Speaking out on the rights of transgender people is in your best interests. For the LGB community, it’s something we owe to the rest of the world, particularly those Trans folk who have always been with us. We would do everyone a disservice were we to simply retreat behind our lavender picket fences now that we have what we want, to assimilate while there are still folk on the outside looking in.
Robert Heinlein, cleverly disguised as Lazarus Long, said: “Never appeal to a man’s “better nature.” He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.” So I’ll take a shot at that. Our cultural gender identification is a Procrustean bed. Most of us don’t recognize the fact that we have been cut to fit in it because the process began when we were in the cradle. Most of us learned to deny the desires that were inappropriate. For many of us, the rewards we got for doing so were worth a price we weren’t really aware we were paying. By the time we are grown, this is who we are.
The edges of the box are after all only apparent when one runs into them. We’ve learned to enforce those edges. Most of us have a learned need to know if the person we are interacting with is male or female. It is inherent in our language. Many languages other than English have gendered even such sexless things as tables and chairs. Even in English there is no truly neutral pronoun in general use that is not considered insulting. None of us, after all, are comfortable being addressed as “it,” nor should we be. For many Trans folk, even using a public restroom can be fraught with danger. I don’t think these issues are something any of us should be willing to live with. I think it reflects badly on the United States, and on any culture that allows such routine devaluation of people. I think it makes us all run the risk of being devalued for something, causes us to hold deep, dark secrets inside ourselves lest we be found out and ostracized for them.
Most of this stuff really doesn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with a boy wearing nail polish. There’s nothing wrong with having no visible gender markers at all. It really doesn’t hurt any of us to politely ask a person whose gender we are not sure of what pronoun they prefer, or to call someone by the name they introduce themselves with, even if it does not appear to match their gender presentation. If we, as a culture, get used to allowing this sort of freedom to other people, we also get to claim it for ourselves. It was once very strange, even upsetting for some to see a woman wearing trousers or working in a traditionally male occupation. Now, most of us consider restricting womens’ dress or choice of occupation old-fashioned and upsetting, or if we don’t, most of us have learned to keep our mouths shut. How many of us realize that what is so obviously restricting to women is also restricting male expression as well?
We still have a long way to go in the United States. There are people trying to turn back the clock. They seize on the things that are still on the edges of those boxes we live in. A woman’s choice not to bear a child or the new fascination with what restroom someone uses. They disguise these things as issues of public safety or things even less defensible when the argument used is followed all the way back to its source. Many of us fear what we do not understand, and don’t examine how and why we feel as we do. This is the source of racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia, things I think we would all be better off without.
We all have a tendency to fear change and our fears can cause us to do very ugly things to others. We often don’t realize that what we do to others we also do to ourselves. Gender and sexuality is only one aspect of this, but it hits very close to home. We may not notice we have a race, or a certain amount of privilege, but we are all, even us non binaries, strapped into an expression of gender. We’ve come a long way in the last decade on these issues. This is a good thing for so many reasons, and our own self-interest should motivate us if nothing else does. Gender and sexual expression, I have found, are not fixed and immutable. We can and do change over time. You may not see this, and you do not have to. No one should ever be forced to change who they are, nor should they be forced to remain in a state of mind and body that they no longer feel comfortable with. I think it is time that we all learned not to be threatened by what someone else looks like, or how they choose to be in the world. It really has nothing to do with us, and learning to live and let live would actually make our lives much easier and our world a lot more pleasant to live in. If we can get all the way to acceptance, it would be even better, we might get to actual joy in our communities. People-watching would get a lot more interesting, and each of us would be a lot more entertained, and entertaining in our daily possibilities for interaction with each other. We’d be safer too, knowing that we were free to be whoever we wanted to be that day, and that tomorrow could be a completely different adventure.
I’m speaking through the lens of gender and sexuality because that is the part of the culture that I find most confining. I’m speaking to LGB folk because I see that we are the ones who are currently ready to say we’ve won and go home. Some of our organizations are already in the process of disbanding. I think that would be a huge mistake, and poor payment for our newly won acceptance and freedom. I think we need to pay it forward now, and give the rest of us a hand. Trans folk, people of color, immigrants–the list is indeed depressing and much longer than it should be. Let’s do our part to shorten it as much as we can, in our short lives, and with the two small hands each of us has. Let’s open up our communities and invite everyone in to add their own spice to the party we could all be having.
I can’t tell you where this story came from, or who told it to me, but it goes something like this: When we die, we go back into a great big pot that god stirs. We become the soup. When someone is about to be born, god dips the ladle into the pot and pours into the new person just enough soup to give them a soul. And so we are all one. Our job in life is to sweeten that soup.