Over the weekend, the subject of violence against transgender folks was raised within my Meeting. This was as a result of the recent unfortunate incident that occurred here in Washington, DC. On the Meeting listserve, several commenters, myself included, sought to educate those unaware with all the particulars. I was once again reminded of how generational differences sometimes complicate interactions. As a few of us tried our best to conduct an impromptu seminar on Trans 101, I recognized the benefits and the drawbacks of speaking in a space where almost everyone understands the same basic terminology. Factor in completely blameless ignorance with the passage of time, and you may understand why this unselfish act became something of a major chore.
I chose to use the word “queer” as meaning, essentially, “not straight”. Some read the word as a term of hate, not a reclaimed epithet. Subsequent research made me aware that the word has only been used in its most recent context since 1990. Twenty years seems like forever to some eyes, and only yesterday to others. Correct information trickles down slowly from activists to everyone else, it seems. Most knew something about the struggle of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, but transgender was a mystery. I did my best to overlook the “good liberal” back patting that inevitably breaks out at times like these, where everyone seems to feel a compulsion to point out their own connection to the source, proving just how open, accepting, and tolerant they are. I could have called people out for using the word “transgendered”, but it seemed petty to do so, and I could tell they appreciated the additional insight that would have otherwise not been present.
One of my best friends is something of a kindred spirit. It doesn’t matter that her hair has started to turn grey. In some ways, she is very much a woman of her age and in other ways, she retains a youthful spirit. Once I was scathingly criticizing some group or person, I forget which or whom, and she calmly asked me to reexamine my thinking. With time, she has been able to feel concern and pity for people, not an automatic desire to go for the kill. I told her that I observed where she was coming from and knew I needed to think more like she does. It is true that time allows us to look at other people more objectively. It would do us well to not rush to judgment or to castigate others, even those who are smug about the knowledge they impart in a public forum.
A generation or so removed from the action, one cannot relate easily to what is going on in front of them. There’s a sort of intellectual and emotional detachment present. Some people respond to this view condescendingly, as though they are the adults, observing the interplay of mere children. Some use this insight granted by age to sense precisely how every person has developed their personal views and opinions. For example, while a child, I could not understand the behavior of my classmates nearly as well as the teacher could. We may sympathize with the young child who bullies his classmates more so than the man in his mid-twenties who regularly starts fights at bars. With time, one hopes, we will feel compassion when all we felt before was indignation. We’ve all been wounded by someone with an ax to grind and a chip on his or her shoulder. One wishes with time that the ax will be tossed aside, as will the chip.
In the meantime, it’s always worth silent contemplation to wonder periodically whether our ultimate regard is for ourselves or for the people for whom we claim to be allies. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of wanting the adulation of others by means of impressive sounding causes and the details to follow. I’m sure there were some at my Meeting who believed I spoke about transgender issues purely so that others might think what a wonderful person I am. My intent was mostly to impart what I have learned, and to note that there was a time where I knew little to nothing myself, and carried some prejudicial attitudes and emotional biases with me. Someone could have easily torn into me either in person or online. But would I have learned better that way, or would I have taken the rebuke personally and ceased at that moment to be an ally?
I’m a male ally, but one who seems to have stuck around the longest. Periodically, another surfaces. Often he is full of anger and bitterness. The reasons vary, but the reaction is familiar. Should I write a post on explicitly male or masculine issues, three or four temporarily stop lurking. They may even contribute a post, but soon they return to the shadows. Does our age betray us? Or is it the anger that comes from misunderstanding, the fury that must be exorcised? If we look back at what we have written in twenty years, what will we think about ourselves? Is time the only real means to forgiveness?