non-binary, etc., but also to use the labels they choose to use. When you attack someone for how they self identify, you use the same tactics those who hate transfolk use, and infighting never helps a cause.
In my case, the woman I had been arguing with had essentially stated that only transgender people have the right to name allies, and I called her out, (a little flippantly, I admit) as there is no way she could know all our experiences. I also, got into how while someone may identify cisgender does not mean they are. There are many on the trans spectrum who identify cisgender for a multitude of reasons, and then of course there are those who would die for a transgender family member, loved one, or friend. I was ready to write the argument off as I felt the person was a self-righteous social justice warrior (SJW), and yet she proved me wrong. In the course of our going back and forth, I shared something with her, and she must have gone further to see who I was and what I was about. By the end we came to an agreement that we both want the same thing, and that is for people to be able to live their lives happily how they want to without judgement. This is at the heart of what I want for my child, and what most transgender people want, to be seen as who they are without the need to add “trans” for clarification of how they identify. I walked away impressed and more aware. Keeping an open mind allowed us to find a common ground we could agree on Unfortunately, there is so much anger out there right now, this is not easy for all to do.
SJWs have their place, but when they become too extreme they begin to subvert and hurt the cause they fight for. There are many who are so angry right now that the fight has become more important than the cause. Put another way, if tomorrow the world were to give the transgender community everything it wanted, there are many who wouldn’t know what to do, because anger has torn them up. I also won’t downplay the reasons for the anger, there is good reason for many to be angry, sad, hurt, etc. Many exist in a world that refuses to accept them, or tries to hurt them every chance it gets. It saddens me to talk with friends whose parents rejected them, or whose friends walked away from them. It angers me the friends who have been raped and assaulted, who have been scarred in a way that never fully heals. As the father of a little girl, I want to sweep them up in a big papa bear hug, and tell them I have their back, and I’ll be the father theirs never was.
Of course, I can’t do that for all, and it isn’t something they necessarily want from me, but what I can do is listen to their concerns and be open to the idea that I can always learn more. I can always do better to support my friends and my child. At the same time, transpeople can always learn more to help themselves and their community. No two transpeople have the same experience. Some are men and some are women, which impacts experience. Some transition early, others later. Some transition with hormones and surgery, others do not. Some still live as their assignment at birth, for a multitude of reasons that are OK. Still, others do not desire to transition ever, maybe they’re genderfluid, nonbinary, or their dysphoria is mild enough that they are ok to exist in the body given to them at birth. All of these things are dependent upon the individual’s experience, and to tell them they’re wrong, or they’re not doing it right, or they’re not “trans” enough hurts the overall cause, and gives the enemy what it wants. We are better than that.
As the father of a transgender daughter I can get grief from time to time, and take it very seriously if someone tells me I’m not an ally, or I don’t understand what a transperson goes through. I am open to learning, and have learned quite a bit by simply listening to what friends have to share. I also mis-step at times, but am open to learning how and changing, always respecting a person’s viewpoint if they are open to teaching me. However, further thought has made me realize I am more than an ally, because I am the parent of a transgender child, and that makes me far more than just a friend. If you have never been a parent then you have no idea how much a person can love someone. The thought of rejecting a child sickens me, and as to my own, well I can’t understand how any parent turns their back on their child. I would gladly die for my children, and happily go to jail to protect them. The love I have for them knows no bounds. I am a parent, and knowing what my daughter goes through from being bullied to sobbing, gut-wrenching dysphoria, I can only imagine what it must be like to go through such things without the support from family and loved ones. My heart aches for those who do not have such a network of love. This is what a greater community should be to one another. Love and educate first, instead of attacking and accusing each other of mislabels and other nonsense in the wake of the greater threat.
As the saying goes, we are stronger together. All people on the beautiful trans-spectrum, whether you live out and proud, or are stealth and quietly happy, from activists to those going about regular daily lives, we are a community. A community that also includes loving family and friends who everyday move the line forward a little more to change the world. It could be educating a teacher, or a coach. It could be making sure a child can play soccer without question to his or her gender. It could be a hug to let someone know they’re not alone, or it could be marching and protesting at a state house. The point is, there is a long way to go, and so every little bit counts. When we alienate, we risk losing community, and we also risk losing ourselves to hate, fear, and anger.
We are stronger than that. Our numbers grow daily. Twenty years ago who would have ever thought military generals would fight to protect transgender personnel, or that a transwoman would be seen hugging a little girl on prime-time television, with millions applauding the gesture of love. The community has come a long way, but we must stick together to reach the finish line. I have hope that just as my argument yesterday, even when we disagree, we can come back to a common ground based upon that desire to see all people happily free to live as their authentic selves.