So here’s the deal. I am angry. Furious. Enraged. Livid. The fact that it is 2015 and it is still possible for me or any of my black friends to have our lives destroyed by supposed servants of the people simply because we are black makes me truly, deeply, painfully angry. The fact that these careless murderers, these state-backed assassins rarely get punished for murdering black people makes me want to flip tables. All of the tables. I’m right there with the rioters in Baltimore, is what I am trying to say. I want to break the windows of cop cars. I want to set shit on fire. I want to flip tables, throw rocks, pound concrete, rage against this system that has perpetuated itself BECAUSE REMAINING QUIET ONLY FUELS THE ENGINE THAT MAKES OPPRESSION POSSIBLE.
So when you tell me that racism is shitty, but you’d really prefer if people could go back to reasoned arguments on Facebook instead of destroying property, all I hear is: “I have the privilege of waiting for you to receive justice, and your life means less to me than glass and concrete.” When you tell me that you don’t condone the actions of corrupt racist police forces across the country, but follow that up with, “but we need to find intelligent ways to fight,” all I hear is: “I’m avoiding using the word ‘thug’ because I’ve read somewhere that it is racist.” When you tell me, “I feel angry too, but you don’t see me smashing in small business windows,” I hear, “I will never have to worry about my children being shot by the police simply for the color of their skin, so I can afford to show my anger by sharing articles on social media.”
If you are white, and puzzled by the rage and pain of your black friends, family, lovers, partners, and children, then you are part of the problem. If you decry the destruction of cars with the same energy that you decry the destruction of lives and families, then you are part of the problem. If you think just talking about these issues is getting anybody but white people anywhere, then you are part of the problem. If you are wishing for the days when we could pretend to be color blind and the goal was to become a Bill Cosby-approved house negro, your time has passed. Evolve, or you are part of the problem.
If you are not already angry, now is the time to get angry. If you have not already found your rage about this situation—and I don’t mean self-righteous indignation, here, I mean that deep acid burn in the center of your being that threatens to overcome your very existence every time you hear of a new murder, every time you watch a cop walk free, every time George Zimmerman appears on the news, every time one of your fedora-wearing, libertarian-voting, #notallwhatever white friends brings up black on black crime or absentee fathers, then I simply do not understand. If, when another name floats to the surface of your awareness and becomes yet another hashtag (and they do every 28 hours—black men are being murdered by police practically daily and that number does not include women of color or trans people of color), you do not feel like buying a ticket to Baltimore to smash cars with your black brothers and sisters, then I do not understand. I. Don’t. Understand.
But you go ahead and keep telling me there are better ways for people to fight state-sponsored murder, that waiting quietly and voting the right people into office is going to work for us eventually. That white people will eventually just give up that upper hand and stop being racist. After all, we have a black president, right? More importantly, keep telling yourself all of that. In this instance, the lie you believe is far more powerful and damaging than the one I believe. And you can afford to believe it.
You’re the problem. You.
My heart is broken.
Black children and young Black men can be murdered by cops across the country and their families will never see justice. Black cis and trans women are murdered and get backburnered. The idea that somebody is a “thug” is enough to justify that person’s untimely death.
My heart is broken.
My friends who are parents of Black children are terrified. They live in fear for that this means for them, for their children, for their families. A friend of mine spoke of feeling helpless against the concerns of his teenaged son, who is deeply frightened by the knowledge that he can be shot any day just for being a young Black male.
My heart is broken.
Yesterday as I walked through Oakland I looked down at the black leather gloves in my hand and wondered if they looked threatening enough to get me shot on my way to drinks and dinner with a friend.
My heart is broken.
My heart is broken.
The list of names keeps growing, like the most awful mantra, like a time bomb, ticking away one name at a time.
My heart is broken.
I can’t breathe.
Hop off your tricycle.
It’s never too soon to know what you are.
You are Black.
A diversity statistic.
A shoplifting risk.
Going to be suspended.
Not a job prospect.
You are a tangible threat.
Terminology is essential, so keep these in mind:
Y’all don’t rally, you riot.
Y’all don’t assert your rights, you resist arrest.
Y’all don’t find, you loot.
Y’all are not persons fighting for equality, you’re animals.
We’ve got your back.
Three squares a day.
Once we manage to pack you away.
That never works.
Now tell the truth:
Where’d you get it?
Reading many of the #YesAllWomen posts from most of my female friends, one thing comes repeatedly to mind. It’s from a radio interview Marisa did in regard to being a female motorcyclist in the Bay Area.
During the interview a man called in with so much hatred towards motorcyclists, it was terrifying. He even went so far as to promise that any time he sees a rider in his side view mirror he tries to “put them into the guard rail” and that he hoped all motorcyclists died horrible, painful deaths.
This is as close as I can come to understanding that feeling of what it’s like to be female in this society. EVERY TIME I RIDE, I think about that guy on the radio and remind myself that he—and many others like him—are behind the wheel of some of those cars I ride past every day. I will never know who those people are until it’s too late, so I always treat every driver like they’re that one guy I heard on the radio that day, vowing to kill us all.
It doesn’t matter to me at all that most drivers don’t think that way. I only care about the 1 in 100,000 who does.
The kicker to my analogy is this:
I can stop riding my motorcycle any time I want.
Women never get to stop being female. (Not that easily, anyway.)
Thanks to all of you who have been brave enough to share your experiences thus far and those that will in the future. It has been enlightening, even for those of us who are trying to be the good guys.
Ben Davis is a SF/Bay Area web developer and 12-year veteran motorcyclist. Ben has appeared on ABC News 20/20, The Wayne Brady Show, and in the National Enquirer—for reasons you can’t possibly imagine.
Substitute “friend” for: “co-worker”, “schoolmate”, “partner of someone you know”, or someone in the public eye. For example, Chelsea Manning.
If you don’t already know (maybe you live under a rock or are one of those people who reads snarky blogs and not the news), Chelsea Manning went public today regarding her identity, preferred pronoun, and new name (as reported accurately and sensitively by The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and of all places, MSNBC).
It’s pretty sad that other media outlets refuse, even while reporting on this story, to use the correct pronoun. Hint, it’s female pronouns: “she”, “her”, etc.
What’s playing out today in the media is, sadly, the same kind of thing that plays out at parties, work environments, or in social scenes. There’s always a few people who get it instantly, and a lot more who need to be educated, plus a sprinkling of haters who will willfully resist the truth or argue against. Why? Who knows. Maybe they’re angry that this person looks better in a skirt or a suit than they do.
For the sake of this post, let’s assume most people are in the middle group. You’re a nice person, you want to do the right thing, and suddenly your friend is dating a trans person, or is a trans person, or maybe your kid is trans, or your kid’s friend. What’s the etiquette around what might be (to you) a new name or pronoun?
1. Names have power.
Perhaps you are happy with the name your parents gave you at birth. Perhaps you are happy with the gender and sexual identity presumed for you at birth. Go you. It doesn’t hurt you, your gender, or your sexuality to hold a space where other people can be accepted for who they are.
USE THEIR NEW NAME. ALWAYS.
It can be tough switching someone’s name in your mind. The more you use it, the easier it will become, I promise. A few months in and you won’t remember their old name, which will come in handy in other situations which I will get into a little further down this page.
2. Pronouns have power
USE THEIR NEW PRONOUN. Ignore how the New York Times has a perpetual inability to get this right in any article about a trans person. You should be reading The Guardian anyway. Practice also helps.
3. What if I screw it up?
You’re gonna screw it up. We’ve all screwed this up. Correct yourself and move on. It’s as simple as that. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Know that your trans friend noticed. Yes, we notice every, single time someone does this. The more you bring it up, the worse you look.
If you feel the need to apologize for messing this up, especially if you do it in public, make a private apology to your friend or the person whom you wronged. Own your mistake, don’t tell them it’s their fault because “you’re confusing.” It isn’t their fault, it’s yours. Do the right thing and apologize, in private, and with honesty.
4. How to avoid screwing it up?
If you, for whatever reason, simply cannot get this person’s pronoun correct, then refer to them by their name until your mental reframing of them is more complete. Take a moment and look at this person, really see them, not your impression of them, not your past idea of who they are. At the risk of getting into the land of ‘woo’, look at their essence and be open to being flexible. This person has come a long way; your job is to support them and accept them.
Imagine if every time someone looked at you, they saw you with that horrible haircut you had in Jr. High or High School. No, it’s not the same as gender, but the mental timestamp is just as out of date. Flush your mental browser cache and enjoy your friend’s new look.
Avoid doing that thing where you go out of your way to use their new pronoun more frequently than is necessary. That’s kind of the same as when white people talk about their ‘black friend’.
5. How to be an ally to a trans person?
Do not gossip or share personal information. This means: do not tell other people that this person is trans, their former pronoun, or their former name. To anyone. Even with people you know also share this information. Do you want people talking about your tummy tuck or abortion at a cocktail party to a group of fascinated strangers or co-workers? Didn’t think so.
When someone trusts you (and it is a trust) with their truth, your one response should be to honor that trust by not betraying it.
Before you get angry that I’ve equated a hormonal or surgical transition with something to be ashamed of, know this. Some trans people are very open in regard to discussing their transition. Some trans people use hormones or surgery, others do not. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to transition. Transition is a personal procedure and should be kept private.
People are also comfortable discussing their abortions, the births of their children (in gruesome detail which I like to hear because I like gross stuff), or their colonoscopy. These are highly personal stories and should be shared only by the person who experienced them. That isn’t about being politically correct—that’s just good manners. Don’t be rude and co-opt someone else’s good party story. If other people are gossiping, shut them down. If they gossip about your friend, chances are they’re also gossiping about you.
Do not ask if they are planning to get/have gotten surgery.
Just. Don’t. Think about it. Unless you are their surgeon, it’s none of your business what’s going on down there.
Educate yourself on trans issues.
There are a ton of articles similar to this online, (many of them better written) as well as many, many books on the subject of being trans, partnering with trans people, and the human rights issues faces by trans people. Some of them have contrasting information. Be informed. Read. Use your critical analysis skills and stay compassionate.
Trans teenagers, and adults for that matter, are far more likely to attempt suicide or use drugs/alcohol. This is not because all us trans people are So Messed Up. This is because the world treats trans people unfairly. Transgendered people are more likely to be unemployed or face discrimination on the job. Health insurance companies do their damnedest to deny trans people access to transition-related services, including mental health services, which have been proven time and time again to improve people’s quality of life, personal safety, and economic security. Trans people often lose the support of family and friends and must constantly fight for recognition that their transition is real, necessary, and meaningful.
Never use the word ‘Tranny’
6. As a final note:
Since the default standard mainstream dialogue around trans people is to treat them like the punchline to a joke, I can see why uninformed people might interpret it that way. This is a good opportunity for people surprised by the news to consider how their mental awareness of trans issues is shaped by representations in the media. Compare the coverage, consider how respectful writers and reporters are of names and pronouns.