I was going to sit this one out. After all, what can be said about last weekend’s tragedy? Nothing will bring those people back. Many of my gay friends have started telling their stories on facebook. Now our straight friends and allies are also speaking up. I have been so moved by what is stirring. The stories. Crazy beautiful stories from the families of the deceased like the Jet Blue story about the grandmother on her way to her grandson’s funeral and everybody on the flight writing her a letter. Heartbreaking stories of lovers and best friends lost. And now stories of theater companies making wings for angels to wear in order to shield the funerals from anti-gay baptist protesters. There are no words. And yet… there are all the words. It is clearly way past the time to be silent. Our silence let this happen.
This tragedy has touched me very deeply. We will be mourning these deaths for a long time. Sure, the sheer toll is overwhelming, but we all have gotten quite used to death from shootings. Haven’t we? This feels different. The hate crime part. The part that confirms what we had almost forgotten, that we should be afraid because even though things have gotten better and even though we can now marry, and even though there is more tolerance, and there are more gay parents and there is an illusion in some places that things are ok, at the end of the day, we still walk down the street holding hands, afraid, to our favorite Mexican restaurant on date night. We had gotten so used to the dull, deadening, hum of fear that we had forgotten it has always been there. Like the noise on the TV. Maybe it will always be there.
Tolerance. That word. Tolerance to me is the agreement to disagree. It is the agreement to settle for intolerance. If you tolerate us, you are slightly short of hate. You are in the dislike category. Tolerance is the same as “my thoughts and prayers are with you”. It is the same as throwing money at a child who needs attention. It is not helpful. Why do I say this? I say it because things don’t change with tolerance. If you are afraid for me because I am gay and trans, that doesn’t help me. I am afraid enough for myself. You being afraid doesn’t change anything. What changes things is you speaking up, actually being in my corner. Not merely being ok with me. What we need are advocates. People willing to stand up. Even if you may not fully understand me. Voting rights did not change for women until their husbands became enraged with how they were being treated in prison. Civil rights did not change until white people started marching along with the black people and getting beaten as well. Until the majority stands up, we will forever be a minority.
Caroline broke down the other day at that Mexican restaurant, during date night. She was inconsolable. She kept saying she was afraid. She had been saying that a lot the past few days. I kept wondering why, what was so different now? Hasn’t it always been scary to be us? I mean, we get preyed on everywhere we go. We are always the circus people. I may as well have piles of fur. We’ve even been preyed on at a wedding where I was the officiant. And in that case we were surrounded by friends. Even if it means people are just looking without malicious intent. Sometimes you just want to be like google it so you can see it and then get over it and leave us alone to dance here with grandma. I mean, it isn’t exactly fun to always be on display. And this stuff doesn’t always happen in the dark and at night. It is happening right now, right in front of you. Wake up, darlings.
But that is what it is like. Every day is a conscious choice to walk tall when you are us. Even holding hands still feels like such an act of activism. Even today. In our neighborhood. I mean right now. Not ten years ago.
After bawling for a while, she finally said it, what was bothering her, “If anyone ever comes after us, I’m worried about my family.” “Ok”, I said, looking at her intently. “If anything ever happens, I’m afraid for you.” “Ok”. “It is you they will kill first.” That hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had noticed that she was checking in on me more during the day, making sure I was ok. I finally understood. She was worried I would not come home. She had been sitting on this all week. I smiled faintly. What could I say? She’s right. It’s a greater liability to be with someone like me. Many have opted out before her. I’m not for the feint of heart. If people aren’t down with the gays, they certainly are even more terrified of the likes of me- a downright gender non-conformist transgender person.
What’s even scarier is that it’s not just straight people who don’t like us (I’m not talking about those of you who do, I’m aware I’m generalizing). It is our very own kind. I have met more rejection and suspicion, homophobia from gays and lesbians than I care to admit. Some of the most hurtful things that have ever been said to me have come from our own, people I have dated, and queer friends. These are people I have loved deeply. Now I’m not talking about the stuff that is said in heartbreak, we all say things that sting when it comes to that. I’m talking about downright ugly, real, transphobia. In fact, I don’t feel and never have felt at home in “gay” circles. They scare me. I feel like we are the first to pass judgment on each other. So I steer clear. That is why I have as eclectic a group of friends as will have me. I don’t give a shit who you love or what your preferences are. If you are willing to work hard in a yoga class or in life and are good to the people around you, I’m sold. Hard work and love are my religion.
That said, there have also been some amazing angels along the way. People who have seen me, perhaps even despite themselves and have softly nudged me forward and picked me up in the worst of times. I am so grateful for you. Your kind words and sweetness have gotten me this far without being a completely damaged and hateful person. You have no idea what your small acts have meant. Honestly, they happen so rarely that they are like little light houses along my path.
Just so you know, I did not choose to be a gay or queer. I also did not choose to be transgender. That is too many consonants on the LGBTQ string. One is hard enough to keep afloat. The scariest thing about being all these things is that because they are not a choice, generally, people see them and sense them way before you do. Which means that before I understood them myself, people were treating me differently. I will be 39 years old in July, and I have only really started understanding the full extent of what being trans means or is, within the last four years. I didn’t have many role models. I’ve had to make it up as I go along. And I learn slowly.
I am out and have been for years. I don’t think any of you are surprised to hear I am gay. Being trans has been different, though. It is way scarier. I am now realizing all of the small ways that I dumb myself down in order not to offend or create too many ripples, in order to be a palatable trans and not so trans that I am not relatable. I guess that is what happens when you feel you need to fight and claw tooth and nail to be seen for what you are even amidst your own kind. Even though I really believe people see it. They just decide they don’t want to and ignore it anyway because it is easier to categorize you as something recognizable. Until they don’t… and then you die. Game over. I am afraid of offending you if I ask you to change my pronoun to he and even worse, I don’t want to stress you out with my particularities. I’m afraid that it would be too much to ask you to stop calling me sister or lady or hissing the word Missssssss just before you add the Miles in Missssssss Miles.
We are all activists. Yeah, I’m including you. Whether we want to be or not. We all take a stance in the world with what we buy, how we live and love. With our actions and inactions. That could have been me in that nightclub, or any number of my friends/framily.
So now, the work begins:
Get involved make yourself heard on gun laws. It’s time to get political. We must vote. If we abdicate, we are giving it over to those who vote. Register now.
We must take a stand for each other. If you have LGBTQ friends, call them, talk to them, show your support, tell them you love them and why, listen to them.
Say no to bullying or name calling. I get harassed all the time in bathrooms. I’m not in fear of my life because women don’t usually wield guns. They can be mean. But I am old enough not to give a shit about that anymore. So I have accompanied other trans friends into the bathroom in the yoga studio to shield them from harassment. I’m a teacher, so no one is going to mess with me there.
Protect the unicorns (aka if you see someone at a great disadvantage). I worry so much about women for example, because there isn’t a single woman I know who hasn’t been abused, harassed and or raped/assaulted (by men, unfortunately). And Caroline comes back with harassment stories at least once or twice a week if not more. She is my heart. My heart is walking out there. Vulnerable. While I am here. So I always keep an eye out on the subway and in the world and when I see a woman getting harassed, I stay nearby until she is free or I try to play dumb and put myself in the middle to break the chain.
Take responsibility. I’ve been talking about this in class. The yogi takes responsibility for his/her self, actions and thoughts. You know your own prejudices. We all have them. Study them, go hunting, go in there like an excavator and find a way to relate to move past, to break them up and dismantle them. They are toxic. Don’t just give yourself a pass. It is not enough. It’s time to show up in a bigger way. Talk to people that are nothing like you. Go to gay pride. Go visit your grandmother. Get off your phone and in your life. See what is happening. Join the community at large.
Treat others as if they were yours. There used to be a cycling campaign in Colombia (yes, it is spelled with two “o’s”) that had a picture of a cyclist and said “he could be your son”. Drivers were whipping past cyclists and knocking them down. The campaign was an effort to stop this. When you see a woman or person getting harassed, they are someone’s heart. Somewhere the same could be happening to your person, to your heart. So treat them as if they were yours. Get them home safely.
If we don’t stand up, if we stay silent, that is on us. On you and me. Orlando is also on us. We the assault weapon debate go on for too long without saying “No more.” We tolerated hateful banter and name calling on social media and sometimes even closer to home, in our own families or friend groups. We let hatred take root by not standing up to the bullies, rapists, and abusers. We didn’t stand up in our own communities for ourselves, letting bisexuals be bullied because they didn’t fit the mold, we let transgender people be bullied because they are too this or that. We let shame and fear get in the way. Shame on us. This is on us, too. No more. The time is now. Enough is enough.
I am so grateful to those of you who stand strong with me/us. I will stand strong for you in the things that matter to you. I want to create a world where we can all thrive this hate thing is so tired. We all want the same things, love, family in whatever shape it takes, a place to worship in our own way, and laughter. May we chose love over fear and love over hate. Diversity simply makes us stronger.