(Originally published on December 27th, 2010 at Dyssonance.com and then Spectrumcafe.com, this essay of mine is, more or less, something that sets the tone for the next couple years of my life, personally. Due to recent events, I thought I'd be brave/foolish and publish it here, because the issues involved are not only applicable to trans lives, but also to LGB lives, and to any movement for social justice.)
There is, right now, a huge and abiding sense of defeat and anger and resentment in the trans community. For three years we hammered harder than ever before, more loudly, more vociferously, and we said you will listen to us.
Some did, most didn't.
That, I'm afraid, is the way it works. Like laser hair reduction — each application gets rid of a few more obstacles. But it can never get rid of all of them. People, as a group, tend to be very different in how they react and respond than people as individuals.
So for those of you who want change, who want to see an ENDA passed, who want to see trans people treated with equality, with dignity, with respect, with all the freedoms and rights and even privileges that are afforded us as US citizens, I have a simple set of questions:
For whom are you doing this?
How much do you really care?
Do you care enough to die for this?
What have you got to lose?
The birth of this post comes from an exchange on FaceBook, combined with a comment on my blog and conversations over the last week, really, directly. Which is interesting since I've spent the last week doing a lot of work for TIH. For my daily life, there is no separation of politics and social needs.
But let's take those questions one at a time. We need to, you see — because a lot of people will think of those questions as flippant, as simple little meaningless statements. They are not so, however — they lie at the root of everything we are doing and talking about, and they allow us to make a more clear priority for our community.
For whom are you doing this?
This question can be broken down a bit:
Are you doing this just so that your life, personally, will be better?
Are you doing it so the lives of people you know and people you approve of will be better, right now, in the here and now?
Or are you doing it so that the lives of all trans people — even the ones that you would not want to shower with or be in the bathroom with or hang with — can be better, long after you are dead and dust?
This is not a comfortable question. It means you have to make a choice between yourself and others. The reason, though, isn't good or bad. It simply means that your answer will affect how you approach things, and determine what you will end up sacrificing in order to achieve those goals — because it is a illusion to think you can attain those goals without sacrifice.
How much do you really care?
We rarely ask people this one. We are nice, you see, and we presume that if they are going to be doing this sort of work — this activism, this advocacy — that they care as much as we do.
My personal world is not black and white — it is millions of colors, and only a miniscule number of them are grey, black, and white. But all those colors are discrete to the ability of my eye to perceive them — I can tell the difference between a bunch of different colors, although for ease I tend to use only a few names for them.
This question is a lot like that. The real answer is going to be very different for each person. But each person needs to be asked this question. Each person needs to be able to define where they stand in this.
One of the most unpleasant aspects of my personal life is that I'm aware of a certain degree of social reality that does not endear me to the truth very much. That truth is that it takes decades to bring about social change. So odds are very good that I personally will not benefit from anything I'm doing.
How much do you really care is best measured by what you are willing to sacrifice. What will you give up in order to make sure that trans people get all of this.
Will you give up your friends? Your lovers? Your personal security? Your sense of safety?
Will you sacrifice your ability to have these things in order to let others have them? Your privacy?
Will you stand to be treated horribly in order to achieve this? Will you allow molestation of yourself, possibly even rape, if that is what it takes to get this done?
Are you willing to die for this? In the end, that's what it really comes down to. That point is the point at which you can, for better or worse, good or bad, start to see who is a "true believer" that is willing to do whatever it takes, and who is a fair weather person.
Are you willing to propose solutions or just to complain about problems? Are you willing to learn new ideas and new information and cast away your old beliefs for this if the information is true?
I have some core prinicples. They can, literally, be numbered, and not all of them come from the same place. I'm very compartmentalized. But in the case of trans stuff, those prinicples can really be found in my "page" on my site called The Line. http://www.dyssonance.com/?page_id=19
That is it. That is the end all and be all.
And personally, my answer to this question is that I would die for it.
Now, think about that for a few minutes. My life is, in the end, the most precious thing I have. In reality, I transitioned to live my life better. Better for me means living my life a woman. I am ecstatic about it.
The cost for me to do that was enormous. Homelessness, joblessness, a loss of personal confidence, an absence of family, of friends, my own children, the works.
In fact, there's not much that can be bad for trans people that hasn't happened to me. Personally. And I know a LOT of trans people. More than people often realize. Hell, more than I often realize. So I know a lot of the bad (and the good) that has happened to them, as well.
A lot of us did a lot of work essentially to save our own lives. I daresay most of us.
And now, to live those lives better, we have to ask ourselves will we sacrifice our lives — the thing we put so much effort into gaining — in order to get something that we may not be able to ever enjoy ourselves.
How much do you care? How much are you willing to give up in order to gain this? Are you willing to give up ideas of a socialist paradise? Are you willing to let go of hopes of some corporate empire?
Are you willing to change your mind about other people? Are you willing to sit down and have a discussion where you are disrespected by someone who wants you killed on sight? Can you swallow that pride that we fought so hard to earn?
Seriously, now — ask that question. Figure it out for yourself. I have, and in doing so it taught me that I needed to learn more about a lot of things — things I felt I already knew pretty well. Turns out I did, but there was always a little more to the story.
And remember that if you do not know why, you do not understand it. Not guess at why. Not repeat what you've heard about why. And when it comes to people, the only way to know why is to sit down with them and ask them a crapload of questions.
And one of the things that real change involves is sitting down with those who oppose us and finding out why. Because odds are they don't know why themselves.
Do you care enough to die for this?
For me, the answer is unequivocal. But then, I had to ask myself this question when I was 18. That's when I joined the Army. *They* ask you that question, though rarely so directly.
I've not wavered since, and I've had lots of reason to do so.
If you are willing to die for this, though, think about that for a moment. Your life is it. It is more important than any philosophy you have., More important than any principle, any moral imperative, any instinct. It is your most precious thing, the one thing without which all the rest is sorta, well, window dressing on a corpse.
Looks good for a bit, but starts to smell after a while, you know?
And if my life is something I am willing to sacrifice for it, what else am I willing to sacrifice for it? For other people to have the chance to live in freedom and equality and equity? What are you willing to sacrifice for it?
THe reason I am willing to do this work is the principles I have. The one's written out and referenced above, found here: http://www.dyssonance.com/?page_id=19
Once I realized I would die for this, I needed a way to go about getting something done. A framework of sorts. A set of rules, so that I wouldn't be willing to just go out, buy a really good rifle, and buttload of ammo, and become a terrorist.
Without those rules, I might as well become a terrorist. They are what stop me, and just like I'm taking a few questions very seriously and thinking about each of them right now, I've done the same with all those little things.
One has to, unless one is an anarchist, and to be perfectly blunt, if you are an anarchist, then you probably aren't going to be involved in social justice causes since the point is anarchy and social justice relies entirely on a system that is decidedly not anarchist.
I call those rules The Line. That is the line I won't cross. It is a line I will get right up against, a line I will lean over a little bit, but still a line that is final and firm and, yes, absolute. Fortunately I have other things that help to quell the absolutism there, but in the end, those are my final points, the end effort.
The end does not justify the means, you see. At least, not to me. I suppose there are people who see that as a limiting factor. The means does not justify the end, either, though.
The truth is usually somewhere in between.
So I am willing to die for this, but not to do so while crossing that Line. That means there is a point of limitation for me. In this case, it is not so limiting that I can't get up in someone's face, but it does mean that I can't be there and cut them like I used to cut pigs as a kid.
Besides, it would mess up my dress and ruin my shoes.
What have you got to lose?
I talk about this one a lot. People don't always thing through this one. Especially not with the real sense of consideration that it deserves because we've all heard it so much and so often that it has become trite and nearly meaningless, a kind of short hand for a shrug of the shoulders and why not — leap into the wind without worry or concern for consequence.
There are consequences to this sort of work. Think about them. This is part of what I'm talking about, really. Give it serious thought — what do you have to lose?
Your pride. Your dignity. You might be arrested in the process of doing this. You might be sent to jail for days, weeks, months, years, decades. You might be murdered for this. You might be brutalized, attacked, paralyzed, raped, spit on, shit on, pissed on, thrown out of the country.
What do you have to lose?
Partners? Property? Family? Spouses? Love? Pride? Hope? Faith? Reputation? Membership to websites? Privacy?
Stealth? Invisibility? Commonality?
Being a woman? Being a man?
If you are willing to give your life up for this, how important are all those things, suddenly?
Will you be homeless, hungry, poverty stricken, ill, and still willing to claw and fight your way there?
I am. Hell, I have been.
Now, ask yourself who among those that bitch and complain and moan a lot would do the same thing? If you do not already know, then ask them. Directly. Publicly whenever possible.
Do not think that you can figure it out from what they have read or done. They may not have an awareness, themselves.
If you are willing to give up your life for this, how can you be willing to give that up and not give up those other things?
I'm willing to give up the Line. But to do so would make me no better than those I am trying to fight, really. So while I'm willing, in order for me to be fighting for this, I sorta need to at least have an idea of what this thing I'm dying for is.
That would be the Line.
(addendum: In reading back through this as I repost it here, I am reminded that the person who asked me what I had to lose first, was Rep. Giffords, who was shot recently. )
What is your line?
So it comes to this, now. What is your Line — your line in the sand, the point you will not cross?
As I've noted before, I've sat down and I've thought about a lot of this stuff. In great deal. I've had cause — I've had to deal with being "high yellow", an oreo, off the rez, a nigger, a spic, an outcast.
I've had to take all of that in order to achieve what I have achieved — and for a lot of that time, I just shrugged it off and let it sit inside me. It was, really, my son that changed that.
I am often crude, I can be vindictive, I am merciless, and I will often not back down from a fight. I can also be the opposite — it depends ont he situation, which is important.
If I came across the same way I do on blogs often when I'm sitting in the office of some mid level manager for yet another social service organization, I'd never be able to help the gals I help.
I've sat in a room of white, well off, gay men and answered their every question — and some of those questions are incredibly annoying. I've had to talk to exceptionally conservative, under educated, misinformed, misogynistic cis/het men and women and spoken to them. Alone. Without any easy place to run to.
If I were to call them asswpies to their faces, what do you think would have been my success rate? If I were to have just looked at them and said "well, you know, you gotta stop being such a privileged wanker." how much help would I have gotten?
If I were to just look at them and say "don't call me tranny." do you honestly think it would have had any impact?
If you do, you need to try it sometime. I find humor and recognition makes a lot more difference. Not with them as individuals — individually, there are some in the rooms who were there only because they were told they had to be, and they spent the time making cat calls and snide remarks and being handed their ass with a humor and delicacy and respect for the group of them.
That doesn't mean I'm not forceful, that I do not make damn sure they understand. It means that I spend a lot of time and effort explaining to them why and what and how. I have to work to draw questions out of them. I cannot simply say "well, cross dressers are not trans" to them — when I do, it tells them I'm not really trying to help them, I'm trying to help someone else.
The work we need to do
Now, does any of that mean that I am somehow a house tranny suddenly? Not at all. It means I'm doing the work we need to do.
Sometimes that work means that some of us will have to be arrested. Because we need to make people aware of us. We need to find our lunch counters. Businesses that don't serve our kind. Stores that treat a trans person like crap.
We need to go there. Alone if need be — but best with a group of us.
Does that mean that we have to run to the local Pride association and say "hey, help us out here?"
No. It also doesn't mean we tell them to go away if they offer, though. It means we tell them "sure, this is what we are doing, and how we are doing it. What part of that would you like to be a part of?"
We don't split from the LGBT to do this. But we absolutely become the T.
Sometimes that means we will do the same to the cisLGB folks. But when we do, we always need to remember the trans LGB folks.
We need to stop telling people that drag queens aren't part of us. Let the drag queens do that. They are quite good at it. Just like the anti-trans trans people are.
Let them. They have that right.
But we have the right to speak out for us — for transsexuals, classic and otherwise, for gender queer and transgender and all the wonderful amazing diversity of sorts of us.
We have to stop saying that being mentally ill is a bad thing, as well. Because it isn't — and all that does is say to those who oppose us that we must be mentally ill since one of those "everybody knows" things is that crazy people never admit they are crazy.
It is a form of confirmation bias. Not to mention a form of discrimination that is exceedingly pervasive, and you do not step on someone else in need of help. Hell, there is an entire mass of people ten times larger than all the trans population who could be our allies, if only we'd stop insulting them the way we feel insulted by everyone else.
Yes, we are part of the LGBT. No, we should not split from the LGBT. Hell, we can't. We don't make that decision, any more than they do.
But being part of the LGBT does not mean letting the LGB do all the work. Nor does it mean letting them get away with saying things like "this is a win for the LGBT" when it is n't a win for us.
By all means, call them out on it.
Does it get overwhelming?
Does it get overwhelming to constantly be doing the educating thing and the nice thing and sucking it up thing and the still going out there and working hard to get something done thing and to keep running into walls?
It gets old having to teach yet another new student aid person at a college how to help a trans person fill in their application. It gets old talking to the nine thousandth baccalaureate candidate begging for a few minutes so you can be part of a study that does nothing and telling them no yet again. But remember to tell them to come back when they are working on a study that will actually make a difference, on a daily basis, because if you don't — if you just tell them fuck you — then all you are doing is giving them an excuse to keep on being jerks about us.
There are days I get home and I turn my phone off because you know, I just need a break. There are phases I go through when my personal issue gets so intense I have to spend some personal time getting through it, because hey, there's no surgery in the near future for me, and I really, really need it. Badly.
So I take vacations. Time off. Nothing wrong with that.
And I am also aware that I have a "shelf life". I will only be able to put so much of my time and energy into all of this.
But, until I am ready, I will keep on going. I will keep on going out there.
In closing, all this stuff is something I've thought about. A lot. And it was from all of this and what I know and what I have learned about the whole mess of stuff, that I finally realized that I had to follow in Harvey Milk's shoes.
Harvey Milk tried four times to get elected. He's not a "hero" of mine, in particular. He's an example. Something to point out. He did give his life — we remember him because he was a martyr, after all.
Four times. In the name of getting LGB people a little more recognition, a little more equality, a little more equity and freedom.
I figure I can at least match that.
And what have I got to lose in doing so? Seriously? They can't take away my birthday. But I know what it will cost me. My personal reputation will be attacked (oh, wow, big surprise there, lol). I will be called a man. A pervert. There will be suggestions I'm a child molestor. My wife will say mean things about me, my children will be bothered.
Those closest to me will have their lives scrutinized, and possibly lose their jobs because they are close to one of those people.
I will have to deal with doors slamming in my feet, consultants telling me how to dress how to talk how to smile. I'll have to deal with complaints about my teeth (which are really bad).
I may be made homeless again. I will almost certainly have to give up my job. I will never be able to just be "some woman" ever again.
I am willing to put up with all of that in the name of securing trans equality, trans equity, trans freedom and respect and all the rest. It is, near as I can figure it, the least I can do.
And I'm not able to say I'll be doing it for myself. Because I know that odds are it's the generation that is just being born now that will truly benefit from this work. The rest of us might get a little bit here and there, but it really won't make things better for me.
Well, other than the fact I'll be in congress making 175,000 dollars a year, over half of which will be sent to trans causes. You can see it now, can't you? The headlines during the first break: Sex change congressman!
(what? You think I'll wait until after I'm out of office to get my surgery when I'll make enough to get it in a heartbeat? Hell no.)
The only thing that really stops us is ourselves.
I'm sorry to say it, but fuck ENDA. ENDA isn't nearly good enough. ENDA is so watered down that it has no teeth, no real merit other than to say "shame on you", and doesn't make a real difference.
What we need is a new Civil Rights Act. Enda isn't even a first step — it's a waste of time and energy. We want the whole shebang, and we sure as hell aren't gonna get it from the congress about to be sworn in.
You decide, in the meantime, how much you really care, and what you will do to get there.