Okay, I may have to modify my (apparently) rose-colored viewpoint. I won’t repeat the conversation in detail, but it involved myself and my next door neighbour, yesterday. What I learned was that even though our conversation was “polite,” trans-phobia is alive and well, and living in my neighbourhood.
No, the people here don’t (normally) insult me directly, though a few days ago, her partner did, and I don’t worry that I’m likely to have someone try to shoot me in the street, but the aversion both he and she feel is there, and it does come across. Clearly. Both of them feel they have a moral right to their opinions.
I wonder, though. Do we have a right to hate? Do we have a right to our unearned (i.e. straight/cis) privilege, a privilege accorded us by accident of birth alone? Do we have a right to our bigotry, so long as we don’t do actual physical harm? Or do we have a responsibility to recognize and to confront those feelings in ourselves; to question them? Do we have a responsibility to be open minded, to inform ourselves, and to try to overcome our prejudices? Do we really have a right to our opinion…no matter what? Did Josef Goebbels? Did Hitler?
My friend, Angela, answered, “Yes, Karen, everyone has a right to their opinion, no matter how stupid it is. I feel sorry for close-minded people; yech, and it’s even worse when they teach their children about hatred. As Dr Seuss says, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Hmmm. Much as I like Angela, much as I like Dr. Seuss, and much as I admire his intention: i.e. to liberate us from the pressures that keep us from being ourselves…and I do know something about that…I still have a problem with the right to his opinion…no matter what,” part. And yet, that’s what my neighbour insisted was true. Her partner doesn’t like trans people. As she says, “He’s a manly man, and he has a right to his opinion.”
Like any cliché, “He has a right to his opinion,” has a grain of truth in it, but like any cliché, it is not entirely and always true. If we were going to trade cliché’s, could we not also match this one with, “Every right comes with a responsibility, as well”? Where is the responsibility to confront our own hatreds and bigotry? (Say what I like, no matter how hateful.) If we put it that way, would Dr. Seuss still be right? Try telling the survivors of Dachau and Auschwitz, “Those who mind, don’t matter…” They minded. Didn’t they matter? I’m a human being, albeit both trans and a woman. I mind. Don’t I matter?
“…and those who matter don’t mind?”
Do we really believe the already privileged majority are the only ones who matter? Whites matter, but blacks do not? Aryans matter, but Jews do not? Straight people matter, but queer folk do not?
Say whatever you want, because the people who matter don’t mind. “We” matter. Those “others” do not.
How many times did I have to confront that attitude in my classroom over the years? Forgive me, Angela, please, for disagreeing so vehemently, but I’ve been on the “don’t matter” side of the equation as recently as yesterday. Remember junior high, where pretty girls mattered, but plain girls did not? I’m betting that at some point in your life, you, or someone you love, has been on the wrong side of the equation, too. You do matter. We both do. When someone tells me that (in her opinion, which she has a right to,) either one of us does not, I really have a problem with that.
About Karen McLaughlin
Hi, I’m Karen, and welcome to my Cornbury blog. This blogging thing is a new adventure for me, but several of my friends have been urging me to keep one for awhile now. I’ll do my best. I hope you will be patient with me when I stumble, but mostly, I hope that this blog will help make this business of being trans a little less weird, maybe a little less scary. If you’re here, there’s a good chance that you, or someone you know, is dealing with the same issues that I have been. (Please note the past tense. I'm very proud of that.) I want to tell you that it’s going to be alright. You hear that? It’s going to be alright. I’m speaking from experience.
So who am I to talk? Well, when I started all this, I was a pre-op trans woman in the middle of her RLE, her so-called “real life experience.” While I had lived (almost) full time for several years, in 2010 I finally decided to seek gender reassignment surgery. (Note: the accepted term for this among medical professionals is now gender confirmation surgery–an improvement, to my mind on all kinds of levels.) Whatever we call it, to qualify, one of the hoops that must be jumped is this RLE. That means living full time in female mode; no going back. Before I could apply for surgery, I was required to have lived as a woman for at least 12 months. The reasoning behind this is that by doing so, the applicant, me, in this case, would have a better idea what life would be like, should she decide to press forward. This meant finally coming out to my son and my elderly father, both of whom have been reluctantly supportive. I have been very blessed in this. Others have not been so lucky.
Coming out is risky. Living full time is even riskier. A trans friend of mine once remarked, “Being out as trans means laying everything on the table. And you have no idea what you’re going to be allowed to keep.” You can literally lose everything: family, home, friends, colleagues, job, career, savings, pension, everything. I know people who have. But I have not, though I would be lying to say that this has been easy, or that there have not been strains, and deep, deep pain. Still, I have been blessed with an understanding, if not always totally supportive spouse, and with a family that has tried mightily to accept and come to terms with (in their eyes) the loss of a father and the emergence of this new person, Karen, who in her new hormonal adolescence, seems at times a stranger. (A nice one, though, I hope; one they can eventually come to love.)
What I have discovered through all this, is that while the journey into Mordor is long and fraught with danger, it is filled with unexpected beauty and joy as well. Since coming out, (to everyone, family included,) I have been accepted, even loved, by people I never expected would be on my side, and in places I never expected (or thought) to go. In the past few months I have joined an all women’s Latin dance class, sung female tenor in a wonderful choir, learned basic silversmithing, (I make my own jewelry! How cool is that?), and surrounded myself with wonderful friends. I was supported by an amazing counsellor, (alas, recently retired), who connected me with a speech therapist who specializes in teaching feminine voice. (It has taken time, but it’s coming! I can hardly believe it!) And I have discovered that the future is not a road to be travelled, but a landscape to be constructed. The world I live in is one that I am building for myself, and you can do it, too. This one is a world filled with color, with love, and with joy, and for the first time in my life, I feel whole and totally alive. And the voice in my heart tells me, “This is soooo right! And about time, too!”