Think about racism. Think about homo/transphobia. Think about misogyny. Think about anti-Semitism or any other form of bigotry that comes to mind.
Often our minds quickly fill with images of burning crosses, the Pulse nightclub, unwelcome grabbing and Synagogues and Mosques being vandalized. Lately, those images seem to be more news than history.
I’d like to think that most decent people do not question the horrible wrongness of such hateful acts. Certainly, they need to be taken seriously, and responded to with compassion for the victims and a passion to end all of it.
Behind all these obvious acts of hate, however, lurks a larger, if less obvious or directly damaging bigotry. This is what I call The Stupid. I speak from my own experiences as an out transwoman. Many others have echoed similar sentiments. I do not presume to speak for any other trans person – every experience is unique. Nor would I presume to speak for other minorities. Nonetheless, I suspect a lot of people will find a lot of commonalities with my own experiences.
Living as a transwoman in a state with ‘protections,’ rarely does the prejudice come in startlingly direct forms, such as happened in Colorado. I see the parade of faces go by every year on Transgender Day of Remembrance, the lovely, beautiful lives cut way too short. The mostly brown lives of Transwoman of color (TWOC), so marginalized by intersectionality that they have little left in life beyond prostitution, a notoriously dangerous profession. I am aware of my privilege of race, and socio-economic status, that allow me some chance of being kicked out of all the nice places in the world, and still surviving the ordeal.
I don’t think even I can comprehend the amount of Stupid that constitutes so many TWOC’s normal. The violence these women face, and their regular, daily Stupid, is beyond the experiences of most people.
But still. There’s plenty of Stupid to go around, and I’ve seen my share.
So, what is The Stupid, exactly?
The Stupid is hearing every damn ‘man in a dress’ joke before you come out, knowing that you are so universally hated, that suicide looks like a genuinely attractive alternative to coming out. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is being portrayed as a lunatic or a joke, consistently across every medium: movies, radio, tv shows, print. The Stupid is devouring every hateful image, because, at least it’s something, and you’re too damn alone all the Stupid time. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is being reluctant to even make friends or establish a career, because you know once you come out – and you know you will someday, or die, yes, die – the bottom will drop out of your entire life. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is when you do come out, and everyone says how brave you are, but people don’t talk to you as often as they used to. The Stupid is when the most glorious moment of your life, when you finally pierce through decades of fear and self-doubt, when you reach the climax of your hero’s journey….and the bottom does, in fact, fall out, just as you had always feared. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is losing half your family when you come out. Even when they are the half you never liked much anyway, knowing you never have a chance, simply because of who you are, tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is having to figure out where all the newfound hostility is coming from, and never even being able to confront it, even when it is plainly obvious and apparent. The Stupid is that no one will ever admit to The Stupid, because, ‘we celebrate diversity,’ and ‘I’m not a bigot, but…’ It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is when you get hired, and the background check with your former name comes up, and your boss comes in, a look of absolute disgust on their face, and yells at you for something inconsequential. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is knowing you will never advance in your career, and probably won’t even keep the job you have, simply because of who you are. The Stupid is needing to be a model minority, when you are not, when you are just as weak and fallible as everyone else, but are not allowed that weakness. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is when you embrace yourself with pride, define yourself on your own terms, and then get judged for that. Judged by society for not fitting within their norms. Judged by lesbian and gay groups, who don’t figure there are enough trans people to really matter. Judged by other trans people for not being trans enough, or queer enough, or normal-seeming enough. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is the high number of colleagues who no longer speak to you, beyond what is required for the job. The Stupid is the empty smiles of people who now avoid you. The Stupid is the colleagues who once promoted your career, but who will no longer support you. Sometimes The Stupid is subtle, sometimes it is not. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is knowing, or believing, that there may be no safe space, not anywhere, not in school, not at work, not in the legal system, maybe not even at home. Maybe not even in deliberately set up safe spaces, since the other people going there have been ground down so much, themselves, that we don’t always respond in healthy ways.
The Stupid is being afraid to interact with any public official – government, police, medical, etc., – simply because your repeated experiences with them has led you to reasonably poor expectations of unfair treatment, and worse. It tends to grind you down a bit.
The Stupid is realizing that you do not even have the power of your own voice, of your own story, because no matter how often you tell it, in how many ways, most people still won’t get it. Many refuse to even listen.
None of the above constitutes a bad day, for many of us, by the way. It’s our normal.
A bad day? That’s when you get ground down by The Stupid. That’s when you collapse into an emotional coma scarcely able to move, never mind eat or function in a normal fashion. A bad day is when you don’t want to live, because the pain, the rejection, the hopelessness of it all are way too much for anyone to take. A bad day is when you think about ending it all, despite the few people who love you through it all. A bad day is when you try.
A bad day is all that other stuff. The violence and the vandalism. The stuff it’s easy to hate and get worked up about.
The outright prejudice, the murders and the violence are horrible. The Stupid is the million little ways everyone contributes to make those extreme events possible, even acceptable to some.
The Stupid is a representation of the thousand little ways we dehumanize marked minorities. The daily grind of Stupid is what makes it so hard for those of us ground down by it to even stand up for ourselves. The Stupid makes it hard, when we do stand up, to do it without a lot of justifiable anger. The Stupid invalidates our positions and the validity of being ground down by blaming us for our anger, instead of blaming the inherent injustices and inequities for causing that anger in the first place.
The good news is, this one is within every caring individual’s power to fix.
Those of us on the left lost an election last November. We must not lose the culture war.
While the latest survey of transgender people reveals enormous amounts of Stupid all around, it also identifies a strong point: families. Supportive families make a BIG difference in the lives, and quality of life, of transgender people. Likewise for all other environments. We cannot change the world, but we CAN affect our own environments –home, work, religious, civic, social.
Although the effects of societal supports beyond the family were not studied in this report, I’d like to think we can all make a difference here. All the Stupid – all of it – reflects deeply held societal prejudices designed to dehumanize people who are different. Every time we treat someone like a human – not just a category, we deflate the entire system of hierarchy based on birth status. Every time we genuinely open our hearts to someone different from ourselves, we confront and jostle our ‘natural’ tendencies to categorize people. It’s easy to stigmatize a category of people, especially a group of people with whom we have little actual day-to-day contact. It’s not so easy to stigmatize individuals we know personally.
Once I’m out to a group of people as transsexual, I run the risk of being little else to them. Yes, I know a lot about trans issues. And when I feel like it, and people want to listen, I probably have a lot of stories which can show people a lot about my experiences. I get it. But I am so much more than just being a trans person, and my stories are mine alone to share – or not. There is no reason I need be defined simply by my differences, rather than my common humanity. I also like gardening and camping, and can tell a lot of stories about those activities, as well. Once I have become someone’s ‘trans friend,’ I have lost all chance of simply being someone’s friend. Being stuck into a category and defined by that category is PART of The Stupid. The whole point is to get beyond the categorization, and see someone in terms of our shared humanity. It takes work, but I believe we can do it. And I believe it matters.
Before I transitioned, I thought about every single person I knew, and tried to gauge their possible reactions. I strongly suspected that one older, conservative woman I knew would not have a problem at all. After, she looked at me, shrugged, said, “Well, it isn’t a choice.” We never spoke another word about it, and she never treated me as if anything had changed. It was honestly the best reaction I could hope for. I wore a pair of wool socks she knitted to the Women’s March on Washington, even though I haven’t seen her in years, just because. Yes, it’s really that simple.
Laws matter, protections matter. But laws are not enough. To get to the point in our society where bigotry is widely unacceptable, we need to eliminate The Stupid. And that is something everyone can do, every day.
It starts with being intentionally nice, intentionally open, with intentionally seeing people in terms of their humanity first, and their differences after. This is how we move beyond stereotypes to see each other as humans first.
Blessed Be. CAM