All the trans news that fits! (and some that never will)
Don’t you just hate it when you’re with a group of cis-gender people, say at a meeting or maybe hanging out after a dinner, and a cis friend in the group tries to explain something about your Trans life to the others, as if you were unable to speak for yourself? Sometimes, it feels like they believe they know you better than you do, or that they believe they are more capable of conveying information about you than you are.
Or, maybe it’s because they want to make sure that you know how much they care about you.
Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but it doesn’t really matter to me why they do it. As much as I appreciate the effort on the part of my cis-gender friends, my allies in such moments, I cringe — I mean, I used to. Nowadays, I rarely let a moment like that last for more than a sentence or two. Generally, I’ll jump right in and change the narrative from third person to first person with something like, “Well, actually, I . . . . ”
But, if I’m not in the group of people where the discussion is taking place, if I am not at the table or even in the room, then every discussion about me will be in third person. It’s that way with the entire Trans community. It’s not enough for us to speak for ourselves. We also have to be in the room, at the table, and in the discussion. Otherwise, no matter how well-meaning they may be, people will be making decisions about our lives without ever really knowing who we are.
What got me thinking about this is the op-ed, “End epidemic of violence against transgender women,” which appeared in the Detroit Free Press on October 1, 2015. It was co-authored by Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and Judy Shepard, co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The two called on readers to do their part to help end the epidemic of violence against transgender women.
Griffin and Shepard tell readers “There is no single answer to stemming this tide of violence — there are many. And those answers start with confronting the realities that put transgender people, especially transgender women of color, at heightened risk for violence.”
For his part, Griffin assures readers that the Human Rights Campaign “is committed to addressing not only legal solutions but also solutions that help the institutions that are part of our daily lives — schools, workplaces, health care facilities, churches — meet the needs of the transgender community.” The HRC, he continues, has “created resources for schools to help transitioning students, and rated medical facilities, businesses, and even cities on their ability to provide protections and resources for transgender people.”
Shepard points out that the Matthew Shepard Foundation is just as committed to erasing hate. Through their continued work with law enforcement officials and first-responders, “we can help better identify bias-motivated crimes and cultivate an atmosphere where victims feel safe coming forward, where those affected and brutalized by hate crimes can rest assured their cases are correctly prosecuted and attackers adequately charged. The more understanding and compassion we can instill in this process, the closer we can come to a future free of hate.”
Even though I am idealistic and I believe Judy Shepard and Chad Griffin are good people and have nothing less than the best of intentions, I am not naive. So, I wrote a letter to the Detroit Free Press:
“Thank you, Judy Shepard and Chad Griffin, and thank you Detroit Free Press, for joining the voices of trans women and trans men who have been sounding the alarm for how long? Forever, it seems. It is particularly poignant that this call to action appears in a Detroit newspaper. Just two months ago, on August 8, the police discovered the body of Amber Monroe, 20, of Detroit, a student at Wayne State University. On that same day, a few miles north, in Ferndale, nearly 200 trans women, trans men and our allies gathered in Geary Park for the annual Transgender Michigan Pride Picnic. When news spread of Amber’s death, we wept and held onto each other out of fear, compassion and the immense weight of the meaning of our visibility. But mostly, it was fear. Amber was the second trans woman of color murdered in Detroit this summer. With or without the HRC, The Task Force, The Trevor Project, Equality Michigan, or any other organization, the trans community is moving forward. I am grateful knowing you are with us on our journey. But saying you represent us is not the same as including us. Speaking for us does not empower us. Trans people must speak for trans people, and we must have a seat at the table. Our vision is a vision that is shared by all Americans: a country where we can live freely and be included as equal partners. Thank you.”
Now, to be fair, especially to my cis-gender friends and allies — I can’t remember the last time anyone has ever taken it upon themselves to speak for me when I am standing right there. Well, actually, I can remember it, because the last time it happened was the first time I spoke up for myself.