Last Thursday’s SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality was a great victory for the same-sex couples across the country. Millions of allies were celebrating. I’ll admit, my social media pages were covered in rainbows, just like everyone else’s. Victories like this give us hope, and the strength to carry on for the battles ahead. So, I invite all allies to join their LGBTQIA loved ones by expressing their joy and support. I would also like to remind everyone that marriage is not the be-all-end-all of LGBTQIA rights…and that posting rainbows is not enough.
Let us not allow the SCOTUS victory to eclipse our awareness of some of the other events that have been prominent in the media, in recent weeks. Let us not forget that we have a long way to go.
Here’s a recap (this all ties together)
Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out represents a victory for Trans women. She was lauded for her bravery, and rightfully so. Still, she was subjected to many indignities, including questions about her genitals. We must ask ourselves whether it would be appropriate to ask a cis person such a personal question in casual conversation. The answer is, unequivocally, no. So why do we ask trans people such humiliating questions?
It is also important to remember that not all trans women share the same privilege. Her facial feminization surgery alone cost $70.000. 99.9999999999% of trans women cannot afford this, yet they are ostracized and oppressed for not “passing.” Trans women are still subjected to the same unrealistic beauty standards that cis women must endure.
Would Caitlyn have been so accepted if her Vanity Fair image looked like a photograph of the average 65 year old woman? How about if she had bald spots or facial hair? Probably not. A trans woman is viewed as successful if she meets our conventional standards of beauty. I was excited to see a courageous and creative response from the transgender community on Tumbr, when a group trans people posted authentic images of themselves, confident and photoshop-free. I highly recommend that everyone check it out. This is what real beauty looks like…and it’s about time we made an unflinchingly critical inquiry into our assumptions
Meanwhile, the incident around Rachel Dolezal reminds us that we still carry the assumption that Trans people are “pretending” to be who they are. So many people have been saying “If a man can say he is a woman, a white person can say they are black!” Um, no.
Both gender and race are lived experiences that one understands from early childhood. Transgender children may experience profound distress when their physical characteristics do not conform to their experience of themselves. The distress is worsened by the social expectations around them. There is no documented experience of a white person experiencing such distress because the color of their skin does not conform to their identity.
Black children certainly experience racism very early in life. Many white people grow up with the assumption that we are allowed to take risks, make mistakes, break the rules and learn from our experiences. We do not always realize that there is privilege connected with these assumptions. Our experience is not, and will never be, the same as the lived experience of people of color. It is not acceptable for us to co-opt an identity that does not rightfully belong to us.
Check out this video by Kat Blaque, who eloquently explains the difference between Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal:
We cannot neglect issues of race, when engaging in discussion about LGBTQIA rights. In the wake of the Charleston shooting and numerous other acts of racially motivated violence, we cannot ignore obvious evidence that racism is still a thing. Trans women of color are dis-proportionally affected by acts of violence, and their pleas for help go unanswered by the police officers who are sworn to serve and protect.
Back to that whole “Marriage” thing…
When we think about “gay marriage”, what is the image that comes to mind? For many cisgender, heterosexual white people, the image may look a lot like our own image of ourselves. Are we seeing people of color? Are we seeing those outside the gender binary? Are we seeing the trans people who can’t afford the nice wedding that so many of us dream about, who are struggling to feed their children because they face employment discrimination? When we think about marriage, we need to think about the full experience of the human commitment to love. That may include the courage to commit in the face of a world that does not provide the safety necessary to create a life together, and possibly raise a family. That is great courage, indeed. How do we honor and celebrate that?
For white, cisgender allies, we can honor that love by continuing to ask ourselves the difficult questions about how we can be better allies. What can you do, in your community, in your workplace and in your social network, to create a more inclusive environment?
I’ll give you a hint: it starts by listening to people whose experience may be different from your own, and admitting that you don’t know everything. It is only through open-hearted listening, humility and personal response-ability that we, as allies, will create the change that still needs to happen.