A call for a different kind of activism.
Given the overwhelming success (bah!) of our ‘activist’ organizations in representing our interests recently, there seems to be a lot of chatter about transfolk divorcing themselves from the rest of the LGB movement, and going it alone.
There’s some merit in that, sure; no one can tell our legislative bodies our needs better than us. We are the experts at our stories, not someone who’s paid to tell the gay story. But I’ve said it many times–laws do not create real equality, people do.
We need laws; we need a way to smack down people who would discriminate against us in our daily lives, merely for being who we are. Employment protections, housing protections, public accommodations protections, credit protections, insurance parity…yep, we need those things, and we need them badly. But even if we passed every one of those laws at the federal level today, we would not have real equality.
Don’t believe me? Ask any African-American you know; we have fifty years of ‘equality’ laws on the books, but does the AA community in America have real equality? Not even close, nor will they, probably at least for another two or three generations.
But why is that? Isn’t a cultural affirmation of what we think is important–as enacted by laws–tantamount to equality and acceptance? Well, no. It’s a disincentive to inequality. If a potential employer were to tell an African-American person that he didn’t hire people who looked like that, he would face a rather spectacular lawsuit….but they can do that to me with nearly-complete impunity. As one of the librarians I was training this week said, ‘That’s just not fair!’ No, Wilma, it’s not.
But the threat of a spectacular lawsuit doesn’t prevent such discrimination, it just makes it sneakier, less obvious. Because equality comes from the hearts and minds of the people around you…and the only way you’ll ever get that, long term, is by using a new form of activism. Beating them over the head with a judge will never change their hearts and minds.
So what is this marvelous new form of activism? Simply this:
We as transpeople, regardless of race, regardless of where along the trans spectrum we are, regardless of our education level or current job or home status, need to step up to the plate and be the best we can be, every time someone else is looking.
Sometimes, the best you can be might not be much–but strive to be even more. Never, ever stop. And tell your story, to anyone who will sit still long enough. Don’t be shy about it–for some, this was ‘change or die,’ for others, it may be something else–but (despite the late-night TV ads) there really aren’t many–if any–people who are psychic: they won’t know your story, until you tell them. If you’ve faced discrimination, say so. Call it out for what it is, and tell folks you’ve been treated unfairly and why. Don’t take a handout unless you must–get the help you need to haul yourself up and get moving forward. And be proud. You have nothing whatever to be ashamed about, for being trans, and you do no one any good by hiding in the shadows.
You will find ways to apply this new form of activism to your own life, but here’s a few things I’ve used:
- ‘Yeah, this Maryland HB235 is nice; we need that stuff. But did you know that even if it passes, it’ll still be legal to throw me out of a restaurant for being dressed the way I am.’
- ‘In many states, it’s totally legal to refuse to hire me, no matter how well-qualified, just because of this.’
- ‘Yeah, I’m totally uninsurable–and since the health care reform, I can’t get kids-only policies, so my kids are uninsurable, too.’
The almost-unanimous response I hear to these is ‘gosh, that just doesn’t seem fair.’ …and when you hear that, you’re 2/3 of the way to a new ally. Now don’t quit–show them that you’re awesome. Then when the topic comes up in their legislature, or in other venues, they’ll be able to say, ‘no, that’s not right…I know one, and (he/she/sie/ze/whatever) is really an awesome person.’
And then you’ll have equality, from the only place it really counts, in the heart of another human being.