All the trans news that fits! (and some that never will)
Tonight, March 29, I will be at the Trans 100 in Chicago, where we will honor one-hundred transgender people for their efforts to increase awareness and improve the lives of transgender people. The Transgender Day of Visibility is just two days later on March 31. Both happen to be excellent examples of a lesson I teach my students: Knowing only one thing about someone can be a dangerous thing because when we make decisions and come to conclusions about others in the context of just one story the problems of prejudice, negative stereotypes, and the policies of discrimination take root. If we’re not careful, we run the risk of only ever knowing people who are the mirror image of ourselves, and everyone else becomes the demonized “other”, like Mary Shelley’s monster, Frankenstein.
February 28, 2015 was a day when that lesson would leave the classroom and play itself out in real life. It was a typical day for mid-Michigan at that time of year – near zero temperatures and a biting wind. It was too cold for me, so I stayed indoors.
On the same day, Carly, a senior citizen battling aching joints and swollen ankles, entered the locker room at Planet Fitness in Midland, about 15 miles from where I live. Like me, she finds that it is still too cold in Michigan for long walks outdoors in February. Grateful for the friend who gave her the guest pass so she could workout indoors, she hangs up her coat and hat, and enters the gym where she works up a sweat. When she is finished, she retrieves her coat and hat before leaving. That’s it. Nothing inappropriate is said or done.
Carly, who others know as Carlotta, is an acquaintance of mine, and I have heard the story of what happened that day so many times that it replays itself in my mind like a movie, over and over.
I wish the movie had ended there.
But it didn’t, and it’s still playing.
Yvette Cormier, a new member of Planet Fitness, was in the locker room that day and mistook Carly for a man. She complained to management and, after learning that Carly is actually a transgender woman, she stood at the entrance to the locker room for four days, warning members that men were allowed inside. After several requests to stop, Planet Fitness revoked Ms. Cormier’s membership. It was not until March 4, when Ms. Cormier took her crusade to local television stations and newspapers that Carly knew about any of this. As Marney Rich Keenan explains in the March 26 Detroit News column, “Transgender people deserve respect — not scorn”, Ms. Cormier was so incensed that “the long, blond-haired and very fit Yvette Cormier of Midland is now suing the health club that bills its gyms as ‘no judgement (sic) zones’.”
Ms. Cormier knew only one story about Carly, and that story is the myth that transgender people are evil monsters or old witches with hooked noses who attack innocent women and children. When she learned that Carly is a transgender woman, she felt compelled to sound the alarm and when she did, Carly’s life and the lives of every transgender person in and around Midland, Michigan – indeed, the lives of every transgender person in the United States – changed.
As a result, what happened at Planet Fitness is a prelude to the real story.
At a time when we should be mourning the loss of transgender people to an epidemic of violent transphobic murders in January and February, we are asked by the media over and over again to explain why we choose to use restrooms and locker rooms that agree with our gender identities. At a time when lawmakers should be developing policies to protect transgender people out of a concern for our safety in the face of overwhelming evidence that our lives are indeed threatened, we are asked to respond to loaded questions: “Surely, you can understand why women would feel threatened if transgender women are allowed to use the women’s restroom, can’t you?”
Monsters are created not by science, but by fear, and it is no small irony that Midland is the home to Dow Chemical Company’s world headquarters and home to thousands of scientists. Brightly colored signs tell visitors that Midland is “a city of explorers.” And this begs the question: What if, instead of panicking and acting on her unfounded transphobic fears, Ms. Cormier had taken the time to discover more about Carly? What would she have learned? It’s not my place to tell Carly’s story, but I do know that each one of us is a complex character in the stories that comprise our lives.
Sadly, Ms. Cormier didn’t take the time to do this. Consequently, what could have been a learning experience to draw the small community of Midland a little closer is now an argument that divides us and leaves a transgender senior citizen peering through her curtains everytime a car drives by. Instead of a national transgender community finding comfort from the storm of this year’s anti-trans violence, we are confronted by a blogosphere rife with vindictive hate. The calls for even more violence toward Carly and all transgender people keeps us awake late into the night. The fact that is after 2:00 a.m. as I write these words is my evidence of that.
None of this was necessary, and it sure wasn’t needed. If only Ms. Cormier had realized that, just like her, transgender people have more than one story and they are stories that, if known by others, would earn them the respect and dignity they deserve.
Most of my readers know me as an out transgender woman and for many, that might be all they know. But there is so much more. I am a Vietnam War Era Veteran, a cancer survivor, and I am on the board of directors for TGMI – Transgender Michigan. I have three grandchildren and three children and I love them more than anything. I have been an award winning high school teacher in New York, and I am now an award winning adjunct faculty instructor at two local colleges. I am a Michigan State fan.
And, I have been bullied, brutalized, teased and discriminated against. I have not had a full-time job or any job with benefits since 2006.
There is more, and had you not taken the time to read to this last sentence, you wouldn’t know any of this, would you?