I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to come to understand those who oppose trans rights. You could call it “know thy enemy” if you wanted to get weirdly militaristic, but I’ve been trying to approach the issue with empathy. You know, trying to see the world from their perspective in hopes that it might engender in me some sense of understanding and compassion.
As part of this, I decided to make a list of all the things that might understandably call my gender into question. By this I mean things that, once pointed out, simply “make sense” as reasons why someone might doubt or cast aspersions on my gender.
So today, I sat down at my kitchen table with a pen and some paper I tore out of an old notebook, and took a stab at it.
Now, I know that this is probably controversial. You may not agree with my list. But, I hope you’ll allow me to take a minute and explain some of the more offensive aspects of the list, and provide my own justifications.
For example, the lines on the notebook paper are a strange sort of muted green. I had a hard time dealing with this myself. Sadly, it was the only piece of lined paper I could find in my house. I’m sorry. I do hope that the wonderful shade of purple pen I chose to write with offsets some of the difficulty in dealing with the lines.
Also, I want everyone to know that writing these words was difficult for me. I normally have pretty abysmal handwriting, and since I knew I might want to share this, I took extra care to try and make my handwriting neat and legible. It wasn’t easy, but I think I’m at peace with what I wrote. I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me any stylistic errors.
Alright, enough joking.
Here’s the deal: I have actually tried—not on paper, mind you—to list off the sorts of things that might make someone oppose trans rights or that might understandably call my gender into question. However, every time I come across a thing, it seems to have its foundations in ignorance, prejudice, or a bit of both.
Hell, if you really wanted to simplify the list, “ignorance” would cover just about everything. After all, I think there’s a pretty good record of all prejudice ultimately having its roots in ignorance (and the fear that comes from it). Regardless, I’ve kept it in there. A one item list is not much of a list. Adding prejudice got me to three items (with the combo). A three item list seems much more substantial—more “legit” as the kids might say.
Speaking of kids, as a former middle school teacher, this list is actually incredibly comforting to me. Middle school is practically ignorance and prejudice 101. As a result, I’ve spent years of my life working with kids who have views of themselves and others informed by ignorance and prejudice.
When you’ve worked in that sort of environment, it becomes clear to you that ignorance is everywhere, and a fact of life. Being ignorant is not in itself a bad thing—it’s our default state. Ignorance is an opportunity to learn. Any problem that has its root in ignorance can be cured fairly easily with nothing more than education.
Prejudice, which is a learned behavior, is harder to deal with. It pushes people to pretend that they have all the answers. This makes it hard to educate them, and get at the underlying ignorance and fear driving their behavior. However, even then, I’ve seen people push past their prejudice when given the right information, and opportunity.
This is why I don’t shy away from “teaching” people in my life about trans issues when necessary. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to make a difference.
As a result, I try to approach these opportunities the way I did as a teacher: there are no stupid questions, so if you have one, ask it—better to look like a fool than be one. I hope that with enough of us engaging in these conversations, even the most prejudiced people will learn a thing or two.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to fight people—I want to educate them.