I seek to create and support my communities by engaging:
Those around whom I live – my local community
Those with whom I share – my chosen community
Those like me whom I join – my LGBT community
October 2016 headlines celebrated Ivy Tech Community College’s announcement that Transgender protections had been added to their policy manual – a good thing. In fact, it’s a great thing as Ivy Tech holds “classes in more than 75 communities, and we serve more than 170,000 students a year.” That’s a lot of Hoosiers with at least a part of their day spent with protections. These protections also support education – something often made difficult for LGBT individuals.
As a former adjunct teacher at Ivy Tech, I can say that I saw a lot of general support for the students and faculty. I also recognized that there were no direct protections for myself or others (I had not yet transitioned). In fact, I had heard of people having issues.
I am pleased to see the progress, particularly in an educational setting affecting so many. The Ivy Tech Academic Support and Operations Manual should give hope and comfort to students and others across Indiana.
A note of qualification is that Ivy Tech has also had some issues concerning LGBT protections. The implications may or may not have had an impact on their recent changes. However, the current actions are a positive step.
My experiences are my own and I am under no delusion that life is all peaches and cream. However, I have experienced personally and read/heard about events that truly give me hope. I want others to see, understand, and most of all, to feel the current reality happening right in front of our (too often blinded by reaction) eyes.
Make no mistake about it – I have seen, heard and felt the indignities of people, the hateful vitriol, and the fear oozing out in statements and acts of hypocritical condemnation. I have also felt the fear, guilt and regret of my own personal place in the world.
Yet, in the last year, with political rhetoric (on all sides) seemingly determined to paint the ‘other’ as actual evil, I have experienced more connection to the better side of people than ever before. My wife and I have seen people open their arms to us in surprising and positive ways.
This is not a rose-tinted glance at a blinder-restricted view. This is an active effort to get beyond what I hear and see presented as “the way things are” – because often they aren’t. The vocal minority dominates the marketing airways that impinge upon us daily. I seek to share a vision beyond that.
As some of you know, I have always felt alienated from this society. However, in seeking to see the trees within the forest I am seeing, and experiencing, a starkly different reality. I was struck personally by the statement, “This is the America I got to know. Perhaps not the America many outside of her borders know of. Many inside may not either.” I have often been one of those who did not.
While my hope extends to our country (tentatively, but still); within people my hope resides. That’s a fairly new thing for me to believe. But, I do. And, I want others to be able to see past the rhetoric and the individual and reactionary experiences. Those are real – but they are a piece of the reality within which we reside.
Get past the inflammatory headlines, the reactionary statements, and the deluge of negativity by actively search to see past it. Read an article from The Good News Network. Make a list of positive things done for you, that you have done, or that you could do. Reach out and connect in as many ways and to as many sources as possible to keep yourself plugged in to the good around us.
I realize that I have been incredibly lucky. I know that some people have vastly different experiences of the world. Yet, I hold to my belief that most people are actually good, that there is much more to our society than what we hear, and that hope is a viable stance.
In the movie Contact, Ellie Arroway is asked why she refuses to deny her statements when there is no direct support for what she is saying. Her response is,
Because I can’t. I… had an experience… I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone! I wish… I… could share that… I wish, that everyone, if only for one… moment, could feel… that awe, and humility, and hope. But… That continues to be my wish.
In a recent post I stated that, “In becoming visible I, as a transwoman, still remain largely unseen.” That, I realize is a point of privilege offering me an opportunity some do not enjoy – to live as a woman (how I identify).
I then asked, “Why can’t I just tell them?” – referring to those opposed to my status. I received a deceivingly complex reply, “What is it that you wish others to see?” Well, I have felt much guilt and discomfort over not standing up and being recognized as being transgender; yet, with little definition to answer this. So, …
I want people (at least on some level) to know I’m a transwoman. And, I want to be able to tell them, especially those opposed to my status, if they are unaware. The reasons include:
– In order to fight “We don’t really have those issues here or see ‘them’ around.”
– Help people see that trans* people are your neighbors, coworkers, customers, … I have had quite a few say, “You’re the first one I’ve known.” Even a few I know to live or work around other trans individuals – they just don’t see them either.
– I have facts, insight, and understanding – and knowledge of others with much more.
– To give a face to the “Them”. LGBT protections aren’t about concepts – they’re about people.
– I don’t need everyone to agree with how I feel, or even to like it – I do want to know how you really feel.
– I want to be accepted as a whole person. Being accepted as a neighbor, but only until they find out I’m trans is neither true acceptance of me as a person nor a pleasant experience.
So, I guess I wish them to see me – a whole being, a transgender individual, a good person. The good thing is that many accept and support me (and trans* people in general). I just believe being visible would facilitate the growth of those who support all people and clarify who really accepts me.
How do I choose to show others a trait I have grown to hide? I am transgender. Yet, I have lived a lifetime with most being unaware of that fact (before and after coming out). And, I am coming to accept that I now act with the knowledge that I have a semi-visible marginalizing trait.
The awareness of how much I continue to allow the expectations of others to lead my actions is a strange sensation, occasionally brought to light, that washes over me like a breeze that hits me full on as I round a corner on a blustery day; hair thrown back… wind rushing across my face… clothes whip and curl about me. “Why can’t I just tell them?”, I have too often asked myself with no reply.
Last fall I sat, not yet living as myself (wearing the mask of ‘guy mode’), waiting for my car to get fixed. A man came in and started chatting with the manager. I tried to ignore as they discussed their anger and disgust at the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and the idea that our state was even considering protections for LGBT people. “I am so tired of them thinking they can just make us accept them. It’s ridiculous to allow them to make a mockery of how things should be.”
I sat there trying not to breathe. I cowered in my seat, hoping they didn’t notice me reacting. But, I knew, they had no idea that one of “them” was sitting feet away. And, I was glad, though ashamed. “Why can’t I just tell them?” I guess I was not ready to face people like this who believed I was wrong/bad/perverted. How could I speak up and expose myself? I had an invisible trait that would directly marginalize me if I let it be known.
Yet, I could no longer allow myself to live my half-life. I would have to let people know and expose myself as a transwoman for others to see. I was prepared for the backlash and struggle of transitioning (I thought).
Then came the Third House meeting in Elkhart. It would be the first time I stood up for myself in a public venue – and around those I knew to be unsupportive of the legislation being debated to give protections to LGBT residents of Indiana. I was now living as myself and I prepared to meet the looks and comments with defensive, yet positive rebuttal – I deserve to be here.
What I experienced was surreal and disconcerting. I was largely ignored or casually greeted. Were they just being nice? I could not tell as I took my seat and waited for a chance to stand and comment on why we need protections. Then the state senator dismissed the proposed laws, stating “I think we’ve all heard more than enough about the so called protections bills and I won’t waste any more time on them here.”
And, as I built my resolve to stand up and speak, people around me were supporting the senator. A woman beside me leaned over and said, “I hope not. I’m so tired of hearing about it, aren’t you?” I sat there stunned as she continued to chatter on about feeling upset with the all the “sex issue stuff”.
I sat frozen. She did not realize I was trans. And again I asked myself silently, “Why can’t I just tell them?” It was odd. While purposefully presenting my true self, I was still not being seen as one of “them”.
This is where I stand now. Hidden in plain sight to many. In becoming visible I, as a transwoman, still remain largely unseen. It’s not what I thought would happen. It’s also not something I have handled well. I speak to those I meet and more and more of those with whom I work. Yet, I have turned down yet another chance to publicly stand up.
So, “Why can’t I just tell them?”. Well, I guess it’s because I don’t have to. And yes, I know how that sounds. My guilt is mounting. But, for now, I guess I’m still not ready to be fully seen.
A response to a recent post: “I don’t really understand why the transgendered girl would not be willing to use the unisex bathroom at school.”
You bring up good points. And, I think the question (implicitly stated) is important – as it’s the only way to increase understand on all sides. One of the main difficulties in dealing with trans* issues has been a reluctance, by both supporters and those opposed, to actually ask questions (meaning seeking information) & to actually address the questions (instead of dismissing them).
You state that you’re not clear on “why [they’re] not willing to use unisex bathroom”. I get that it’s difficult to understand – and thank you for being open to that. It’s also difficult to explain to a cis person. However, both views are real experiences and need to be acknowledged. The trans* experience includes issues of inconvenience and stigma. Here’s my view.
To clarify the importance and the impact of a willingness to use a specific restroom I point out that according to the Williams Institute, UCLA, 2013 – 54% of transgender people suffer physical implications including kidney and urinary tract infections. This is caused by avoiding restrooms for an entire day due to 70% of transgender people reporting intimidation, discrimination, forced lack of access and even physical attacks. Restroom use is a decision of great importance to a trans* person – not a trivial desire.
As a personal experience – IUSB (my university) has 2 buildings each with a single “Family” restroom (6 buildings on campus). I use them when in one of those buildings. But, they’re not family restrooms as they have no changing table – and people on campus talk about that. And, I walk past the Men’s, past the Women’s and into that one. It’s in a heavily travelled area and thus evident to anyone around. I can say that I felt very intimidated at first and it did label me to some before I was fully out. I expect as a child it would very marginalizing as it just brings attention to it every day.
Now, this does not negate the feelings of parents or students. Fear and discomfort are real to everyone. And, I understand that the schools creating a separate bathroom is, at least at times, a true gesture of wanting a compromise. We also really do need to be mindful of other’s feelings. That’s why I advocate more information and open discussion (on all sides) – in order to increase understanding.
An example is that, while fears of predation are real – the reality is that there is no increase when public accommodation protections are in place. We have multiple states and many cities in America that have LGBT ordinances in place. Minnesota has had these in place on a state level since 1993 – with no issues due to the protections.
This does not mean that something couldn’t happen or that the fear is not real, only that there is evidence that there is no increase in problems. Neither trans* people, nor those posing as such actually cause issues.
Similarly, the idea that different physical parts on a person is an issue is based on social admonitions. No one should ever know what parts I have – nor you. That is and should be illegal. Also, we allow males into women’s restrooms (with their different parts) when a child or as a caregiver. The parts themselves are not a problem. And, while the fear or discomfort is real, the understanding that there is not actual danger can…perhaps, and hopefully…help us just go to the restroom, wash our hands, and go on with our day.
As I have engaged in both public and private conversations about intellectual topics, I am struck by the term Public Intellectual. By some definitions I have risen to this level of engagement – by others I have sunken to it.
In either case, my journey into conscious intellectual involvement in activity meant to affect others has not been defined by simple definitions or consistent approach. Yet, I am drawn to the benefit of supporting both my communities and engaging those in opposition to my place in the world in as open and empathetic a way as I am able.
Along these lines, I was recently struck by a blogger going by the pseudonym The Epicurean Dealmaker (TED). His reaction to a fellow social media adventurer in Skin in Which Game? Illuminates a number of issues I attempt to navigate.
He received the challenging tweet “@epicureandeal Hello; is it from lack of courage that you conceal your identity? No skin in the game? Are you a coward or am I mistaken?”.
Like TED, to some I still use a pseudonym. He addresses the challenge of cowardice by stating he does cover his personal identity while being open in his public presentation. And, clarifies his reasoning for doing so by stating “It’s very simple: I want to keep my job.”
I too have hidden aspects of my life while speaking publically. In What I have been hiding I discussed my need to protect myself as well as those around me. And, I support the need of many marginalized individuals to do so; not through cowardice or lack of conviction, but as a way to engage, grow and share without creating an unsafe or unwelcome (to family and friends) situation.
TED further legitimizes this approach to public interaction by the clarification that “Anonymity means no identity; pseudonymity means a false or assumed identity.” The difference is consistency and intention.
That my legal name is not (currently) Julia, does not diminish that everyone who knows me uses that name. I work, write, and answer to it privately and publically. My opinions and stated factual understanding come from an individual who can be found in several social media venues under that name.
When I used a name with no link to my private self – I hid for protection. I now interact in public ways as an intellectual with a consistent presentation – under essentially a pseudonym. So, like TED, I feel my name does not diminish my voice in the public sphere.
Tim Dunlop states (in If You Build It They Will Come) “What wannabe citizen intellectuals have always lacked is a proper forum in which to express their ideas…” This, he believes, is corrected by blogging – where ordinary citizens are once again included in public discussion.
I am immediately reminded of the phrase ‘The best thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice. The worst thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice.’
However, if we focus on and seek to expand the positive uses for our voices we may (…may) be able to evoke change and social growth. Dunlop defines a path that seeks to get past both the elitist expert and the blogging troll – engaging in “intellectual practice”.
He feels blogging “takes the category of public intellectual one step further and provides a forum, a space, where the ordinary citizen is no longer passive but can be a participant in the argument.” This idea of the active citizen is, while a bit idealistic, more reassuring than the so called objective facts being spread on all sides through politics and social media.
By engaging in intellectual practice in a public forum we might be able to evoke change in our society, as well as others – due to the international reality of the internet. We can embody what he calls “participatory democracy”. Which, while it quite likely will not lead to true understanding on a wide scale, does allow us a chance to promote social change through a ripple effect.
Challenging absolute statements and opposing views is not easy…and fighting them is useless. However, if we can increase our sphere of influence by inviting others into our salon for a chat by blogging in an open and respectful way we may elicit active engagement by others.
Thus, through well-reasoned, yet accessible blogging as a form of intellectual practice we can increase public debate, decrease dogmatic mantras, and help facilitate a space for active citizenship.